Colorado Springs has what Mayor John Suthers terms “monumental financial problems” in the form of fixing stormwater infrastructure without affecting city services like police and fire.
That’s one reason he says he enjoys participating in the Colorado Springs Business Journal’s annual Mayors Panel, a forum discussion with mayors from across the Pikes Peak region. This year, Pueblo City Council President Steve Nawrocki will also be present.
“The issues are so different,” Suthers said. “We have big problems, and I think last year the biggest thing on the mind of the mayor of Green Mountain Falls was whether to renovate their gazebo for weddings.”
Manitou Springs Mayor Nicole Nicoletta says that her city is also struggling with infrastructure.
“That’s our main priority now,” she said. “We’re working on bridge repair. Fortunately, we have the money to do almost everything we need to do.”
Smaller towns have smaller issues, Suthers said, but that doesn’t mean Colorado Springs should act on its own without regard for its neighbors.
“On the other hand, we are a region, economically interlinked,” he said. “I just took a tour of the South Slope of Pikes Peak, which we opened three years ago for recreation. I drove back through Victor, Cripple Creek, Woodland Park. There was so much traffic in Woodland Park, people trying to get to the mountains, stopping to buy doughnuts. We are all in the same boat as far as tourism, as far as promotion. If it is good for one of us; it’s good for all of us.”
Nicoletta said that she’s pleased with the level of cooperation with Manitou’s neighboring city.
“We just had a meeting with the Colorado Springs City Council, the [El Paso County] Board of Commissioners,” she said. “It was phenomenal. There’s extreme cooperation and partnership right now between those entities. We have programs that start with us, but almost always cross paths with another partner in the region. We have incredible relationships with the Springs.”
And Suthers is hoping for cooperation with the city’s stormwater projects. While there is no regional plan, he believes municipalities should all work together toward a solution. Suthers said Monument, Woodland Park, Green Mountain Falls, Fountain, Manitou and Pueblo all have common issues — and should come together for solutions.
“We need to take regional planning seriously,” he said. “We’re working on a long-term, 20-year plan for Colorado Springs. I hope the other cities are as well. The question is: Is it going to be big enough, bold enough?”
Pueblo and Manitou Springs have legalized retail shops for recreational marijuana — and both cities are benefiting from the tax revenue. But while the other cities haven’t, recreational marijuana use is still an issue, Suthers said.
“And that’s just one single issue,” he said. “I think we’re all interdependent when it comes to widening Interstate 25 to Denver as well.”
As for the city’s somewhat acrimonious relationship with Pueblo, Suthers said he believes that city’s leaders understand he is serious about fixing stormwater issues created by the Steel City’s upstream neighbor.
“We’re certainly on the right track,” he said. “I do think everyone in Pueblo understands the city is sincere about addressing the issues. But that didn’t keep them from jumping in to the EPA lawsuit to protect their interests. I think they are in a ‘trust, but verify’ mode. That’s fine, if they want to spend the legal dollars participating in that suit.”
Lawsuits with the Environmental Protection Agency aside, Suthers said the city would carry out its end of the bargain — but that leaves some remaining questions.
“Are we going to be the only city in America that pays for it out of the general fund, putting stress on police and fire?” he asked. “That’s really the essence of the question.”
For his part, Suthers favors a stormwater fee based on the amount of impervious development on property. And he doesn’t feel it’s asking too much of local voters.
“This is an essential government service,” he said. “It’s not fluff. Colorado Springs is still a lean, mean machine when it comes to city government. We’re addressing our roads, our transportation, our parks. That’s it. We’re not asking for cultural art taxes or things like that. And I hope no one is surprised. When I ran for office, I said we were going to improve the political climate, have better economic development, improve roads and infrastructure. And that’s what we’re doing.”
If you want to hear more about how mayors want to work together, what issues exist in surrounding cities and what the future looks like for the Springs, Monument, Woodland Park, Green Mountain Falls, Fountain and Pueblo, attend the Business Journal’s Mayors Panel on Thursday, July 20 at 11:30 a.m. at the Doubletree World Arena. Go to csbj.com/events to sign up.