The periodic skirmishes between City Council, the Board of County Commissioners and the mayor erupted into open, bitter warfare on Wednesday, as elected officials from the city and the county replied to Mayor Steve Bach’s criticism of the proposed stormwater initative.
Earlier in the day, Mayor Bach had criticized the initiative at a press coinference, saying that it would create “a new regional bureaucracy with a new tax that I cannot and will not support.” He noted that actions that would require a supermajority of board members, so at least one county commissioner would have to assent. He didn’t approve.
“We can’t trust that a single county commissioner would (vote for the city’s interests),” Bach said.
He reserved particular scorn for City Councilors, calling them part-time elected officials who didn’t understand local government. He charged Councilors past and present with failing to understand that, although city residents provided 89 percent of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority’s revenue, city projects received only 73 percent of the funding – a shortfall which has amounted to $10 million annually. Finally, he dismissed the members of the stormwater task force as “well-meaning” individuals who had reached inappropriate conclusions.
In response, representatives of City Council, the Board of County Commissioners and the stormwater task force held their own press conference Wednesday afternoon.
First up: task force chair Dave Munger, who blasted Mayor Bach in sharp and unequivocal terms. Here’s a transcript of his remarks.
“I’m Dave Munger, chair of the Pikes Peak Regional Stormwater Task Force.
“We’re here because the people deserve the truth.
“The Task Force is made up primarily of citizens, and we have volunteered our time over the last two years asking our fellow citizens if stormwater was important and what they wanted done about it.
“We are disappointed in the mayor’s rhetoric, and his remarks this morning, in which he conveyed all sorts of misinformation and questioned the integrity of just about everyone.
“We are very proud of the two-year process that led to the proposal now under consideration by elected officials, and soon, to be considered by voters. The Task Force has conducted a dozen town hall meetings to hear from the public, sent weekly updates, our monthly Task Force meetings have been open, and we’ve placed calls to hundreds of citizens, to ask them if flooding is an important issue and how they want to address it. We’re about transparency, not dictatorship. Our plan directly reflects what citizens say they want. This has been the most thorough, transparent public process that we know of, and that will extend to the ballot language. For the mayor to say otherwise is simply absurd. The mayor says this isn’t good for citizens, but it is citizens that came up with this. We don’t buy ‘father knows best.’
“The mayor is obviously confused about the mechanics of our plan. If you really listen to the mayor, he doesn’t make much sense, and he contradicts himself so many times, it’s hard to know where to start. But we’d like to set the record straight on each of his accusations:
• “Taxes and fees are clearly defined under state statutes and court rulings. We are proposing a fee.
• “We’re proposing a fee because citizens indicated a preference over taxes.
• “We are not creating a bureaucracy. Our plan has been crafted with an eye toward efficient and fair use of citizen dollars, capping administrative costs at 1 percent and keeping staff to a minimum. Our plan sends work to local contractors, creating jobs.
• “Our plan includes a project list, developed by citizens and city and county staff, and vetted by a third-party engineering firm, again, because citizens want to know what they will be paying for.
• “An emergency fund allows us to quickly respond to the kinds of unexpected problems we’ve seen happen again and again these past few summers. This was vetted by citizens.
• “The mayor is wrong. This does help roads and other infrastructure. Uncontrolled stormwater creates erosion, sinkholes and foundation damage that have been undermining our roads and bridges for years. It’s time to stop putting Band-Aids on these problems and address the underlying issues.
• “The $46 million the mayor likes to say the city is spending on stormwater includes a lot of one-time emergency funding from state and federal agencies and Colorado Springs Utilities. We will not be able to sustain this funding in the future and can’t rely on the federal government.
• “Our plan creates a reliable, flexible funding source that will allow the city to actually address the problems and keep up with maintenance, taking care of what we have.
• “We have not stipulated that the county treasurer will collect the fee. A vendor may do that if it’s more affordable. If the treasurer does collect the fee, they [the treasurer] will charge a maximum of 1.5 percent for the service, just as they charge the city, the library district and schools for their services.
• “The mayor compared our plan to the PPRTA. We’d like to remind him that voters overwhelmingly extended it last November because they like the way it works.
• “The stormwater authority will be governed by a board that includes officials from all participating communities. Water doesn’t stop at the ‘Welcome to Colorado Springs’ sign.
• “We’re surprised that the mayor said he thinks the city is doing a good job managing stormwater. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave our stormwater systems a D-minus. Individual homeowners are appealing to the press to get the city to fix languishing stormwater problems, as we saw in last week’s Independent. Unfortunately, the press cannot take up the cases of every single project in our $706 million backlog.
• “The ballot language will be considered at public hearings on Aug. 19 and 26. The county is committed to clear language.
“We realize now that the mayor isn’t interested in collaborating, but this has been a collaborative process with input from citizens, elected officials, the executive branch of the city, engineers, economists, business owners and many others. We believe this is the best opportunity to address this critical community need that is jeopardizing our safety and our economy. We are tired of the mayor’s rhetoric when we’re trying to get some work done. We trust that the voters will assess our plan on the facts.”
County Commissioner Amy Lathen took particular issue with Mayor Bach’s characterization of the stormwater fee as a tax, pointing out that an impervious surface fee was the fairest and most equitable means of funding stormwater.
“The rain falls on all roofs,” she said, noting that tax-supported funding would exempt military bases, government buildings and nonprofits, increasing the burden on homeowners.
“The mayor is trying to sabotage the process,” said City Council President Keith King. “I’m proud of the fact that this is a regional effort.” Even Councilor Don Knight, who joined Helen Collins in opposing the intergovernmental agreement that created the PPRDA on Tuesday, joined in the amen chorus.
“I voted against it, but I’m glad it’s going forward,” Knight said, having apparently changed his mind. Task force advisor Rachel Beck said that Bach’s PPRTA numbers were incorrect.
“The city provided 73 percent of the funds and received 71 percent of the (total project) funding,” she said.