On July 22, the Falcon Garden Club held its 16th annual Secret Garden Tour, featuring four gardens from various locations throughout Falcon. According to the club’s website, the purpose of the tour is to demonstrate how the members have adapted their gardens to the challenges presented by planting in Colorado, including low rainfall, hail, poor soil, high altitude and invasive animals like voles and rabbits.|
This year’s participants were Kevin Mutschler, Melody Wilson, Steve and Rose Kilima, and Dave and Jackie Hilaire.
Kevin Mutschler’s garden featured many containers and pots used in different fashions to combat the poor soil quality and lack of moisture in Falcon’s arid climate. Beyond the main garden, Mutschler created a veritable farm in the back portion of his garden, complete with tomatoes, peppers, squash, swiss chard, lettuce, and apple and pear trees. Additionally, Mutschler created hay-bale beds in which he grows potatoes, and he also grows four different varieties of sweet corn.
Wilson’s garden featured different integration techniques, which allow plants to coexist with one another in an organic, natural way. Most of the intensive gardening and landscaping was done on the front yard, but with plenty of space to work with in the back. Wilson said she is still deciding what else to plant. She handed out bulbs for the unique Egyptian walking onions, named as such because when the bulbs at the top of the stalk get too heavy, the stalk tips over. “When they tip over, new plants sprout from the bulbs and the plant spreads,” Wilson said.
Steve Kilima’s garden featured multiple terraced levels, a horse-shoe pit, a kids’ climbing structure and a wide variety of plants. He said when he and his wife bought the lot in 2001 and started to build their house on it, the property was completely flat. All the terrace work was done by hand, one shovel at a time, Kilima said. Although he said he does not have as much time to work on the garden as he would like, Kilima said there is always another project.
Jackie Hilaire’s garden featured several different types of gardening styles, from a fenced-off garden for raised beds to a natural, native plant area that provides a built-in wildlife berm. Inside the walled courtyard just outside her front door, Hilaire purposefully chose plants that require minimal water, including an herb garden. The large courtyard fountain is home to a school of koi fish that stay in their habitat all year long, along with the water lilies — they have all thrived there for 15 years, Hilaire said.
Sheri Lussier, a Colorado Springs resident, has attended the garden tour for a few years and said, “I always enjoy seeing the diversity of plants and shrubs in creative and beautifully landscaped garden plots.”
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During the 2016 first regular session of the Colorado General Assembly, House Bill 16-1088 was signed into law. Called the “Public Safety Fairness Act,” HB 16-1088 allows fire protection districts to impose an impact fee on new development, according to the bill.|
Trent Harwig, fire chief of the Falcon Fire Protection District, said prior to House Bill 16-1088 fire districts in Colorado were statutorily prohibited from collecting fees on new developments. Other special districts such as metropolitan, water or parks and recreation districts have all had the authority to charge fees on new commercial and residential development to cover the impact that new growth has on their future capital requirements, he said.
“State lawmakers passed a bill that added fire districts to the list of special districts that are allowed to impose impact fees on new development but stopped short of giving the fire districts the authority to act on their own authority while imposing the new fees,” Harwig said.
Instead, fire districts must enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the county in which they are located to determine if there should be an impact fee, the cost of the fee and the process to collect the fee, he said. “This requirement does not exist on other state special districts,” Harwig said.
Many other fire districts across the state have IGAs with their local governments, and are currently collecting impact fees.
Mark Waller, who represents District 2 on the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners, said the board has been involved in numerous hearings to determine what the IGA should look like by defining the terms of the impact fee. However, the commissioners have not voted on the proposed IGA because of some concerns that were not adequately addressed, Waller said.
“My concern is that it seems like, in setting up this (impact fee) program, there would be very little public input into the process before the fee was determined,” he said. “The legislation specifically said developers got a seat at the table in order to figure out what this fee is supposed to be. I did not think the program presented adequately provided a seat at the table for all the interested parties.”
One such party is the Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs. Kevin Walker, policy advisor for the HBA and vice president of Walker School District Managers, said while the Colorado Association of Home Builders had been involved in developing the legislation, the local HBA was not. “Our standpoint is that we, as the local HBA, want to do an impact fee study, establish the process and then figure out the fees,” Walker said.
The HBA is not against an impact fee as long as it is fair and follows the law, he said. But to be fair, the IGA must address issues like whether to assess impact fees on every platted lot at the time a developer obtains a permit to build on the property or whether to assess a fee just on newly platted lots, Walker said.
“Land owners with existing plats will say, ‘If I have gone through the platting process, I should not have to pay again during the permitting process,’” Walker said. “Some plats are fairly old, 30 years or more and others are brand new.”
Bryan Jack, fire chief of the Black Forest Fire Rescue Protection District, said the fact that a piece of property was platted years ago or recently is not the issue. When a structure is built on the plat, the district has more to service than just a piece of land, Jack said.
“The impact fee is only intended to offset capital needs, like buying new fire trucks or building new fire stations,” he said. Those capital needs are a result of new development, which the fire districts must now protect.
With limitations on their revenue streams, small fire districts have been struggling since their inception, Jack said. Districts can ask for a mill levy increase and fees for service like ambulance services; they can apply for grants; lease assets, rather than purchase them; bring a bond measure to the public for a vote; or cut and/or reduce services to purchase the capital needs, he said.
“Why should the public vote to increase taxes to purchase something that a new development has caused them to need?” Jack said. “Many of them have been paying taxes for 30 years or so; why should they have to pay additional taxes for a new fire truck to support those new homes?”
The HBA also took issue with the timeline to implement the fees. The fire districts wanted the impact fee to be imposed on any permit pulled 60 days after the IGA was approved, while the HBA wanted it to be 90 days, Walker said.
“The 90 days basically gives builders time to say, ‘If I am writing a new contract on a house I am going to build in 90 days, I need to add that fee in,’ and the price of the house would reflect that,” Walker said. On one hand, the fire districts are losing out on money every time a building permit is obtained, he said. On the other hand, fire districts have been operating under the current system for the last 100 years, so what is the rush to implement a new system, Walker added.
The last attempt to present an IGA to the commissioners for approval was June 27, but the board pulled it from the agenda. “We tried to give the fire districts that drafted the IGA every single opportunity to get it done right,” Waller said. “I think it is important to know something like this that comes before us has already been well-vetted, and I just did not have the confidence that it was.”
Walker said the wording in the legislation could be changed so that each district does not need to obtain an IGA before collecting impact fees, but nothing can happen prior to the January 2018 legislative session. Otherwise, the fire districts could always draft another IGA that addresses the issues presented during the previous hearings and submit that to the BOCC, he said.
Waller said none of the five county commissioners wants the fire districts to operate with less money than they need. “But it was never satisfactorily articulated to me that there was a lack of funding and that they needed more funding,” he said.
“At the end of the day, we absolutely want to make sure we are giving them the tools to ensure the public’s safety.”
Harwig said,“At this time, there is nothing we at Falcon Fire can do without the cooperation of our county commissioners; and, therefore, will continue to rely on current taxpayers to pay for capital facilities and equipment that new growth generates the need for.”