First Letter to the Editor (submitted but not accepted for publication by the Gazette and the Colorado Springs Independent)
Voters who rent should vote no on 2A
We all remember when Nancy Pelosi’s said, before the House voted on the Affordable Care Act, that “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” We laughed in disbelief that anyone in such a high office would make such a statement: voting on something that would have as much of an impact on the majority of American citizens without knowing “what was in” the bill? Well, we saw what happens when legislation gets pushed through without being properly evaluated and how difficult it is to fix the problems bad legislation causes once it becomes the law.
In Colorado Springs, our Mayor did exactly the same thing when he asked our City Council, at the very last minute, to approve putting on the November ballot a proposal to fund the City’s stormwater program…a program that the Council had never seen before. During the deliberations on the proposal, the City Council asked many detailed questions. To most of those questions the City did not have answers and simply responded that the: “policies haven’t been worked out.” When asked why the policies had not been worked out, the City said they didn’t want City employees wasting their time working out the details until the proposal has been approved by the voters. Yes, the Mayor has essentially told the City Council they have to put 2A on the ballot and the voters have to pass 2A “so that you can find out what is in it.”
One of the many issues with 2A, and there are a lot, is that the City wants to charge tenants who rent residential properties, and not property owners, the proposed stormwater fee. During City Council deliberations on this proposal the City said they will definitely charge the $5/month fee to tenants that lease dwelling units (single family homes, condos, townhomes, apartments, trailers, in-law apartments, etc.) that are serviced by a water meter. Stormwater is not a utility, like drinking water, for which tenants are required to pay. Stormwater is actually a public service, like the removal of snow from roads, for which property owners typically pay. Tenants have lease agreements with their landlords that specify who pays for what. If a tenant’s lease does not require them to pay for public services such as police, fire and stormwater, and the City then requires them to do so, I would imagine this action by the City could result in many lawsuits between tenants and landlords…and the City. Until this detail is worked out, like the many others that have yet to be worked out, all voters who rent residential properties should vote no on 2A.
Second Letter to the Editor (submitted but not accepted for publication to the Gazette, submitted to the Colorado Springs Independent, and published in a slightly edited form)
I will be voting no on 2A
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 CSU are obligated by the Southern Delivery System Intergovernmental Agreement to spend $460 million on the City’s stormwater program through 2035. The CSU will provide about $36 million leaving the City to fund the remaining $424 million. The 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 the Mayor said that 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 City put its Stormwater Enterprise or SWENT 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 the 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 2005-2010.
Although public schools and non-profits 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 non-profits 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? District 11 is not only hurting for funds, but screaming. Why would the Mayor want to reduce the services being provided by non-profits such as the Marion 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 that not only identified the many problems with this proposal during their deliberations at several Council meetings, but also refused to support the Resolution and jump on the Mayor’s bandwagon, as the other six Council Members did when they approved putting the question on the ballot. On November 7th, I am confident that I will be joining Council Members Murray, Knight and Pico when I vote no on 2A.