Stormwater measure picks up broad support as opponents point out flaws — The Colorado Springs Gazette #COpoliticsOctober 21, 2014
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):
The campaign on stormwater has become a David vs. Goliath match in terms of spending and visible support.
Proponents of El Paso County Measure 1B, which would spend $40 million a year to plan, build and maintain drainage and flood control projects in four cities and portions of the county, have raised nearly $200,000 for their messaging, including television and radio commercials and billboards. The proposal has endorsements from the Regional Business Alliance, local construction and development companies, the Housing and Building Association and the Downtown Partnership.
“We are very pleased with the support we’ve gotten from the community,” said Kevin Walker, co-chairman of the regional stormwater task force that led the charge in developing the proposal. “It’s a lot of people who recognize there is a need to address this issue, and it’s past time to do that.”
The opposition is tougher to gauge. There is no splashy television campaign against 1B – just a handful of signs placed near the billboards. Douglas Bruce, the author of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and the man who coined the phrase “No Rain Tax” in 2008, has a website and has been handing out fliers at events and around downtown.
Bruce said the stormwater proposal is flawed because it attempts to catch up on an estimated $700 million in backlogged projects but does not require future development to pay for flood control. Further, he said, no price tags are attached to the 114 projects listed as part of the plan, and there’s no guarantee that the projects will be built or in which order.
“In my 50 years of being involved in political activity, I have never seen a worse ballot issue,” he said.
Voters in Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Green Mountain Falls and parts of El Paso County will be asked to create the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority, a governmental entity that would collect fees to pay for planning, building and maintaining flood control projects such as channels, detention ponds and curbs and gutters. The proposal would allow the authority to collect fees based on the size of a property and its impervious surface, meaning driveways, parking lots and rooftops.
This month, the El Paso County Commission approved a resolution of “advocacy” in favor of the stormwater proposal.
“This plan has gone through an arduous development process to make it the most responsible plan possible. Ultimately, the people will decide, but we have to stand up as elected officials to explain to them how big the stormwater problem has become and how important it is to our to public safety, to our roads and bridges, to the protection of private property and to economic development,” said Commissioner Amy Lathen, who was a member of the stormwater task force.
The key question organizers of the proposal have been asked is, “how much is this going to cost me?” The proposed ballot question says the average residential property owner would pay $7.70 per month – $92.40 per year on the residential property tax bill.
The problem with the proposal is that fees would apply to nonprofit agencies and schools, said Vince Rusinak, a retired Air Force civil engineer and member of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments. He has been on the board of directors for nonprofit agencies such as the Boys and Girls Club and said that the proposed stormwater fees would take money from programs. A chart of estimated rates shows nonprofits could pay from $41.58 a year to $3,750 a year depending on the amount of impervious surface.
“That is a huge amount to those organizations,” Rusinak said.
It’s true that a stormwater fee would dip into program budgets for nonprofit organizations, said Dave Somers, executive director at the Center for Nonprofit Excellence. But the proposed fee structure, he said, is fair to nonprofit groups and schools and is lower than fees that would be imposed on commercial, industrial and government properties.
In an unprecedented move, the Center for Nonprofit Excellence weighed in on the election issue, giving the proposal its endorsement.
“With the last few years of floods, our board and staff and members recognized the importance of the community coming together in identifying a solution,” Somers said.
Organizers of the initiative believe the authority could collect about $40 million a year. Fifty-five percent of the money collected would be spent on capital projects and that portion of the fee would sunset after 20 years. However, 45 percent of the money, which would be used for administration, maintenance and emergency needs, would continue on until the authority retired it, organizers of the initiative said.
Mayor Steve Bach, who issued a proclamation in August detailing his opposition to the stormwater proposal, is uncomfortable with a never-ending portion of the fee. In his proclamation, he also said the authority could raise fees without voter approval.
