By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
In Denver's 2006 budget, $5.1 million was taken out of the Storm Drainage Enterprise Fund and transferred to Street Maintenance for snow removal and general roadwork, as well as 100 percent of its concrete repair and construction costs, 29 percent of its customer-service costs and 29 percent of its salaries. Suddenly, storm drainage fees were responsible for more than a third of Street Maintenance's budget, and also kicking in an extra $4 million for curbs, gutters and alley paving. Another $484,900 from the Storm Drainage Enterprise Fund went to the Department of Parks and Recreation, for "maintenance costs related to stormwater-related facilities in streets, alleys, and parks."
Then in December 2006, the biggest set of blizzards to hit Denver since 1982 dumped more than four feet of snow over the course of a week. The city was virtually shut down, and the Street Maintenance division of Public Works was pushed to the breaking point trying to keep the roads clear. But Wastewater wound up covering more of the cost. "There was a very high charge to Wastewater for snow and ice removal, but that's because the city spent a heck of a lot of money and Wastewater was charged only 25 percent," says George Delaney, Public Works's deputy manager for finance. (Vidal was unavailable for comment.)
"Removal of this season's large amount of snow" was used as justification in Denver's 2007 budget for taking $5.2 million from the Wastewater Enterprise Fund for payouts to Street Maintenance and Parks and Recreation. The fund also gave up $2.5 million to pay for curb and gutter replacement across the city, and another $1.3 million to pave dirt alleys. All told, this came to $9 million for aboveground projects and services that were once covered by the Public Works general fund.
And that was just the tip of the melting iceberg.
That year, Public Works also purchased 37 acres at 1271 West Bayaud Avenue, just south of the Wastewater Management building, as a future site for a general maintenance facility, since the department's current facility at 1390 Decatur Street has to be vacated by December 31, 2010, to make way for FasTrack's West Corridor light-rail line. The deal's contract route sheet shows that $12.7 million for the purchase came from the Storm Drainage Enterprise Fund.
Since the site had previously been occupied by various industrial and chemical plants, Public Works arranged with IRG Environmental, a Littleton environmental remediation company, to clean up the property. The company wound up charging an extra $1.6 million in overruns — and Public Works again dipped into the storm fund. Delaney says that money will be reimbursed to the fund, since the land is to be used as a general maintenance facility for Public Works.
"The enterprise fund acquired that property partly because they needed expansion of their current grounds," Delaney explains. "They also needed a second entrance to their facility."
The March 3, 2007, meeting of the Denver City Council's Public Works Committee included a presentation by Lesley Thomas, the department's deputy manager for engineering, on the "new city service campus at 1271 W. Bayaud," according to minutes of the meeting. Yet there was no mention of how the new campus would be used by Wastewater, or what its connection would be to the enterprise fund. Instead, the 100,000 square feet of facility space is to be a new "city services campus" for Fleet Maintenance, Street Maintenance, Solid Waste, Traffic Engineering and Right-of-Way Enforcement. A new municipal animal shelter is also being built on the site.
As chair of the Public Works committee, Councilwoman Marcia Johnson oversaw the passage of the two bills that gave the go-ahead for the 1271 West Bayaud project, though she was unaware of its connection to the Wastewater fund at the time. After speaking with "sources" at Public Works this week, Johnson tells Westword that using fund money to purchase the Bayaud property was justified because Wastewater's need "triggered the purchase for the land." She says she's been assured that the fund will be reimbursed for the acres used for the new campus by 2011, and that approval for this exchange "has gone clear up to the mayor's office."
But Orr laughs at the idea that Wastewater initiated the land purchase, since none of the division's personnel or management were involved in any discussion of the deal. "I think [Public Works] saw the land and wanted a new facility there, and they saw that Wastewater had the money," he says. "There's no question that [Denver officials] are increasing costs over time to the city's ratepayers without their blessing."
But it turns out the fund is also paying for the design and construction of this massive facility. According to the city's $27.9 million contract with Pinkard Construction, the Storm Drainage Enterprise Fund will pay for a new $4.8 million office building for the Street Maintenance, Solid Waste and Traffic Management agencies; a $6.7 million vehicle maintenance garage to service all city fleet vehicles; a $1 million enclosed garage for 35 street sweepers and graffiti-abatement trucks; a $900,000 salt dome to house 15,000 tons of road salt; a $600,000 fueling station; and a $700,000 automated car wash. The only thing in the construction contract that could be remotely considered a responsibility of Wastewater are eight stormwater runoff channels that cost a mere $57,639.