Forum highlights pros and cons of two initiatives

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At a Leadership Pikes Peak forum Oct. 17, it was Laura Carno versus Mayor John Suthers in a debate about the stormwater fee proposal that will be on the Nov. 7 ballot; and it was taxophobe Douglas Bruce versus Friends of D-11 campaign strategist Lauren Hug in a discussion about Colorado Springs School District 11’s attempt to raise $43 million in a mill levy override — something voters turned down this time last year. It is also on the upcoming November ballot.

Carno’s arguments against the stormwater fee — which is estimated to raise $20 million designated for infrastructure and drainage projects — were simple. She said the city didn’t need a designated fund.

“If your priority is stormwater, fire and police, that should be at the top of the budget,” she said. “Everything else falls under those. The money is there; it’s just not being prioritized correctly.”

For his part, the mayor said the city had neglected stormwater infrastructure for far too long — leading to lawsuits with the Environmental Protection Agency and the city of Pueblo.

“I can’t get into detail, but I am confident that if we have a dedicated stormwater fee, then that will help resolve the case with the EPA,” he said, pointing out that the city is spending $17 million a year thanks to an intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo.

The suggested stormwater fee will be $5 on residential utility bills; and developed property will be charged at $30 an acre. Green space within a development will lower the acreage, the mayor said.

“Every major city in the country has a dedicated stormwater fee,” he said. “We need to do this.”

But Carno countered by saying that undeveloped land isn’t included in the fee, and that gave developers a break. She also said she spoke for “regular people.”

“I’m here representing people who don’t want anymore taken out of their paychecks,” she said. “No more fees, no more taxes. They’ve had enough. For people living paycheck to paycheck, that $5 is a big deal.”

After a short break, Hug and Bruce took up the details of the D-11 mill levy override, which would raise $42 million for teacher salaries, building upgrades and maintenance, and paying down some of D-11’s debt. It would increase the district’s mill levy from 40 mills to about 53 mills. Surrounding school districts have rates ranging from Manitou’s 60 mills to Harrison’s 47 mills.

For Bruce, the increase was too much, too soon and is not needed. More competition and school choice is what kids need, he said, not additional tax burdens.

“You solve the problem by allowing parents to have vouchers to send their students to high-performing schools, not a government-run mill,” he said.

But Hug said the district needed the money to repair and update buildings — some of which are 60 years old — to be able to take modern technology, as well as end problems with heating and air conditioning systems, failing water pipes and a host of other problems.

“Colorado Springs is fantastic,” she said. “But we need to invest in the workforce for tomorrow — and that starts with a strong central school district. This is an investment in the future.”

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