Rob Douglas: Stormy stormwater success

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Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

While property owners in Steamboat Springs dodged the initiation of a stormwater tax this week — thanks to the excellent work of a residents task force — City Manager Deb Hinsvark already has begun the groundwork for a recreation district tax that hasn’t been publicly debated by the Steamboat Springs City Council.

Let’s turn back the calendar.

A year ago, this column broke the news that the council could hit Steamboat property owners with a new “fee” — a tax that evades a vote of the people — to cover stormwater infrastructure improvements. Hinsvark disagreed with the column’s theme that $10 million from the city’s reserve fund shouldn’t be used to build a new police station when those funds could be used for stormwater infrastructure upgrades. In an email to the council, Hinsvark stated:

“Well, I’ve read Rob’s Friday sermon and feel you may be sidetracked by citizens asking you about it. ... Regarding the stormwater needs. The city has never had a city-wide stormwater plan. We have NO idea of the infrastructure needs to complete an integrated plan. It could be $3 million; it could be $100 million. It’s a totally new city requirement and should not be expected to be accommodated from our general fund revenues. Think of it like moving from a volunteer fire company to a professional, paid fire company. It’s time the city did it — but there are no new revenues to accommodate it. And it’s not a one-time thing — it will be an ongoing program. A stormwater fee is the ‘norm’ for communities throughout Colorado.”

Both before and after a consultant’s report suggested $40 million in stormwater system improvements, and while acknowledging, “This community may choose to look in a different direction,” Hinsvark championed a stormwater fee, telling the Steamboat Pilot & Today:

“We will look at multiple funding options, but this fee is usually the most logical nexus. It’s the way a majority of cities pay for these upgrades.” — Nov. 10, 2012.

“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. We could spend every penny we have on it and still not address it.” — Jan. 14, 2013.

Pushing back against a fee to pay for stormwater infrastructure and the notion that initial cost estimates by city staff and the consultant should be determinative, the Pilot & Today’s editorial board opined:

“But just because a city can impose a fee doesn’t mean it should, and we’re not swayed in the least by the argument that many other municipalities, particularly along the Front Range, use an assessed fee system to pay for their own stormwater projects.” — Nov. 20, 2012.

“The past has proven that consultant studies and initial government estimates aren’t always reflective of the scope of necessary work or the most competitive bid to do the job. It’s for that reason that a to-be-formed stormwater task force should be expected to thoroughly vet the study, determine the extent and timing of needed stormwater improvements, examine a variety of funding options for the project and present those findings to residents and city officials for further inspection before any final decisions are made.” — Jan. 19, 2013.

Those words were prescient. This week, the council approved the Stormwater Task Force’s recommendation that funding for the stormwater program be accomplished “through current revenue streams and prioritization of the budget.”

Asked whether she accepted the recommendation opposing a stormwater fee, Hinsvark said, “Any time we’re searching for funds or new resources, it’s difficult in an organization where resources are scarce, and we have to accept that we have other things to fund. But in this particular case, it is so imperative that we maintain the investment that we have and the infrastructure that we have, that we will find a way — and we have a plan — to fund this from our general fund.”

But as mentioned above, Hinsvark already is pushing another tax. This time, she’s knocking on doors trying to conjure up support for a recreation district tax.

Arguably, that’s a debate the council should hold publicly before promises of recreation funding sugarplums are used to entice support.

To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Comments

John St Pierre 9 months, 1 week ago

Curious when the ELECTED city council will begin running our city..... last time I checked we have one city Government and we have city Employee's..... would like to know where our candidates stand on this issue????????

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Scott Wedel 9 months, 1 week ago

John,

Well, in every city council meeting in which the elected city council fails to bring up any issue of contention then they are agreeing with the city manager.

I note that every challenger running for city council is running against the decision making process of the current city council.

I think Scott Ford, in particular, is likely to alter the decision making process because he likes making decisions based upon data and if the staff reports make recommendations without supporting data then Scott Ford is able to collect the relevant data and present that to the city council and the public. Not that he will probably agree with all city council decisions, but decisions will no longer be made based upon marketing materials presented by city staff.

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John Fielding 9 months, 1 week ago

Some people just don't play nice. http://midwestdemocracy.com/blogs/entries/deb-hinsvark-kansas-citys-chief-financial-officer-is-out/ If the jist of the allegations is true, it would seem the leaks were to gain support for her side of the argument. Only the principals can confirm it, but the reporter alluded to it.

We have too many trying to get more money from taxpayers for government to spend. Some efforts border on criminal, like the Iron Horse. Others are warping the intent of fee structures provisions. In every event it is to get more money without having to have the voters approve of it. That is exactly what the TABOR was designed to prevent. We cannot keep people in government who are determined to find ways around it.

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john bailey 9 months, 1 week ago

interesting link John. so she is screwing the pooch here just like she did there. boy you guys need to get rid of this chica and quick...

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rhys jones 9 months, 1 week ago

Recreation district tax, school tax, air tax, pot tax -- lots of zeroes, hence opportunities for diversion -- who'll miss one or two? Beemer payment's coming. Kid needs glasses. We earned it.

Back in school, most of us made a choice: Some decided to work for a living. Produce or repair something. Others decided to talk for a living. Milk it off the other guy. These were the airheads running for class office, the perpetual popularity contest -- who went on to study political science (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and populate the ballots now. Used cars or new taxes, it's all the same, they're bleeding the working man, selling us on them.

In computers, everything boils down to 1's and 0's. I decided I like zeroes better. So let's say 1 equals yes, and 0 equals no. I say we throw their zeroes right back at them. Every damn tax they throw at us.

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jerry carlton 9 months, 1 week ago

Rhys Something we agree on besides sports! Except the tax on mmj, tax it the same as alcohol and raise the taxes on both. And I still drink. Get the taxes high enough and maybe I will quit, or start making homemade beer. Who are you picking Sunday night? I have to go with the Broncos. Indy looked really weak against San Diego and San Diego is not that good of a team. I hope Von Miller picks up the defense. He better play great the rest of the season or he is gone. Brandon Marshall was replaced with Thomas lads and both of them are probably as good as Marshall. Vons off field behavior is reminiscent of Brandons but I hope he straightens out.

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