Bach, who had been the most visible opponent of the proposal but recently stepped back from public comments on the issue, has said the proposal creates an unnecessary layer of government. Colorado Springs Councilwoman Helen Collins agrees. She said the city of Colorado Springs spent $46 million on stormwater projects in the past two years. An authority, she said, would shave 1 percent of the money collected off the top for administration costs.
Bruce, who finds himself aligned politically with Bach for the first time, applauded the mayor’s proclamation and added that if voters approve the stormwater fee, it will be attached to their annual property tax bill and a property owner could not refuse to pay it or the county would put a lien on their property.
“It’s on a property tax bill,” he said. “If you don’t pay the bill, it’s a threat to your home.”
Colorado Springs tried to solve its stormwater issue in 2008 when the City Council approved the creation of a Stormwater Enterprise – a property fee used to pay for drainage projects. The enterprise was phased out and ended by 2011 after voters approved the Bruce-sponsored Issue 300, and the enterprise was viewed as an illegal tax imposed without voter approval.
In August 2012, El Paso County commissioners and the council convened a summit to talk about flooding and drainage problems across the region and how to pay for them. The November ballot issue is modeled after the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, created in 2004 by voters in Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls. The PPRTA collects a 1 percent sales tax for transportation and transit improvements.
In November, the stormwater task force commissioned the Washington, D.C.-based WPA opinion research firm to survey 400 registered voters – 80 percent in Colorado Springs and 20 percent elsewhere in El Paso County – to find out if flood control is on residents’ radar. Ninety-five percent of respondents said flood control is important, and two-thirds of those said it is very important. An additional 81 percent said there should be a dedicated funding source to pay for drainage projects.
Bruce said that same survey showed that 44 percent of the respondents agreed with the fee.
“Any ballot issue that starts out under 50 percent before the opposition even surfaces is doomed,” Bruce said. “Ballot-issue support always slides; it doesn’t rise.”
Walker said the 44 percent is the amount of survey respondents who said they would prefer a fee compared with a sales tax or a property tax. It was meant as a research question and not a ballot question, he said. Once the task force settled on a fee structure, it did not conduct another survey.
“We are optimistic that we can win,” Walker said. “But it’s not over until it’s over.”
More, from The Gazette:
5 things to know about Measure 1B
1. If the measure is approved, Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Green Mountain Falls and parts of El Paso County would form the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority. The governmental agency would have an 11-member board of directors made up of elected officials from each entity.
2. The authority would collect fees on all property. The fee is based on the amount of impervious surface – driveways, rooftops and parking lots.
3. The authority expects to collect about $40 million a year. Of that, 55 percent of the money would be used for a list of 114 projects identified as high priority for the region; 35 percent of the money would be used for maintenance and operations; and 10 percent would be set aside for emergencies. At the end of 20 years, the portion of the fee – 55 percent – used for capital projects would sunset. The rest of the fee would remain in place until the authority dissolved it.
4. Fees would be added to annual property tax bills. Unpaid property tax bills trigger a lien process.
More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.
I have never endorsed a candidate here on Coyote Gulch but this year I’m making an exception and asking you to vote for Mark Udall. You can consider this post a call to arms of sorts.
Like many progressives I was dismayed to see the major Colorado dailies endorsing Congressman Gardner.
I found The Pueblo Chieftain’s endorsement particularly troubling in its focus. Here’s the link (no paywall for this one).
You will see the omission of many of the areas where Congressman Gardner’s positions and record would not carry the day.
No mention of environmental issues, no mention of women’s issues, no mention of immigration, no mention of climate change, no mention of the millions that have taken advantage of the Affordable Care Act, no mention of the pressing infrastructure needs, no mention of the need to control air pollution, no mention of renewable energy or even a sensible energy policy, no mention of gay marriage, no mention of views about economics, no mention of respective records supporting Colorado business, no mention of the Colorado recreation economy, no mention of an understanding of Colorado’s place in the Colorado River Basin, no mention of education, no mention …
I guess if you feel like support for an environmental disaster for Canada and global CO2 (Keystone XL), premature opposition to Clean Water Act rulemaking (“Waters of the US”) instead of participation in the process, and opposition to extending healthcare to more Americans, are the most important positions for a Colorado Senator in 2014, then the congressman fits the bill. That’s the list for the editors of The Pueblo Chieftain.
