Our stormwater infrastructure funding requirements have been identified: We are being told we will need around $800 million to accomplish them. A group of citizens called the Pikes Peak Stormwater Task Force has come up with a proposal to fund and manage this work.
The Colorado Springs City Council and El Paso County commissioners generally agree with their proposal and plan on putting a ballot question before the voters in November. Will the voters approve it? I hope not.
The Task Force has proposed that funding would come from a very complex methodology that focuses on what they refer to as “impervious surfaces.” It is unknown why owners of vacant land are exempt from the proposed fee: It can easily be proven that significant amounts of stormwater runoff come from unimproved vacant land.
It is also unknown why the users of our roads are exempt from the fee: Roads and their shoulders are totally impervious and all precipitation that lands on our roads, except for a small portion that evaporates, contributes immensely both to amounts of runoff and to concentrations of contaminants that must be treated.
It is questionable why our local government entities must pay a fee for impervious surfaces on government property. Why go through the effort of collecting fees from local governments since the proponents claim they will get 100 percent of the monies they pay returned to them?
Schools and nonprofits that have impervious surfaces on their property are also subject to this fee. Why would anyone even consider charging schools or nonprofits a stormwater fee? Our schools and nonprofits constantly struggle for funds. By and large, they are vital to the fabric of our community.
This impervious surface methodology was wrong when the city of Colorado Springs tried it out a decade ago and today it continues to be wrong, wrong, wrong!
To manage the revenue that would be collected, the task force came up with an organization that attempts to mirror the PPRTA and named it the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority (PPRDA). The PPRTA and PPRDA at first glance appear almost identical; however, there are very significant differences. In respect to the PPRTA, transportation issues stem from acts of people (we build roads and transit systems to connect communities).
On the other hand, the proposed PPRDA is structured to manage stormwater infrastructure issues, or to solve stormwater problems that result from acts of God (we have no control over amounts and duration of precipitation). The PPRTA, in large part, works off a list of projects approved by the voters, while the proposed PPRDA also has a project list but it will not be approved by the voters.
There are some checks and balances in the proposed PPRDA, but they are NOT nearly as restrictive as those that are contained in the PPRTA.
The PPRDA, like the PPRTA, once approved by the voters would be funded in perpetuity and unable to be terminated by the voters. It would be one more organization that would be formed based on the voters’ “distrust of our elected officials,” not because this proposed Authority is a more efficient way of performing the business of government … which it is not!
At some point we, the voters, need to begin trusting the folks we elect as our mayors, council members, town trustees and county commissioners, to perform the jobs we elected them to perform. We need to stop forming quasi-governmental organizations that overlay those of our towns, cities and county.
Although our regional sales and use taxes are relatively high, I propose that our elected officials drop both the proposed stormwater fee and PPRDA and put before the voters a regional sales tax to fund our stormwater needs. With a regional tax it doesn’t matter if a resident of Monument buys something outside of the town limits, or if someone from Colorado Springs buys something in Monument. All sales and use tax revenue would be returned to the respective municipalities based upon population.
As a point of reference, a 0.5 percent countywide sales and use tax would bring in revenue close to $40 million, exactly the amount the proponents of the PPRDA were hoping to obtain.
This proposed sales and use tax could and should be sunset in five years. If we, the voters, felt that we were getting what we bargained for from this tax, we could always vote to extend it.
The mechanics of this proposal could easily be worked out by all of our municipalities through an intergovernmental agreement. This is a tax I could and would support.
Vince Rusinak is the co-founder and owner of Rusinak Real Estate Inc., which he and his wife Nancy started in 1988. Contact him at 719-590-6110.