Colorado Springs voters approve Douglas Bruce’s Issue 300 but Mayor Rivera says it will have no effect on the operation of the city’s stormwater enterprise fund

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From The Colorado Springs Gazette (R. Scott Rappold):

The Douglas Bruce-sponsored ballot measure requires payments in lieu of taxes to the city to be phased out over eight years, beginning in July 2010, and the money returned to rate payers. The payments are designed to compensate the city for tax revenue it would receive if Utilities were privately owned. That amounts to more than $3 million in 2010. According to the city clerk’s analysis of the ballot measure, residential bills would drop 52 cents each month, beginning in January 2010.

More coverage from The Colorado Springs Gazette (Lance Benzel). From the article:

“Even though the language was extremely vague, I’m going to be recommending on Monday that we adopt a resolution repealing the Stormwater Enterprise and the fee (associated with it),” [Colorado Springs Councilman Darryl Glenn] said. Glenn said he plans to propose the immediate creation of a committee that would include county officials. The group would be tasked with developing a proposed regional stormwater authority to take to voters for their approval in November 2010. “That’s the way we should have done it in the first place instead of imposing a fee,” he said. But in the short-term, the council has a “responsibility to carry out the voters’ intent,” Glenn said. “One thing you can’t argue is that if you drove around the community, there were enough signs that clearly stated that this issue dealt with the stormwater tax and fee,” he said. “This council is in trouble if we, in my opinion, ignore the will of the voters on 300,” he added. “We need buy-in, and there has to be a relationship of trust with the electorate and to me, this will be a slap in the face if we don’t follow the direction that we’ve been given.”

More coverage from The Colorado Springs Gazette (Daniel Chacon). From the article:

Mayor Lionel Rivera, who said Tuesday night that issue 300 wouldn’t affect the Stormwater Enterprise, left open the possibility that it did. “There’s a question on whether or not the language the way it was spelled out in 300 really applies to the Stormwater Enterprise,” he said during a news conference. “I don’t know the answer,” he added. “We have to have a discussion with the city attorney to determine how we’re going to do an implementing ordinance to put all this into effect.”

The Douglas Bruce-sponsored ballot measure requires payments in lieu of taxes to the city to be phased out over eight years, beginning in July 2010, and the money returned to ratepayers. Bruce said it was “absurd” for city officials to say the ballot issue didn’t apply to the Stormwater Enterprise…

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs Utilities officials said they were still determining when ratepayers will see an impact from issue 300. The payments made by Utilities to the city, designed to compensate the city for tax revenue it would receive if Utilities were privately owned, amounts to more than $3 million in 2010. According to the city’s analysis of 300, residential bills would drop 52 cents each month, beginning in January 2010.

Folks in Pueblo County are looking north to see if Issue 300 will effect Colorado Springs’ commitments to Fountain Creek imposed on the city utility through the permitting process earlier this year. Colorado Springs Utilities is planning to build the Southern Delivery System pipeline through Pueblo County. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Wednesday morning, Mayor Lionel Rivera and Councilman Scott Hente challenged Bruce’s interpretation that Issue 300 ended the stormwater enterprise. On Tuesday night, Bruce triumphantly tore up his stormwater bill for TV cameras, proclaiming the end of what he calls a “rain tax.” The stormwater enterprise was approved by Colorado Springs City Council in 2005 and implemented in 2007. It was designed to raise $17 million a year to address a $300 million backlog of storm sewer projects in the Fountain Creek watershed. In 2008, Colorado Springs voters rejected a similar attempt by Bruce to gut the stormwater fees. This year’s version did not mention the stormwater enterprise by name, but Bruce campaigned against it while promoting Issue 300.

Colorado Springs issued a statement Wednesday that made it clear there are no intentions to remove the stormwater fee: “The passage of Issue 300 created a new ordinance relating to City Enterprises. City Council will have to take action to implement any changes as a result of the new ordinance. “Unless and until that occurs, we will continue to proceed under current City Code. Any changes made to the Stormwater Enterprise would require future action by City Council. “City Council has publicly stated that Issue 300 will not impact the stormwater enterprise so we do not anticipate any changes at this time to our operations.”[...]

In Pueblo, those who fought to gain concessions from Colorado Springs believe the stormwater enterprise is needed. “We believe the interpretation that storm sewers were not included in the ballot language is correct,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Jeff Chostner, who is also a member of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. “I think the people of Colorado Springs see good things happening on Fountain Creek and realize that on an important issue like this, you need to establish trust,” Chostner. Regardless of what happens to the stormwater enterprise, Colorado Springs is still obligated to meet the $125 million in payments under Pueblo County conditions, Chostner said. “I don’t think that voting down the stormwater enterprise would affect the SDS requirements,” Chostner said. “Then, the question for them internally would be how they fund it.”[...]

Ross Vincent, of the Sierra Club, said Colorado Springs still has an obligation to take care of Fountain Creek regardless of what happens as a result of Tuesday’s vote. The Sierra Club successfully sued Colorado Springs in 2005 over violation of the federal Clean Water Act. “It’s disconcerting to say the least,” Vincent said. “Clearly, the Springs has got to capture and manage its stormwater effectively, and the residents and taxpayers of Colorado Springs will have to find a way to pay for it. “If not the current stormwater enterprise, then what, and paid for by whom? They need answers – quickly – and so do we.”

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here and here.

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