Adams County stormwater fee program under question again
By Yesenia Robles
Adams County's treasurer and one of its commissioners are asking for an investigation into the county's stormwater program, which started last year, after finding that it again may be riddled with errors.
Commissioner Erik Hansen said he was made aware Tuesday that the county sent delinquency notices to more than 12,000 Adams County home and business owners who haven't paid stormwater fees, but that some may have incorrect account numbers and information on them.
"The problem is we're still not getting it right," Hansen said.
County spokesman Jim Siedlecki said officials are reviewing the delinquency notices after hearing from some residents who had been billed inaccurately.
"We're talking about a few at this point," Siedlecki said, "but they're being very thorough."
He said it may take a couple of weeks to determine the problem's cause and scope.
The program — charging residents and businesses in unincorporated Adams County — has been riddled with controversy and problems since it took effect in January 2013.
Bills sent out last year in the first few months of the fee had a 34 percent error rate. The county paid about $100,000 to correct the errors.
A lawsuit against the county over the fee is still pending in court.
Stan Martin, the leader of the organization who filed the lawsuit, said they are hoping a judge can make a ruling on the case without going to trial, sometime before the end of this year.
According to the letter to the county's internal auditor, signed by Hansen and treasurer Brigitte Grimm, the release of the 2013 annual financial report criticizing the stormwater program also contributed to their request for an audit.
"We are concerned that the cost of fixing repeated problems is greater than the revenue generated by the utility," the letter states. "We are also concerned that there is a pattern of missteps that have resulted in a serious erosion of the public trust."
Siedlecki said their act "does not reflect a consensus opinion of Adams County government officials."
He also added that the work done by the county's internal auditor is typically first approved by the board of county commissioners.
Grimm on Tuesday added she has decided not to place any delinquent accounts on a tax lien.
"I made that decision last year based on all the inaccuracies, because we continued to find errors," Grimm said. "Well, that's happening again this year."
Will Adams County Take Mary’s Home?
Mary is a long time unincorporated Adams County resident living in the Welby area.
Mary is desperate and scared. After numerous messages and failed attempts to receive answers from the County, Mary frantically searches the web and googles ‘storm water invoice’.
This is where I come into the picture. Mary comes across our website www.StopRainTax.com and contacts me. I have placed my name and personal cell number on this site. Why? Because it’s important for me to listen to Mary’s story.
Upon opening her mail last Friday, Mary was surprised to find a ‘Delinquent Fee Invoice’ from the County in the amount of $79.85 with a Due Date: (stamped in bold letters) Immediately.
In a panicked voice, Mary tells me she never remembers receiving any bill from the County and is quick to point out she always tries to stay current with her bills if money allots.
I tell Mary I have not yet seen these delinquency invoices, but let her know I most likely have the same invoice sitting in my mailbox. Because unlike Mary, I have known about this storm water tax, but refuse to pay until an Adams County Judge tells me otherwise. I explain to Mary, I’m not against the County spending money on storm water projects. I am however, wholeheartedly against the County taking my hard earned money without first asking my permission.
Mary is frightened due to the invoice stating in bold letters: All bills not paid by the due date shall be considered delinquent and shall become a lien upon the real property that is subject to the storm water fee and shall be collected in the same manner as delinquent property taxes pursuant to C.R.S. 30-20-420.
Mary tells me she simply does not have the necessary funds to pay this bill until she gets paid again around the middle of September. She goes on to explain how she has lived in her small 2 bedroom home and has always paid her property taxes.
Obviously, like most of us, Mary is on a tight budget, is trying to keep a roof over her head, feed her family, clothe her children and is desperately trying to make ends meet. If that’s not enough, Mary now has to worry Adams County is coming to take her home.
This is why I continue to fight! Because someone needs to stand up and protect Mary from a bullying government who acts as if they are looking forward to taking her property.
As many of you know from previous editorials, I joined other concerned citizens and became president of a non-profit organization, Stop Stormwater Utility Association, in an attempt to protect our constitutional rights and protect citizens like Mary, citizens who simply cannot afford these burdensome taxes. I’m also lead plaintiff on a lawsuit fighting this unjust unconstitutional tax.
Our lawsuit continues through the court system and we hope to have a ruling by the end of the year.
Lets not forget, Mary wasn’t given a choice! The county thrust the storm water tax upon her and every unincorporated property owner without the respect of asking for our vote. Now the County threatens to take her property! All this while the County sits on $151,461,850 in reserve funds.
