USA – Colorado Springs voters approved a measure Tuesday that will allow the city to retain up to $20 million in taxes to mitigate wildfire risk in and around town.
The question was passing by about 58% to 42% in early returns, meaning that plans to invest the money will go forward.
The city plans to invest the money collected in excess of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights cap and use the interest on wildfire mitigation projects, such as thinning vegetation in city open spaces near homes. The city would also be allowed to use up to 5% of the principal in one year on the mitigation efforts.
Officials wanted to start the fund because wildfire is one of the greatest risks facing El Paso County, and it has proved to be devastating in the past. In 2012, the Waldo Canyon fire burned about 18,000 acres and 347 homes. The following year, the Black Forest fire burned 14,280 acres and 489 homes.
Opponents to the measure argued that the city should prioritize wildfire mitigation from among its other funding sources.
Officials want to put more funding toward mitigation efforts because its proved successful in stopping smaller fires from taking out neighborhoods. For example, Bear Creek Regional Park was well mitigated before a fire broke out on the property in 2019 and helped firefighters stop the fire feet from residents’ homes.
Many additional acres of parkland and open space inside and outside city limits need similar work to focus on thinning dead and dense vegetation that can make a fire difficult to stop.
The Colorado Springs Fire Department coordinates wildfire mitigation and is almost solely reliant on grants for that work, Fire Marshal Brett Lacey said. The new fund could help the department plan more efficiently and provide a steady source of matching dollars to apply for more grant funding, he said.
The city did not have a specific plan for spending the money ahead of the vote. But did have a list of priority properties that need mitigation over the next five years. Some of those areas include Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Palmer Park, Austin Bluffs Open Space, the north slope of Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods, the planning document said.
How much acreage the city could mitigate every year could vary based on the type of terrain, Lacey said. Contractors have charged between $1,400 an acre up to $5,000 an acre in areas with steep slopes.
Some areas at the highest risk of wildfire are southwest and south of the city near the Broadmoor neighborhood and further south along Colorado Highway 115 in unincorporated El Paso County, where the vegetation is thick and access to homes is along narrow dirt roads, Councilman Richard Skorman said previously. This funding could help make some of those areas safer.