#ColoradoSprings stormwater fees start

Heavy rains inundate Sand Creek. Photo via the City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Springs Independent.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

City stormwater fees, approved by voters in November 2017, will finally be billed this month. For most, the fees aren’t based on impact — or square footage of impermeable surface, such as rooftops or driveways, that lead to runoff. Instead, residential properties will pay a flat $5 a month, whether for a palatial estate or a tiny studio apartment, bringing in an estimated $7.9 million a year.

Nonresidential property owners, who are expected to pay around $8.2 million a year, will be billed $30 per developed acre per month. But properties that are 5 acres or less will pay the fee without any adjustment for impermeable surface, while those larger than 5 acres will be charged fees determined by the city’s stormwater manager based on impermeable surface.

South Boulder flood mitigation

Boulder. By Gtj82 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Patriot8790., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11297782

From The Boulder Daily Camera (Anthony Hahn):

Issues surrounding the long-heralded CU Boulder South annexation plans continue to manifest most consistently within concerns over how eventual flood mitigation designs will play out on the property.

Those concerns were clear at a joint meeting between Boulder’s Water Resources Advisory Board and Open Space Board of Trustees on Monday, where dozens of residents from Boulder’s Frasier Meadows retirement community who wore bright orange shirts reading “Save our neighborhoods” and “Stop flooding of South Boulder Creek” urged officials to take quick action on those plans.

Upon annexation of the property by the city, the University of Colorado plans to build more than 1,000 housing units for students and employees, athletic fields and academic buildings on the 308-acre site over the coming decades. It also intends to devote nearly 100 acres of the site to a flood mitigation plan.

The parcel has proven controversial since its purchase in 1996, as neighbors have worried that university’s plans to eventually develop the site would put nearby homes at greater risk from floodwaters.

The chief flood mitigation concept — proposed under the South Boulder Creek Master Plan — includes a flood wall along the south side of U.S. 36 within the Colorado Department of Transportation right-of-way and a dam along the northern portion of the CU South parcel to contain flood waters, according to a staff report presented Monday.

Under this plan, vehicle access to CU South from Table Mesa Drive would be routed to a ramp up and over a portion of the dam. The flood wall would also include an overtopping spillway, which would be designed to discharge floodwaters “that exceed the design storm.”

#ColoradoSprings: Voter approved stormwater fee collection starts July 1, 2018

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From KOAA.com (Tyler Dumas):

The fee, which was Ballot Issue 2A, was passed by 54 percent in the November 7, 2017 special combined election. The ballot measure approved a dedicated municipal government storm water fee that will generate $16 – $17 million in annual funding for critical storm water infrastructure, regulatory permit compliance, and maintenance operations for the City’s storm water program, according to the City.

What this means for Springs residents is all residential units with water services through Colorado Springs Utilities will be assessed a $5 per unit monthly fee that will be collected through residents’ utilities bill. The City said it has partnered with Colorado Springs Utilities to administer the monthly residential fee on its behalf as it is the most cost effective billing mechanism. Residential units within the city limits without an active water services agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities will be billed through a separate billing agency.

The monthly fee for non-residential parcels will be $30 per acre. Non-residential parcels over five acres will be individually assessed and undeveloped or unimproved land will not be counted as they do not significantly contribute to storm water runoff.

With this dedicated funding mechanism freeing general fund dollars, the City said it plans to hire an additional 20 police officers, eight firefighters and two fire inspectors in 2018. These positions are part of a larger plan to add 120 police officers over the next five years.

For more information about the storm water fee and the City’s storm water program, visit http://ColoradoSprings.gov/stormwater or call (719) 385-7876.

The Grand Valley Drainage District will not appeal recent court decision

Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

The district’s three-member board of directors voted 2-1 Tuesday to forego any legal challenge to District Judge Lance Timbreza’s ruling last week, saying there was no guarantee they would prevail in an appeal and they didn’t want to subject district businesses and residents to more legal uncertainty.

As a result, the board said it would refund the $7.2 million it’s collected so far — plus interest — to the 40,000 property owners who have been assessed the tax since 2016, but exactly how that will happen is yet to be determined.

That’s partly because the district has already spent about $2.2 million of the money, and isn’t yet sure how much in interest it is obligated to pay.

The district’s board and staff is to spend the next couple of weeks trying to figure all that out, said district manager Tim Ryan.

First, the district staff has to figure out how much in interest it is obligated to pay, and then — because it doesn’t have the cash to cover the entire refund and interest — how it will do so. That could involve taking out a loan, laying off some workers, declaring bankruptcy of the enterprise fund the district formed to finance the stormwater improvements, or a combination of those options.

Under the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, any overcollected tax that isn’t refunded within a year requires a 10 percent interest payment along with it, Ryan said.

“The ruling was (the fee) exceeded TABOR, and that it’s an extra tax, so those who paid it are entitled to what they paid plus 10 percent,” he said. “It’s no longer a fee, that’s the conundrum. Now we have to go back to 2016 and 2017. Those are the years that require interest because we’ve held their money for over a year. Everybody else will get their refunds within a year.”