If you live in one of Adams County’s 9 cities, don’t think you are immune to this tax. Commissioner Eva Henry recently stated in a Denver Post article, she would like to see the Storm Water fee expanded to the municipalities.
Does the County really need an additional $79.85 from Mary? Do they really need to bully her and threaten to take her property?
Surely we have commissioners who can prioritize a $408 million budget without the need to take $79.85 from Mary and possibly her home.
President; Stop Stormwater Utility Association
Idaho Supreme Court - It Is A Tax!
Idaho Supreme Court ruled stormwater Lewiston illegally collected stormwater fees
Published: Feb 9, 2012 at 12:08 PM PDT
LEWISTON, ID - The Idaho Supreme Court ruled Lewiston illegally collected stormwater fees between 2009 and 2010.
The city plans to refund property owners their money. The question is how and when.
The Idaho Supreme court ruled the stormwater fee was instead a tax. As such, the city did not have the legal authority to levy the tax. Only the state legislature could do that.
The city spent the nearly $1.2 million collected to comply with the federal clean water act. The ruling did not force the city to return the money. However, Lewiston officials say they will.
"The council has reached a consensus, at least at this point, that they want to provide citizens with an opportunity to decide if they want a refund of the stormwater fees they paid, or if they want to forego that refund," said Jim Bennett, City Manager of Lewiston.
Many don't seem to have a problem with that approach. What seems to be the sticking point is asking citizens what they want to do before the city even cuts their checks.
"People should not have to ask for their money back," said Jim Kluss," former Lewiston councilor. "I believe it should just come automatically, and if somebody wants to contribute back to the city that's up to them."
Some are okay with the city's approach.
"I think in the sake of saving the city's administration time, I think they should go ahead and offer the alternative and let the residents make their choice," said Rick Tierney, a Lewiston resident.
Seven of eight who responded directly to the question on our Facebook page say they do want their money back. One person we ran into on the street was a little more charitable.
"I would probably donate it to the city," said Abbie Acuff, a Lewiston resident. "$54 in two years, I can afford do that."
Jim Kluss worries about the precedent set.
"If we continue to bring about ways to fund projects that are later determined to be illegal, the action we're taking now by making people ask for their money back creates a situation where down the road it will be much easier for councils to pass questionable fees, and I believe we need to stop it right now," said Kluss.
The council appears split four to three on whether to issue the refund checks before residents actually decide. The majority prefers to send out the literature first asking property owners to choose before any checks are cut. The decision should be made at the next council meeting on February 27th.
Former Councilor Jim Kluss did want to point out that while homeowners are due about $54 back, he said businesses are owed much more. He said some paid over a $1000 in stormwater fees.
Rain Tax Expanded To Public Roadways
Adams County Rain Tax Expanded To Public Roadways
Despite major public pushback over a forced rain tax on residents in unincorporated Adams County, commissioners took it one step further last Tuesday, and are now taxing property owners for rain that falls on public roads.
Property owners pay a specific mill levy tax to the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District that fund county storm water projects. Owners pay property taxes to the county’s general fund that help pay for storm water projects. Many owners pay another mill levy tax through their special district to fund these projects.
Add in the new rain tax and property owners are now paying multiple taxes for the same service, yet most unincorporated residents receive absolutely no benefit from this service.
The rain tax was originally designed to provide additional revenue for storm drainage projects, calculated and billed based on a properties square footage of impervious material (rooftop, concrete driveway, asphalt parking lot, etc). The county claims the more impervious material on a property, the more storm water runoff resulting in an increased burden and cost to their system.
If a property owner designs and builds a drainage system on their property completely eliminating all runoff from entering Adams County storm water system, shouldn’t that owner be entitled to an exemption from paying the rain tax? After all, they spent their own money eliminating any burden to the county’s system.
The county disagrees! They are now taxing that owner for rain that falls on public roads.
In 2007, under the direction of then Public Works Director Lee Assay (who went to prison for the Quality Paving scandal), the county spent nearly $1 million consulting with an environmental company AMEC. AMEC advised the county on a scheme to extract an additional $5.1 million annually from taxpayers. Meeting minutes revealed AMEC recommended the county hide the fees on the tax bills so people would not notice it.
Ruth Kedzior, assistant county administrator told Watchdog.org that not establishing a stormwater utility or imposing the fees needed to run it would put the county in violation of the federal Clean Water Act, exposing the county to fines into the six figures. The EPA’s Clean Water Act is a federal water regulation in place to keep chemicals collected in rainwater from polluting the water table. This, in fact, is false; stormwater runoff from rural areas is not part of the regulation.
