In May, spring storms caused more than $8 million in damage in Colorado Springs. Mudslides, sinkholes and failed water retention systems damaged homes and businesses throughout the city during the early summer.
And that doesn’t include flash flooding in Manitou Springs in 2013 as a result of the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire or the erosion in Black Forest from floods in the aftermath of the 2013 Black Forest fire.
Also, Pueblo must deal with the tons of debris, mud, silt and sometimes sewage that flow down Fountain Creek in the wake of heavy thunderstorms — all because Colorado Springs failed to act.
But after years of defaulting on promises to our neighbor to the south and threatened lawsuits to hold the city accountable — Colorado Springs is finally living up to its word.
Mayor John Suthers included $16 million for stormwater fixes in the 2016 budget, voted on this week. Colorado Springs will kick in an additional $3 million. The money will create stormwater retention systems, repair erosion damage and keep our commitment to Pueblo from the agreements that created the Southern Delivery System.
It is a bold move — and one that didn’t come without sacrifices. Open positions with the city will go unfilled — the new budget contains money for only seven new positions, not the 70 asked for by departments. The police will not get a new evidence storage facility, and the fire department will staff its newest substation with current firefighters. City workers won’t get raises.
The latest decision to cut costs to make stormwater a priority shows the cooperation between the Mayor’s office and City Council.
The stringent fiscal policy is necessary — while the general fund increased by 3.9 percent this year, infrastructure repair and maintenance has gone unaddressed for far too long. When voters turned down the “stormwater fee” in 2014, the city was left with only federal emergency funds to fix stormwater damage.
But the needs go beyond Band-Aids for repair after floods devastated neighborhoods and businesses. The city needs to address stormwater to ameliorate the damage from flooding. The money won’t be spent only on capital projects. Instead, it will be used to bolster the entire stormwater enterprise.
Stormwater issues should be dealt with systematically and responsibly. The latest decision to cut other city costs to make stormwater a priority shows — once again — the cooperation between the Mayor’s office and City Council. Both are to be lauded for putting the city’s needs ahead of their own egos.
Of course, voters played a vital role as well. Without last week’s vote to increase sales taxes to pay for desperately needed road repairs, there would not be extra money for stormwater. The city would be facing a grim reality: lawsuits with Pueblo, increased damage from flooding, potholes and disintegrating road beds.
But in this new era of cooperation, the city is able to address both stormwater and roads. That’s good news. Better infrastructure means a better quality of life — and both are necessary for economic development. Last week, voters signaled they were willing to invest in the city — and this week, City Council echoed them when they agreed to pay for stormwater maintenance and repair. When people invest in the city, businesses follow. They’ll move here, and the ones that are here will feel comfortable expanding — knowing their infrastructure needs will be met. In turn, additional tax dollars will fuel additional city needs. The police will get the evidence storage room they need; firefighters will be able to hire for the new substation.
It will take time. But it seems that, finally, everyone’s on board traveling in the same direction.