At its Jan. 24 meeting, the Colorado Springs City Council approved a stormwater resolution presented by Councilor Jan Martin.

The plan calls for an annual total of $19 million in designated stormwater funding, beginning in 2016. This number assumes $8 million will be available annually from funds now used to pay principal and interest on the Springs Community Improvement Plan bonds, which will be paid off in mid-2016. It also includes $3 million that Colorado Springs Utilities spends annually on stormwater-related projects and $8 million from the city’s existing stormwater budget.

But according to calculations prepared by the city’s finance department, the numbers are wrong and substantially misstate the availability of existing General Fund money for stormwater projects.

“We are not currently spending $8 million [from the] General Fund for stormwater,” said a senior city official after the meeting. “Martin’s plan will require the city to reallocate $8 million from other accounts, such as streets, public safety and parks in 2016 and $5 million beginning in 2017 and beyond.”

Only $5 million will be available from SCIP payments in 2016, because the bonds will not be completely repaid until mid-2016. The full $8 million specified in the Martin plan will be available thereafter.

While $2.5 million in General Fund Capital Improvement Projects were included in the 2015 budget, no projects were submitted for the out years. As of now, there are no ongoing stormwater projects, and no funding is allocated to such projects.

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Although finance department calculations did not address the $3 million provided annually by Utilities, the relevance of such funding to ongoing stormwater project needs is questionable. Like any business, Utilities needs to protect vulnerable assets, such as pipelines crossing waterways. Such funding may be necessary to guarantee the integrity of various energy, water and gas delivery systems, but may have little impact on flood control and mitigation.

Without raiding other accounts, there may be no more than $11 million available for stormwater-only projects.

An 8-1 Council majority nevertheless approved a resolution recommending the Martin plan for adoption in subsequent budgets.

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“These aren’t committed funds …”

– Jay Winner

[/pullquote]Were Councilors aware that the plan has no binding effect, and is mostly smoke and mirrors? Probably so, but the resolution wasn’t designed to have any effect on stormwater. It was designed to head off a possible lawsuit from the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which filed notice of intent to sue after voters rejected the proposed Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority in November.

In the notice, the conservancy district charged that Colorado Springs is in violation of its Municipal Stormwater National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit, “as a result of its failure to provide adequate funding to support stormwater [discharges].”

Told of Council’s adoption of the “Martin Plan” last week, LAVWCD Director Jay Winner said $19 million would be roughly equivalent to the amount allocated to stormwater by the original Stormwater Enterprise, which Colorado Springs voters terminated in 2009. That, he originally opined, would be enough to fend off a lawsuit.

He subsequently figured out it was phantom money.

“The Colorado Springs City Council and Colorado Springs Utilities are the most disingenuous people I’ve ever dealt with,” he said. “These aren’t committed funds — it’s just a resolution. For 10 years they’ve been telling us the same thing ­— wait for the next election. We’ll see.”

The city must spend real money to solve the obvious and destructive stormwater problems and do the right thing for our southern neighbors. Doing the right thing will also remove the threat of a lawsuit from the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.