It really comes down to Congressman Gardner’s campaign and their cynical hope that if you are a voter in the groups that support Senator Udall in the areas listed above you won’t take the trouble to fill out and return your ballot.
I do know that every election comes down to getting out the vote. So when your mail-in ballot shows up please put a checkmark next to Senator Udall’s name.
One final note. The Chieftain also mentions Congressman Gardner’s, “deep roots in the Eastern Plains,” which is a cool story.
Mark Udall’s father and uncle helped shape the current policy and facilities of the Colorado River Basin. Stewart Udall put his mark on wilderness as well. In my book the deep roots contest goes to Udall.
Disclosure: I registered as Republican in 1982 and left the party the morning after Rudy Giuliani’s speech at the 2008 Republican Convention.
From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):
Two Weld County ballot initiatives aim to direct more tax dollars toward the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District with the intention of increasing water infrastructure and maintenance investments for agriculture and communities.
Ballot issue 4B proposes increasing the district’s annual tax allotment to a maximum of $750,000 in order to provide a stable water supply and maintain storage projects for farms, ranches and municipalities in Weld, Adams and Morgan counties.
Broken down, the home-owners’ tax would equate to an additional $2.34 a year for the owner of $100,000 house, said Kathy Parker, the district’s public information officer. She specified that business owners would not be subject to the levy.
Board member Randy Knutson emphasized the need for infrastructure improvements, especially following the wear and tear brought in 2013.
“With the flood last year and the increased maintenance and repair that we’ve been faced with, that’s a big reason for this particular tax increase, that and aging infrastructure,” he said.
He encouraged non-agricultural landowners to consider the possible benefits the tax would bring to overall quality of life.
“They benefit from agriculture; they benefit from water quality; they benefit from delivery of water, which eventually provides food for them,” he said.
The second ballot issue, 4C, would “de-bruce” funding restrictions created through the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). In other words, the issue would open up excess tax revenue and grants not currently available to the district due to tax code regulations.
“We have lost millions of dollars by not being able to participate in funding and grant money that has been available. The TABOR amendment has limited our ability to participate,” Knutson said.
More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.
From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Heidi Rice):
Aging equipment and water lines in need of repair are the driving force behind the Silt Water Conservancy District’s ballot question 5A in November’s election seeking voter permission to “de-Bruce” and allow the agency to collect money to repair and replace needed equipment.
The district operates Rifle Gap Reservoir, Harvey Gap Reservoir and the irrigation systems for most the farmers north of the Colorado River in the Rifle and Silt areas.
According to the district’s board, a “yes” vote will not increase property or sales taxes, but it will give the district access to government grant money to help pay for the repairs.
“We are not going to raise taxes — all we’re doing is de-Brucing so we can get funding,” said Kelly Lyon, president of the Silt Water Conservancy District (SWCD). “Right now, there is a problem with Harvey Gap. There’s a big hole that’s not enclosed and there’s leakage. It’s not been fixed in years.”
The ballot measure would not only benefit those who use the irrigation ditch water, but also those who enjoy the Rifle Gap and Harvey Gap reservoirs that provide recreational activities.
From The Colorado Statesman (Ernest Luning):
“High and dry is not a water plan,” Beauprez responded to a question about water storage. “We simply must put a shovel in the ground.”
Saying he supports building water storage, no question, Beauprez contended that regulation gets in the way of building the projects Coloradans need. “A governor needs to lead on behalf of the people to eliminate regulatory hurdles, not add to them,” he said.
Hickenlooper countered that any big water storage project will take decades to complete and that “Every conversation has to start with conservation.” He also declined to take a position on the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a proposal to build reservoirs on the northern Front Range. “I’m not allowed to take — if I took a stand on NISP, it would jeopardize the entire federal process,” he said.
“On my watch,” Beauprez rebutted, “we’re going to build”