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Stormwater “vote yes” group ready to campaign

Awash in cash

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Street flooding has become common in the city. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • Street flooding has become common in the city.
Advocates of a stormwater fee that would cost all households $5 a month — whether they be mansions or mobile homes — will spend at least $500,000 campaigning for its passage, more than the amount spent to win approval of the 2015 2C road tax measure and more than what was spent for a regional drainage measure in 2014.

Opposition, meantime, appears to be vested in well-known anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce. He’ll argue the fee is a thinly veiled tax that’s illegal and unfair — illegal because the fee isn’t connected to service actually rendered, and unfair because it’s a “bait and switch” that promises to fix drainage control when it actually will be used to hire more cops and firefighters. (Mayor John Suthers has said that the fee would free up general fund dollars for public safety.) “So they admit the ballot issue is a lie,” Bruce says.

The Nov. 7 election will be the fourth time voters have been asked to provide longterm funding for stormwater, the other failed attempts coming twice in 2001 and the regional effort in 2014 that went down 47 percent to 53 percent. (Voters in April did allow the city to keep up to $12 million in one-time excess revenue from 2016 and 2017 for stormwater.)

But now, the city faces a lawsuit alleging violations of the Clean Water Act filed by the Environmental Protection Agency and state water quality regulators, stemming from the city’s neglect of its stormwater system and waivers the city gave to developers to sidestep building drainage facilities. Suthers says passage of a stormwater fee, which would raise $17 million a year from residents and property owners, would help the city avoid costly fines from the lawsuit, though some city councilors disagree.

Most of the money to be raised by Invest in COS, the “vote yes” committee, will come from business people and construction contractors, says Rachel Beck, government affairs manager with the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC. “They understand the link between reliable infrastructure and their ability to do business and economic health,” she says. The monthly stormwater fee for commercial property owners would be $30 an acre.

Having hired consultant Clear Creek Strategies of Denver, the committee will use mailers, TV and radio, but so far doesn’t have a slogan for the measure, dubbed 2A on the ballot, Beck says.

Suthers interprets a pre-campaign poll that showed the issue passing comfortably as the community seeing stormwater as a priority, he says. “It also indicates the public has confidence in the city’s leadership and hopefully that will result in greater support.”

Laura Carno, a conservative political operative who opposed the city’s 2C roads tax measure in 2015, might sit this one out, she says, adding she knows of no organized effort to defeat the fee.

Bruce, though, is putting together a “true grassroots organization,” though he himself cannot vote, because he remains on probation for a felony tax-evasion conviction that is under appeal.

Bruce also plans to write a statement against the measure, though the city is not required to mail Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights notices to voters, since those are required only for tax hikes, not fee questions.

Bruce says he’ll target the flat rate in his campaign, noting, “The idea that Suthers’s campaign donors who live in mansions in the Broadmoor [area] don’t have to pay any more than grandma in her trailer, that’s an abomination.”

Notably, the city’s now-defunct stormwater fee charged fees based on impervious surface, meaning those that contributed most to the runoff problem, such as owners of large homes and businesses and parking lots, paid more. The city’s Stormwater Enterprise was shut down in 2011, after fees were suspended in late 2009 as a result of a ballot measure Bruce wrote that called for ending “the rain tax.”

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group that’s been involved in other local elections, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

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