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City Council votes for pay-as-you-go stormwater plan; Camp Creek future uncertain again

       Leery of the bond debt in a capital improvements proposal by Mayor Steve Bach, City Council opted instead at its Jan. 27 meeting for a $19 million-a-year, pay-as-you-go plan focusing on stormwater only.
       Councilmember Jan Martin, who proposed the plan, called it a “sustainable stormwater control program” (SSCP). While pleased that it “will take a bite out of the stormwater piece [and] require no additional debt,” she emphasized that “I don't want anybody to think this solves the problem. We all know we have over $1 billion in infrastructure needs.”
       The SSCP projects have not been identified yet, once again leaving uncertain when Camp Creek upgrades through Garden of the Gods and Pleasant Valley
Heavy rains in September 2013 temporarily washed out this bridge over Camp Creek at the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site.
Courtesy of Andy Morris
might be funded. However, engineers have prioritized that area twice in the past year (last fall's failed county-wide stormwater ballot question as well as the mayor's list), and the city had completed a major study in 2014 to define repair needs there. Still, the mayor's plan earmarked “only” $5 million toward that project, although the study estimated the total cost at $37 million.
        Without a call for new taxes, SSCP does not require a public vote. It also appears to be veto-proof, because the final council tally was 8-1, with Helen Collins casting the only no vote.
       Earlier in the meeting, council voted down the Bach plan after a public hearing despite pleas from several community leaders who preferred the mayor's idea because it would have meant a wider range of projects being acccomplished in a shorter amount of time. Parks needs especially were emphasized, in large part because that city department has yet to recover from severe budget cuts a few years ago. One park item on the mayor's list that Old Colorado City merchants liked was $225,000 to pay for new, handicapped-accessible public restrooms in Bancroft Park.
       Martin suggested that the upcoming mayoral election (in which Bach is not running for re-election) could lead to a more comprehensive plan. “It will be an opportunity for citizens and the new mayor to come up with a solution,” she said.
       Bach's plan would have needed citizen voter approval because it sought to issue sales and use tax revenue bonds. They would have provided $145 million to be spent over five years on a city-prepared list of projects in the categories of neighborhood streets, public safety, parks and stormwater.
       But the council consensus disliked the city having to pay those bonds off for 20 years in all (15 of them after the last project was done).
       A similar scenario arose in the city's Springs Community Improvements Program (SCIP), which voters approved in 1999. The 29 SCIP projects were finished by 2004, but the bond payments continue, with the typical annual bill just under $8 million and the final payment of $2.76 million due in 2016, city financial figures show.
       The SSCP plan - once it gets started - will conceptually spend $19 million annually. As Martin outlined it, $8 million will come from money used now for SCIP, plus $11 million already being spent for stormwater ($8 million by the city and $3 million by Colorado Springs Utilities).
       Dedicating more money to stormwater should also help forestall a possible lawsuit from the Pueblo area, Councilmember Merv Bennett added. City officials have previously expressed concern that such a suit might prevail on the basis that flooding damage along downstream Fountain Creek is worsened because Colorado Springs lacks a consistent funding mechanism for stormwater repairs.
       Pay-as-you-go also avoids the interest payments required in issuing bonds. For SCIP, according to city financial records, the project expense was about $88 million, but when the bonds are finally paid off next year, the actual cost with interest will total $127 million.
       Additional details on the sustainable stormwater control program - including whether that will be its ultimate name - are still to come. Tim Mitros, city stormwater manager, said after the meeting that “the plan is going to have to be vetted through our budget people before we understand how it will work.”

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 2/2/15; Politics: City/County)

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