Sunny skies for stormwater plan
31st St., Westside bridges among ‘poster children’ for proposed enterprise

       A public hearing on a new fee to pay for citywide stormwater needs will be held at a formal meeting of Colorado Springs City Council sometime in November.
       By consensus, council members approved the plan in concept at a work session Sept. 20. They also agreed that their vote, following the hearing, would be final, with no need for a public election.
       The fee, costing a typical household about $7.50 a month, would go into a fund called a “stormwater enterprise.” People would be charged on the basis of how much runoff their properties create, as calculated primarily by rooftops and driveways.
       Initial spending would be guided by a list of $295 million worth of “backlog” drainage-control projects proposed by City Engineering, headed by $66 million in 24 “critical” projects - including 6 on the Westside.
       The Westside projects would consist of improving two segments of the 31st Street drainageway (Camp Creek through Pleasant Valley); replacing the bridges over Fountain Creek at 8th and 21st streets; and upgrading aging detention ponds at 19th Street and at King Street.
       One of the points raised at the work session was the city's readiness for a major storm. The recent Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans was cited.
       The city does not need to have an election because the stormwater enterprise would be a fee for a specific service, not a tax for general municipal needs, according to information from the City Attorney's Office.
       Council member Jerry Heimlicher, whose District 3 includes Old Colorado City and the Westside down to the Cheyenne area, said after the meeting he does not want to put the stormwater enterprise to an election because it might get voted down. At the same time, he said the council feels strongly that stormwater is a crucial safety issue. “Why ask the public when we're going to do it anyway?” he said.
       The one court case cited by the City Attorney's Office supporting the no-election position is dated 1986; however, the state law (TABOR) requiring elections on new civic revenue proposals passed in 1992.
       A question about this apparent anachronism did not come up at the work session. Scott Hente, whose District 1 includes the upper Westside to Garden of the Gods Road, said afterward he meant to ask about it, but forgot. After the meeting, he said he queried City Attorney Pat Kelly about it, who told him she would research it and get back to him.
       Estimates indicate the fee would provide the city with $21 million a year. Currently, the city spends less than $3 million annually on drainage-control needs, according to City Engineer-ing. The department's information also states that Colorado Springs is the only city of its size in the state that does not have such an enterprise fund.
       The enterprise would be a city-owned business with its own manager that could issue revenue bonds, according to the proposal by City Engineering.
       At the meeting, City Engineering provided illustrated 11-by-17-inch sheets for several of the “poster-child” projects on the critical list. Four of the high-priority Westside projects had such posters. Those for 31st Street describe its current concrete channel as “an undersized facility that has deteriorated such that major repair and reconstruction is necessary... Severe damage [could be caused to a] school (Howbert Elemen-tary), several businesses and more than 300 homes in a large storm event.”
       During his re-election campaign last spring, Hente had made the 31st Street drainage his top political issue. Asked after the meeting if he was pleased to see it on the critical list, he said, “Absolutely.”
       City Engineering information shows the two phases of the 31st Street project as: Phase 1 - Fountain Creek to Fontanero Street, $7.25 million; and Phase 2 - Fontanero Street to the Garden of the Gods, $4.5 million.
       The 8th and 21st Street bridge replacements are needed because both are “hydraulically inadequate to pass a 100-year flood level discharge, threatening adjacent public and private property,” their combined poster states. The pricetag for both bridges, including erosion control along the creek, is $12 million.
       According to City Engineering's critical list, repairs to the 19th Street and King Street detention ponds would cost $500,000 and $350,000, respectively.
       The stormwater enterprise proposal resulted from City Engineering representatives meeting with a volunteer citizen task force starting last June.
       El Paso County is also planning a stormwater enterprise, but is just a few months behind the city in that regard, John McCarty, County Transportation Supervisor, said at the meeting. The county's Highway Advisory Commission has taken on the task-force role, he said, pledging county cooperation with the city. “Water doesn't know political boundaries,” he said.
       The city's backlog of stormwater projects has accumulated over many years, because of tight budgets, according to city officials. For example, City Engineering's posters for the 31st Street and bridge projects state that the department has sought money for them since the 1980s.
       The public hearing will be at either of the formal council meetings in November (Nov. 8 or 22), Heimlicher said.

Westside Pioneer article