A few weeks ago, a portion of the picturesque 1899 stone wall that borders my somewhat rundown 1899 house on the Westside collapsed on the sidewalk. Maintaining our beloved relic of a house is difficult enough as is, with or without historic stone walls to repair.
Such a task is way beyond my modest competence, so we’ll have to find a highly skilled stonemason to do it, and pay him/her well. As my spouse and I tried to figure out where we’d get the dough to fix the damn wall, it occurred to me that our plight mirrors that of our city and state.
Colorado and Colorado Springs have some major infrastructure issues — and like us, they don’t have enough fix-up money available.
Let’s look at Colorado Springs Utilities.
Completing the $820 million Southern Delivery System was an amazing accomplishment, particularly in an era when developing new water delivery systems is practically impossible. Retiring CEO Jerry Forte, former CFO Bill Cherrier and the late Gary Bostrom, who brilliantly shepherded SDS from conception to completion, deserve our thanks.
Yet even though CSU has invested more than a billion dollars in system upgrades during the last two decades, the company has $2.4 billion in long-term debt and some looming challenges in the decade to come.
It’s hard to believe that the same farsighted visionaries who created SDS fell for Dave Neumann’s pitch, and spent more than $200 million to install sulfur dioxide scrubbers on the downtown Martin Drake coal-fired power plant. It was clear at the time that the money should have been invested in a new combined-cycle gas fired plant in a different location.
The cost of maintaining CSU’s far-flung infrastructure is sure to increase in coming years. The multiple reservoirs and hundreds of miles of water pipelines will require attention, as will gas, electric, water and wastewater service structures within CSU’s service area. Colorado Springs is a big, sprawling city, one that may be more expensive to serve and maintain than more compact communities. We all want inexpensive, utterly reliable utility service, but we may have to give up the former to enjoy the latter.
Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Transportation is busy putting together a public/private deal to add a couple of toll lanes to I-25 between Monument and Castle Rock. While local power players such as Transportation Commissioner Rocky Scott see such tolling as the only practical funding option, local residents don’t like it. So how can it be done without tolls? Absent new taxes or a sizeable state transportation bond issue, it may not be possible.
And speaking of new taxes, do you remember the state’s much-ballyhooed 2015 Colorado Water Plan? It called for about $3 billion in state investment for new water projects from 2020-2050. That’s $100 million annually; where will the money come from?
As the Pueblo Chieftain reported last week, Gov. Hickenlooper’s “top water adviser” John Stulp has been working with the state Interbasin Compact Committee to figure out some alternatives.
Their ideas include:
• An excise tax on water activities, including recreation;
• A tap fee on all water users’ bills;
• A bottle fee on beverage containers;
• A one-time tap fee on new construction; and
• A 0.1 percent sales tax to fund water.
Those ideas will be discussed in more depth at the 2018 Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, April 11-12 in La Junta.
And speaking of tired, expensive-to-repair infrastructure, how about some of the far-fetched schemes floating around to replace the Cog Railway? My favorite is definitely Vince Rusinak’s proposal for an aerial tramway to carry visitors to the top. Vince didn’t give a hard cost estimate other than proposing (you guessed it!) a public/private partnership to fund its construction. I’m all for it, as long as I’m not a member of the undefined “public” who will have to help foot the bill.
But maybe something similar would work for my wall. Couldn’t the city just levy a modest “historic wall viewing tax” that would enable me, and other similarly situated wall owners, to maintain our rhyolite barriers? It would improve neighborhoods, create jobs for masons and improve property values in aging neighborhoods. Want an economic impact study? I’ll write one — that’s how public-spirited I am! n CSBJ