Is the purpose of ballot question 2A to fund the city’s stormwater program, or is it actually to provide an $18 million/year windfall for the Mayor and City Council to use however they wish to do so?
The city and Colorado Springs Utilities are obligated by the Southern Delivery System Intergovernmental Agreement to spend $460 million on the city’s stormwater program through 2035. CSU will provide about $36 million leaving the city to fund the remaining $424 million. City Council has agreed to dedicate, from the general fund, all the funding necessary to satisfy this obligation through 2035. So, at this point it would seem that the city’s stormwater problem had been solved!
The stormwater problem was solved until August when Mayor John Suthers said he wanted to take all of the funds from the stormwater program — again about $18 million/year — and use some of it to pay for more police and firemen and to raise their pay, some to replace many of the city’s “aged out” vehicles, some to provide improvements needed to the city’s parks, and the rest to do some other things. The mayor does not want to justify any of these needs and wants, nor does he want to go to the voters and ask them to approve an increase in sales or property taxes to fund them. So the mayor’s plan to replenish the funding for the stormwater program is to establish not a new tax, but a service fee on some property owners, and manage the fee through a new stormwater enterprise. The mayor claims that although the city has the authority to impose a stormwater service fee without voter approval, he will ask the voters for their approval to do so.
The city’s stormwater program has been divisive and contentious ever since the Stormwater Enterprise -— or SWENT — was put in place in 2005. Although the voters did not like the city doing this without their approval, the problem with the SWENT was that it was a business and as such had considerable leeway in how it operated. It was not controlled as tightly as the other departments in the city. The divisiveness seemed to settle down when city council terminated the fee that funded it in 2009, ending the SWENT. In 2014, several municipalities, including the city, joined together to try to form a “stormwater” authority that would have been funded again by a fee. The voters, especially the city voters, still had a bad taste in their mouths from the SWENT, didn’t like the regional approach to stormwater and said no to the authority and the fee. Today, the mayor is trying to resurrect essentially the same Stormwater Enterprise and fee that the citizens grew to hate from 2005-10.
Although public schools and nonprofits are exempt from paying property taxes, owners of vacant land do pay property taxes. The mayor is reversing this with the fee he is proposing requiring public schools and nonprofits to pay the fee, but exempting owners of vacant land from the fee. Why would the mayor even consider making our school districts pay a stormwater fee when they are all underfunded? Colorado Springs School District 11 is not only hurting for funds, but screaming. Why would the mayor want to reduce the services being provided by nonprofits such as the Marian House, Care and Share, Springs Rescue Mission, Boys and Girls Club and many others by requiring them to pay the fee? And then there is the question: Why would the mayor exclude developers and other owners of both developed and native vacant land from paying a stormwater fee?
It is obvious that the mayor put this proposal together in haste to meet the deadline to get it on the November ballot. I am very proud of the three council members who not only identified the many problems with this proposal during their deliberations at several council meetings, but also refused to support the issue and jump on the mayor’s bandwagon, as the other six council members did when they approved putting the question on the ballot. On Nov. 7, I am confident that I will be joining council members Murray, Knight and Pico when I vote no on 2A.
— Vince Rusinak, owner, Rusinak Real Estate Inc.