While board member Mary Brophy was adamantly opposed to appealing the decision, and Jim Grisier cast the lone dissenting vote against not going ahead with one, board chairman Cody Davis stood somewhere in the middle.

While he ultimately cast the deciding vote not to appeal, Davis said part of him wanted to because there are aspects to Timbreza’s ruling that he saw as incomplete. The judge ruled that unlike fees charged in other jurisdictions that were for specific purposes, such as Aspen’s grocery bag fee, this fee was for a core function of the district’s mission, to handle drainage needs.

Mesa County District Judge Lance Timbreza rules that the Grand Valley Drainage District’s stormwater charge is a tax and subject to TABOR

Grand Valley Irrigation Canal. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The Grand Valley Drainage District’s charge, which for most of its residents is $36 a year, “runs afoul of (the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights) and is unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt,” Mesa County District Judge Lance Timbreza wrote in a 43-page decision handed down a year after Timbreza presided over a trial on the case.

Mesa County and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce sued to halt the charge, contending that it was an illegal tax.

While the ruling halts the district from continuing to collect the charge, it’s silent on how or whether the district is to return the $7.2 million already collected over the last three years.

None of the drainage district board members now serving were on the board that instituted the fee and two said they expected to discuss what steps to take next in the coming weeks.

Board Chairman Cody Davis, who joined the board two years ago as an opponent of the charge, preferring that voters approve of any revenue-increasing measure, said he was surprised by the ruling…

Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis said it’s now time to deal with stormwater drainage issues across the county and said the drainage district should return to the bargaining table to “pick up where they left off and work toward a unified valley authority. And frankly, they don’t have the leverage to say no.”

[…]

Previous board members had leaned away from an appeal in the event they lost the suit, but the subject has yet to come before the current board.

Timbreza’s decision makes no mention of whether the district should return money to its customers. The county and chamber had made no request in their arguments about the money already collected…

While residents were asked to pay $36 a year, many businesses paid much more than that, up to $10,000 a year, Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Diane Schwenke said…

The chamber and Grisier both noted that the need to deal with stormwater hasn’t gone away.

The drainage district charged businesses, churches, local governments and others with large-area parking lots and rooftops $3 per month for each 2,500 square feet of impervious surface, or surfaces that shed, rather than absorb water.

Residents were charged $3 per month or $36 a year.

@EPA assures partners will take part in lawsuit settlement talks — The #ColoradoSprings Independent

Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

The latest chapter is a March 25 letter obtained by the Indy from the DOJ to the state Health Department and Colorado Attorney General’s Office. In it, DOJ Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Wood says the federal government will “welcome and anticipate the full involvement of the State and intervenors in any such discussions with the City.”

That contrasts with the EPA’s unilateral action to reopen settlement negotiations with the city recently — without consulting other plaintiffs — after a year-long settlement discussion failed last year. The lawsuit is set for trial in August.

#ColoradoSprings and @EPA negotiating stormwater lawsuit, other plaintiffs left out and state attorney fired — Colorado Springs Independent

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

The renewed negotiations come as U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch scheduled an August trial in the lawsuit on May 22, the day after the state’s lead attorney in the case was reportedly fired for a reason the Colorado Attorney General’s Office won’t discuss.

That lead attorney, Margaret “Meg” Parish, first assistant attorney general in the Natural Resources & Environment Section, wrote at least two scathing letters to the EPA and the Department of Justice (DOJ) in recent months, calling the EPA’s action “shocking and extraordinary” and expressing “deep concern and disappointment” that the agency unilaterally reopened settlement talks without consulting co-plaintiffs. Besides the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), those include Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

The move was particularly alarming, she noted, because the state and EPA signed an agreement not to communicate with the city without the presence of the other.

Some who couldn’t comment on the record due to confidentiality rules labeled the latest moves “pure politics” in an era when the EPA’s reputation is pivoting from protecting the environment to serving polluters…

EPA’s reopening of negotiations has sown suspicion among co-plaintiffs who already distrust the city due to sewage discharges, raging stormwater flows and sediment in Fountain Creek that befoul the creek, threaten levees and block irrigation headgates interfering with raising crops.

The possibility of a settlement was suggested to voters last fall when Mayor John Suthers campaigned for passage of stormwater fees, saying their adoption would help the city end the lawsuit, filed by the EPA and CDPHE in November 2016 after the city flunked compliance inspections in 2013 and 2015 for its MS4 permit (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System). The lawsuit alleges ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act, saying the city failed to force developers to install proper storm drainage infrastructure, gave waivers to others and didn’t adequately inspect and monitor its waterways. The city spent only $1.6 million a year on those tasks from 2011 to 2014, a pittance considering the city’s drainage needs are estimated at $1 billion.

Approved by voters in November, the fees go into effect July 1 and replace general fund money used to satisfy an April 2016 deal the city made with Pueblo County to spend $460 million over 20 years on stormwater. The agreement grew from Pueblo County’s demands after the city adopted stormwater fees in 2007 and abolished them in 2009 and came as the city activated its $825-million water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir.