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Council seeks creation of new department for stormwater needs

Oct 21, 2013

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Stormwater issues are so important to Colorado Springs that a new city department should be created just to oversee flooding and drainage projects, the City Council says.

Council members want to create a stormwater department and take $2 million from the city's 2013 rainy-day fund to start it. The idea, said City Council President Keith King, is to get moving immediately on stormwater projects. He also said it would be a good-faith commitment to residents who might be asked to approve a stormwater fee or tax to cover the millions in stormwater needs.

The proposal appears to counter Mayor Steve Bach's stormwater funding plan, which he announced this month. Bach wants residents to extend an existing bond debt, which is slated to retire in 2016, to pay for $175 million in stormwater projects. Under his proposal, residents would not be asked for a new tax or fee.

But last week, the council sent Bach a letter outlining its intentions to create the new stormwater department. The city's charter, even under the strong-mayor form of government, allows the council to create new departments, divisions, offices or agencies. And the council also can set the budget for a new department.

"But how to administer it is up to the executive branch," City Attorney Chris Melcher said.

Council members became alarmed during budget presentations this month that Bach had not earmarked enough money in the 2014 budget for stormwater projects. In a list of capital improvement projects, council members noted that only $150,000 from the 2014 budget was listed for stormwater projects.

But Laura Neumann, the mayor's chief of staff, said Bach's proposed budget earmarks $9 million for the construction, operations and design of stormwater projects but the money comes from several different department budgets. In addition, the city has applied for more than $7 million in federal grant money and has the more than $8 million the council approved this year from its reserve fund to spend on stormwater projects in 2014. The money would be spent on projects including repairing damaged channels, building detention ponds and replacing seven bridges.

Council members, though, said they never received details about stormwater spending in this month's budget presentations.

Neumann said a stormwater department would be a burden for accounting purposes.

"We would like to have an opportunity to educate council on how stormwater is done," she said. "It crosses over many departments."

King said he's convinced the city needs a stormwater department to track the projects from all the different funds. All nine council members signed the letter to Bach calling for a stormwater department.

"The reason we want a separate department allocated to stormwater is we had no idea what the city was spending on design and capital construction projects for stormwater," he said. "We had no way of knowing where that item existed in the budget."

King is not sold on Bach's proposal to pay for stormwater needs by asking residents to renew the voter-approved Springs Community Improvement Program, which was the sale of $88 million in municipal bonds to pay for 29 capital improvement projects.

The projects were completed in 2004, and the debt, paid for from the general fund, is scheduled to be paid off in 2016.

Under the mayor's plan, the city could form a regional stormwater authority, but each city in the authority would be responsible for raising its own funds and the authority would be used more for planning and coordinating stormwater projects rather than a fund-sharing program.

King, on the other hand, is looking for a regional solution to stormwater funding. The City Council recently approved a resolution saying the council was committed to a regional approach by working with El Paso County and other neighboring entities to come up with a funding plan to pay for the flooding and drainage projects.

One proposal by a regional stormwater task force is to model a stormwater authority after the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, which was approved by voters in Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls and collects 1 percent sales tax for transportation and transit improvements.

The difference between the task force and the mayor's proposal is the mayor's plan would provide funding for 34 projects over five years and be paid for over 20 years. The PPRTA model is pay as you go and is a dedicated funding source for more than five years.

King said a stormwater department would show residents the city is committed to paying for some projects from the general operating budget.

"I still want to do it," he said. "I think it would be good to bring (stormwater funding) all together and focus on it."

Reporter Monica Mendoza can be reached by email at [email protected]

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