Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs soon will form a task force of city officials and community members to help answer what could end up being a more than $40 million question: How should the city pay for costly upgrades and repairs to its stormwater system at a time city officials say they don't have the money?
The answer could be a new fee for city property owners, a new tax or some other form of financing that has yet to be identified.
The question arises out of a draft of a study released last week that recommends the city should invest $17 million in new capital projects to upgrade its stormwater system and help manage future flooding and problems associated with annual spring runoff.
But the total cost of upgrading and maintaining the stormwater system is expected to be valued at much more than the $17 million.
Interim City Manager Deb Hinsvark said Monday the early cost estimate provided by a consultant that spent months analyzing Steamboat's bridges, culverts and dams easily could double.
She added the cost doesn't yet include the price of meeting any new federal stormwater requirements, the cost of land purchases needed to implement improvements to the system, and the cost of restoring and maintaining the city's existing stormwater infrastructure.
City engineers expect those extra costs together could increase the total of future improvements by an additional $18 million to $23 million.
“It's kind of a big issue and a new issue that I can assure you we cannot address with the funding we currently have or get,” Hinsvark said. “We could spend every penny we have on it and still not address it.”
City officials still are waiting to receive a prioritized list of the upgrades from their consultant before they develop a timeline for future stormwater projects.
Hinsvark said in November one option to fund the upgrades would be to assess city property owners a monthly fee. Several other municipalities in Colorado have turned to a fee system in recent years to cover their own stormwater infrastructure needs.
A March 2011 study conducted for the city of Greeley by AMEC engineering showed residents in 30 Front Range municipalities from Lakewood to Fort Collins typically were paying between $1.98 and $14.26 per month in fees for stormwater system improvements. Fees, unlike taxes, don't require a vote of the people.
But Hinsvark said Monday the task force could elect to pass on a fee.
“This community may choose to look in a different direction,” Hinsvark said.
Public Works Director Chuck Anderson said the task force the city is forming to address the stormwater needs is set to include not just city officials and engineers, but also property owners, homeowners who are impacted by flooding, developers and transportation officials.
He said the group led by city engineer Ben Beall will be asked to become experts on the stormwater master plan, and then recommend how the city should pay for it all.
“We're going to ask the task force to come up with that recommendation for how to fund these projects,” Anderson said. “Should it be a fee? And if it's not a fee, what other revenue stream could we use?”
Anderson added that while many questions remain about the master plan and when projects will begin, the early draft of the stormwater master plan does provide some important clarity.
“At least it narrows down the potential cost” of the upgrades, he said. “It's not $100 million, thank goodness, but it's still a large amount of money if we're going to go forward with this.”
Hinsvark said the demand for the millions of dollars worth of stormwater improvements is the result of the city never having a comprehensive plan to keep up and expand its current system, as well as new potential federal mandates for stormwater improvements that kick in when cities surpass the 10,000 population mark in the census.
Last year, the city tapped Short Elliott Hendrickson, a firm of engineers, architects, planners and scientists, to perform the $180,000 infrastructure study of Steamboat's bridges, culverts and dams. SEH is a firm of scientists, architects, planners and engineers based in St. Paul, Minn.
Problems the consultant found during their study of Steamboat's stormwater infrastructure included “aging drainage infrastructure, much of which is in need of replacement immediately or within 5-10 years.”
Their list of 13 problems also included the city's lack of “regularly scheduled, routine maintenance on most of the stormwater system, except on a primarily reactive basis.”
“This validates there are stormwater requirements that have to be addressed in this municipality,” Anderson said.
The city's stormwater system became a topic of discussion last year when the Steamboat Springs City Council discussed this year's budget, which includes two critical stormwater upgrades totaling about $220,000.
At that time, city officials told the council the improvements could total anywhere from $3 million to $100 million.
Some council members, including councilwoman Cari Hermacinski, cited the potential high cost of stormwater upgrades as another reason the city should continue building up its reserve funds.
“I think it's clear there's a tremendous amount of demand for capital dollars in this community, and I think what this stormwater plan does is to add significantly to that,” Hermacinski said Monday.
She said she would like the city to add the stormwater improvements to a greater list of the city's long-term identified capital needs, including the construction of a new public safety campus and deferred maintenance projects.
“I think what you're going to see is there's not enough revenue to cover all of these things,” Hermacinski said. “We need to figure out as a community whether we cross things off of that list and not do some of them over the next five to 10 years, or does (the city) want to go to the community asking to cough up more money?”
The City Council will hear a presentation about the identified stormwater needs at its Jan. 22 meeting.
The city plans to start forming the task force as soon as next month.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com