Why do we need a fee to pay for stormwater?
Colorado Springs grew very quickly in the last half of the 20th century. With that growth came a lot of impervious surfaces which has dramatically increased the volume and rate of flow of stormwater runoff. Also, when user fee funding of the City’s stormwater enterprise was eliminated in 2009, during the worst days of the Great Recession, the City experienced substantial diminution of revenues and was forced to dramatically cut stormwater spending. All of these circumstances have increased the risks within and outside of the City for serious flooding and have been a factor leading to enforcement litigation being brought against the City by the EPA and the State of Colorado.
The City is legally required to conduct a federal and state mandated stormwater program to comply with the City’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System Permit (MS4 Permit). The stormwater program involves meeting capital construction needs such as detention facilities, the maintenance and operation of the stormwater system, and costs of administration and enforcement of the MS4 Permit. This includes holding developers accountable for their drainage obligations.
Until now, Colorado Springs was one of the only major cities in the United States that did not have a dedicated stormwater funding source and that funds its stormwater program with general funds derived from taxes. As a result, the City has had to decrease funds available for other essential City services, including police and fire protection.
By creating a dedicated stormwater funding source through a fee on residential utility bills, the City is assured of sustainable funding to meet its legal and contractual obligations without depleting the City’s general fund. This will allow other public needs to be better met.
What is a Stormwater Enterprise (SWENT) and how is it different today?
SWENT is responsible for the planning, construction, maintenance, operation, and management of the City’s stormwater infrastructure, natural channel corridors, and stormwater conveyance systems. The Municipally Separate Storm Sewer System Permit (MS4) compliance program within SWENT ensures compliance with the City’s MS4 Permit, which is a federally mandated permit under the Clean Water Act and is administrated through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The SWENT staff also manages and ensures compliance with all City of Colorado Springs stormwater and drainage related regulations, criteria, and codes, as well as the 2016 City of Colorado Springs and Pueblo County Stormwater Intergovernmental Agreement.
The reinstatement of the Stormwater Enterprise and new fee were voted in by a ballot initiative, whereas the original fee was implemented by City Council. Previously, the fee was calculated based on a ratio of impervious and pervious area for all properties. The new fee for residential properties is a flat $5 rate, while non-residential parcels are based on the overall amount of developed or improved land on the parcel. Previously, certain uses received a reduction in fee, i.e. educational, institutional, non-profit. The new fee charge will charge the same rate for all uses, including governmental.
Why is this fee being collected through Colorado Springs Utilities for residential customers?
Billing by Colorado Springs Utilities is the most cost-effective solution for residential fee collection as it already has a mechanism in place to bill residents for services.
Now that the stormwater fee is approved, where will the general fund money currently allocated for stormwater be directed?
Current stormwater projects and programs will continue to be funded through the City’s general fund until the stormwater fee goes into effect on July 1, 2018. Once the fee goes into effect, general fund money that was used to fund stormwater will be used to fund police, fire and critical facility repairs, vital repairs to city facilities and more.
When the fee goes into effect July 1, 2018, general funds will be freed to hire an additional 20 police officers for the Colorado Springs Police Department, eight firefighters and two fire inspector positions for the Colorado Springs Fire Department in 2018. These new positions are part of a larger plan to add 100-120 police officers to the force incrementally, over the next five years.
The Inter-Governmental Agreement with Pueblo committed to fund stormwater for 20 years beginning in 2016. However, the stormwater fee will sunset 2038, two years after the Inter-Governmental Agreement with Pueblo ends. How will the extra money collected through the fee be used and what happens when the fee sunsets?
The operation of the City's stormwater program has three main elements - (1) capital construction of facilities, (2) operation and maintenance of the stormwater system, and (3) administrations of the MS4 (Clean Water Act) Permit obligations. The capital projects are planned to be completed within the 20 year timeframe. However, the MS4 obligations and operation and maintenance of our City's stormwater system will continue into the future beyond the 20 year timeframe. Any overlap of funding will be used solely for those stormwater requirements that must still be met after the terms of the IGA are satisfied. Funding of the City’s stormwater program and MS4 obligations will always be a requirement.
What happened to the $12 million voters allowed the City to retain for stormwater projects?
Before the stormwater fee was placed on the ballot, voters allowed the City in April to retain and spend for stormwater up to $6 million of revenues each year over the otherwise applicable TABOR cap for 2016 and 2017. This funding serves as a first step in honoring the City’s commitment to fund stormwater in accordance with its Inter-Governmental Agreement with Pueblo County. All of those revenues fund stormwater projects located within the city limits.
What is the difference between stormwater drainage and wastewater drainage? Don’t they all drain into the same system which we already pay for?
Prior to the 1970’s, many cities operated what was referred to as combined sewer systems which captured both stormwater and sanitary sewage flows into one system. These systems often caused discharge of untreated sewage into waterways during storms and made wastewater treatment plants less efficient. Environmental regulations adopted after 1972 required the separation of stormwater and sanitary sewer flows into separate systems, which are now subject to different regulations. Therefore, all of Colorado Springs sewers and stormwater drains are now separate.
Why is the City calling this a stormwater fee, not a tax?
The stormwater fee is a service fee and can lawfully be collected from all users of the service, including governmental, non-profit and religious entities. Unlike a service fee, a tax is imposed to raise general government revenues unrelated to a specific purpose or service and is calculated based upon the value of taxable property or of a taxable transaction. Because the stormwater fee will only be used for stormwater purposes, and not to contribute to general governmental revenues, it is properly categorized as a fee.
As a municipal enterprise, the Stormwater Enterprise is subject to the provisions of Issue 300. In compliance with Issue 300, the Stormwater Enterprise will not provide to or receive from the municipal government or any other enterprise any gifts, loans, or subsidies pursuant to provisions of City Code Chapter 14, Article 9.