It looks as if residents of El Paso County, Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Fountain and Green Mountain Falls will have the opportunity of voting to tax themselves (I mean, “fee” themselves) to fund regional stormwater needs.
Colorado Springs City Council obligingly approved the proposed intergovernmental agreement earlier this week, and other jurisdictions are expected to do so shortly.
Before the end of July, El Paso County commissioners will reserve a place on the ballot for the measure, and they must approve final ballot language before Sept. 5.
At that point, it’ll be up to the hardworking volunteers on the Stormwater Task Force to bring the process to a successful conclusion. Polls suggest the proposal has overwhelming conceptual support, but translating such support into votes can be difficult.
Task force chair Dave Munger is optimistic.
“I expect that we’ll have the resources to run a good campaign,” he said. “We’ll have $300,000 to $500,000.”
It’s unlikely that there will be any organized, well-financed opposition to the measure, but not everyone will join the amen chorus.
Will Douglas Bruce sit quietly by and watch the despised Stormwater Enterprise rise from the dead?
The Tax Terminator took it down once — will he heed the words of Gandalf the Grey?
“Many years ago I myself dared to pass the doors of the Necromancer in Dol Guldur, and secretly explored his ways,” Gandalf recounted, “and found thus that our fears were true: He was none other than Sauron, our Enemy of old, at length taking shape and power again.”
And who is this local Necromancer? Could it be County Commissioner (and stormwater task force member) Amy Lathen? City Council President Keith King? Dave Munger? All of them and hundreds more?
It’s also true that off-year elections can be difficult to predict. We can expect to be flooded (pun intended) by Republican state-level messaging, and a lot of it will be tax-increase negative. In the face of such an assault, stormwater proponents may have a tough time holding the high ground.
“It’s not a tax — it’s a fee!” Whatever you say, guys, but the Dougster knows how to turn a phrase. Rainwater tax, anyone?
And what about Mayor Steve Bach? He’s abandoned his quixotic “holistic solution” that would fund regional infrastructure needs through a new 1 percent sales tax, but continues to express his concern about roads, bridges and other infrastructure needs.
He’ll have to wait.
In a recent conversation, Amy Lathen was dismissive.
“A new 1 percent sales tax?” she asked. “The balance between property and sales tax in the region is already skewed — that’d mean sales tax rates of almost 10 percent in some jurisdictions.”
Another task force member, Rachel Beck, offered Mayor Bach some unsolicited advice.
“These kinds of measures can succeed when they come from the community, and go through a long, participatory process,” Beck observed. “They can’t just suddenly appear on the ballot. It takes time.”
But if voters approve what is now called the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority (PPRDA), it’ll enable the city to address some of its most pressing stormwater needs.
Consider our inventory of corrugated metal pipe (CMP).
If you were building drainage structures in the second half of the 20th century, CMP was the pipe for you. It was cheap, easy to install, strong, durable and available in any size.
Last week, a 108-inch section of CMP near Chapel Hills Mall collapsed. The corroded pipe couldn’t handle localized flooding from a passing thunderstorm.
As it happens, it’s time to replace almost all of the city’s CMP. At 20 years, it’s like a car with 150,000 miles on the odometer — nearing the end of its useful life.
Replacing the projected 32 miles of CMP in subdivisions constructed before 1990 won’t be cheap.
At an estimated $134.4 million, it accounts for 20 percent of the total PPRDA estimate of city stormwater needs.
That should please the mayor, but he might like one minor organizational tweak as well.
As currently structured, City Council chooses six of its members to sit on PPRDA’s 13-member board, and the Mayor holds a seat as well.
That’s eminently reasonable, but given the deep divisions on Council, it might make sense to let the mayor choose three of the councilors, with the other three selected by Council. There would still be six Council members on the board, but such a change would allow the mayor a little more say.
And who knows — it might even guarantee his enthusiastic support.
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