COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Colorado Springs will have its second experience with a public fee for stormwater projects after voters passed Question 2A at the polls Tuesday.
The measure passed by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent.
A previous fee was unpopular, criticized as being unfair and rescinded by a public vote and the City Council in 2009.
Mayor John Suthers was the key figure pushing for the fee that would provide the city with a dedicated source of funding for a backlog of stormwater projects.
The fee passage is the second major accomplishment of Suthers' term, following voters' approval of Question 2C, which increased the local sales tax to finance a five-year expended street paving project.
The sense of urgency surrounding the stormwater issue increased earlier this year when the Environmental Protection Agency and Pueblo County sued the city over past shortcomings affecting the quality of Fountain Creek flowing through Pueblo County.
A recent long-term agreement between Pueblo County and the city for 71 projects over the next 20 years didn't help the city avoid legal action, but Suthers said the passage of the stormwater fee might make a difference.
"There's no way that this won't be of considerable assistance in trying to negotiate," he said. "I can't predict, certainly, how the negotiations for a trial would go. But this has got to help us."
Laura Carno of SpringsTaxpayers.com, an opponent of the stormwater fee, said she hopes the city is correct about its need for the money.
"These are our tax dollars that politicians are spending," she said. "They should be demonstrating to us that we're getting a good value for our tax dollar -- and that we're not like an ATM, that they can just keep coming back and asking us for money."
Former El Paso County commissioner and state lawmaker Douglas Bruce, who was instrumental in ending the previous stormwater fee, campaigned against Question 2A and was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Despite the impending lawsuit, Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart spoke optimistically about the new fee.
"This is a fine example of the new relationship between Pueblo and Colorado Springs," he said. "I think it's wonderful to have two communities rolling up their sleeves to tackle problems the two communities share."
Hart described Colorado Springs' commitment to be responsible and improve Fountain Creek as "hard-won, hard-fought."
The monthly fee, effective July 1 of next year and lasting 20 years, will cost $5 for the average residential customer and $30 per acre, per month, for business customers.
"The fee can't be increased unless a court or judge decide otherwise," Suthers said. "It'll raise around $17 million annually and we'll no longer have to take money from the budget for stormwater needs."
With the savings, Suthers wants the city to hire 20 police officers and 8 firefighters.
Suthers joined fee supporters in a celebration at the Phantom Canyon brewery downtown.