Tuesday was a long and contentious day for El Paso County commissioners, for five members of the Colorado Springs City Council, and especially for the weary members of the Stormwater Task Force.
And it ended in uncertainty, with city and county leaders opposing Mayor Steve Bach’s ideas for governance of a stormwater authority. Unless they can find common ground, the proposed November ballot issue could be dead.
Commissioners debated the proposed intergovernmental agreement among the county, city, Green Mountain Falls and Manitou Springs for the creation of the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority.
Dave Munger presented the proposal to the commissioners on behalf of the task force. With others on the task force, he had been on board for the entire two-year process, talking to hundreds of local residents at scores of public meetings.
He covered familiar ground, repeating the task force’s mantra once again: “Water knows no boundaries.” County Commissioner Amy Lathen then dropped a bombshell. Saying that she was responding to concerns that the proposed average monthly “impermeable surface” fee for single-family residences was too high, she proposed that it be dropped from $9.14 to $7.70. The change would reduce annual collections from approximately $48 million to $39.3 million.
At Lathen’s request, County CFO Nicola Sapp had “crunched the numbers,” concluding the apparent $9 million gap could be bridged by state and federal grants, by drainage projects independently funded by Colorado Springs Utilities, and by combined road/drainage infrastructure rebuilding and repair.
Apparently pleased, the commissioners voted unanimously for a resolution supporting the “concept” of an intergovernmental agreement. “Concept” was added at the suggestion of Commissioner Darryl Glenn, making it clear this action did not constitute final approval.
At 3 p.m., the task force and various elected officials gathered around a makeshift conference table at City Hall for a joint meeting (see Ralph Routon column, page 5). Senior staff from both entities were also in attendance, including Sapp, city Chief of Staff Steve Cox, Deputy City Attorney Tom Florczak, County Attorney Amy Folsom and County Administrator Jeff Greene.
The purpose: to identify areas of disagreement, find common ground and settle on a final draft of the proposed IGA. Munger led the meeting. With only five Council members present (Jan Martin, Val Snider, Andy Pico and Don Knight were absent), City Councilor Joel Miller and Council President Keith King were vocal in expressing their concerns.
King presented a five-page summary of his caveats, which included ballot language, maintenance of effort clauses for governmental partners, too much discretion on use of PPRDA funds by member governments, lack of effective planning and cost minimizing, and ineffective protection of taxpayers. Joined by Commissioner Peggy Littleton, he also expressed concern over inflation-driven automatic increases in fees, and proposed a cap on such increases.
The group patiently worked through King’s issues and many others, recommending few substantive changes. Things moved smoothly along until Cox and Florczak presented Mayor Steve Bach’s position.
Bach wasn’t there, having frequently noted governance of Utilities as Council’s responsibility, and that referring ballot measures is up to Council and/or the county commissioners. Wednesday, he said his administration had not seen the latest IGA draft until Friday afternoon.
“I had an appointment in Denver,” he said, “and I thought that [Council and the commissioners] would be fine with Steve Cox.”
‘Hopefully we can get through all this and come to an agreement.”
— Mayor Steve Bach
Cox said Bach would oppose the measure unless he had the authority to appoint anyone he chose. Bach’s position drew no support. Clark and Lathen denounced it, and wondered why Bach hadn’t attended a single task force meeting.
Having resolved every other issue, the meeting adjourned. The next step: formal approval of the final draft by member entities, before commissioners decide whether to refer the measure to the November ballot.
In a phone conversation Wednesday, Mayor Bach was more specific about his concerns, saying, “I can’t stand by and let our stormwater affairs be handed off to a new third-party bureaucracy without making sure that Colorado Springs citizens are protected.”
Bach noted the proposed emergency stormwater fund, as much as $25 million, could not be accessed by the city without approval of a supermajority of the PPRDA board, though city residents would contribute 80 percent of the funds.
“It’s our money,” he said, “and we might not be able to use it in a real city emergency.”
He was also skeptical about the sudden reduction in single-family stormwater fees.
“That’s just politics,” he said. “The actual cost to many (residences) will be a lot higher.”
And he sharply disputed accounts of the joint meeting that described him as “seeking control” of the PPRDA board.
“I’d like to name three members to the board, plus myself,” he said. “I’d name qualified professionals — engineers, stormwater experts, not elected officials. That would be four out of 11 members — so tell me, how could that mean control?”
Wednesday, Bach was preparing a letter detailing his administration’s concerns, to be sent to Council and commissioners.
“Hopefully, we can get through all of this and come to agreement,” he said.
Yet questions remain. Will Mayor Bach formally oppose PPRDA? Will the proponents abandon their efforts in the face of his opposition, and decline to put it on the ballot?
We’ll know by Sept. 5, the deadline for presenting final ballot language for such a measure.