The county showed a presentation to their advisory committee claiming the general fund was insufficient to cover the cost of their stormwater projects. Citizens reviewed the Consolidated Annual Financial Report (CAFR) and discovered over $151 million in reserve funds, which has amassed an incredible $34 million in interest over the past seven years.
After residents held one of the largest demonstrations in Adams County history, commissioners responded by imposing a “no speech zone” in front of our brand new, multi-million-dollar taxpayer-funded government center, in an attempt to silence and intimidate them. When the Colorado ACLU threatened to sue, the restrictions were revoked.
Citizens filed a lawsuit attempting to protect our constitutional right to vote, citing the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment, which states: governments cannot levy or raise taxes without voter approval.
In January, citizens received their second annual rain tax bill, but this time, it’s on an invoice (in lieu of hiding it on tax statements) along with a threat that owners will have liens placed on their property for non-payment.
The county has spent an additional $65,000 in tax dollars consulting with yet another out-of-state company, Raftels to devise yet another scheme bringing public roadways into the stormwater mix, claiming public roadways make up 40 percent of the total impervious area in the service area.
On June 22, the county announced their intent to tax property owners a minimum 40 percent of their rain tax bill regardless if they place no burden on the county’s stormwater system. Property owners must now pay an additional tax for the rain that falls on the public roadways.
This is absurd. The county has gone from taxing us for rain that falls on our roofs, to taxing us for rain that falls on our public roads.
Where will this road end?
NEW! Discovery Request To Defendants
Read Entire Discovery Request - Click Here
Estes Park Trip $21,449 - With Your Tax Dollar!
Today I am writing to you because I am beyond upset to learn our precious tax
dollars have been spent on a trip to Estes Park which included 20 county
employees and 1 out of state, no-bid vendor. This 3 day 2 night "retreat"
cost the taxpayers $21,449.70.
I toured the new multimillion dollar Adams County government building and discovered
the building has several newly furnished, comfortable, video and audio
equipped conference rooms. Two conference rooms accommodate 48 people each
and can be opened to accommodate 96 people. These conference rooms are FREE
for the county to use. Instead of using the government building for the
"leadership" meeting the county once again went to Estes Park for what they
referenced as a "retreat" and thousands of taxpayers dollars were spent on
what I reference as a "mini-vacation". I say once again because the county
made the same trip to Estes Park last year (2013) as well.
The "retreat" includes lake view rooms at $116 per night and expensive food
including dinners for $36 per person.
The vendor that was invited is Novak Consulting. They are from another state
and this is a no bid contract. I questioned Mr. Leoplold and brought up my
concerns to the commissioners at a BOCC meeting on why we again are hiring an
out of state company with no bids taken. It is my opinion that we should be
hiring people within our own state. I refuted their position of the "one of a
kind" service they offered. There are plenty of consulting firms here in
Colorado. We paid this company $11,305.00 to participate in the "leadership retreat" in
Transparency? The county's favorite word. There was none concerning this
trip. No mention of the trip by the media, no mention to the citizens, no
mention on the Adams County website.
As you know the county government has threatened to place liens on our
private property and send our homes to auction of we do not pay the
"Stormwater fee". As you know Commissioner Henry publicly stated "WE NEED
THE MONEY!" referring to the fee's and the county government "NEED" for
But the county government has plenty of money for trips to Estes Park and
justifies them under the cloak of official business? I am not buying it.
People are struggling and our local government should not be wasting our hard earned money!
BRAVO to Treasurer Bridgett Grimm who opted NOT to attend.
Resident of Unincorporated Adams County
PS - I have have all supporting documentation.
Colorado Revised Statute 30-20-420 (2013):
- By no means are we attempting to provide legal advice, but we would like to give our interpretation of this statute.
- Attached is a link providing the verbiage of this statute.
- It is unfortunate the county is referencing this statute in an attempt to threaten and intimidate us. Similar to how they told us the storm water utility was required by the EPA and they had no choice but to impose a tax on us without our vote.
- This statute was written for “sewer and water systems”. Water systems meaning the drinking water that comes into your house, not the God given water that is falling on our properties of which we have absolutely no control over.
- This statute actually limits the power of government from shutting off your water or refusing the use of your sewer system. These are “services” by definition. Yes, sometimes citizens go through difficult financial times and cannot pay their water and sewer bills for a certain amount of time. This statute keeps a bullying government from shutting off those services ultimately making things worse.
- We will let a judge decide if we are receiving any kind of “service” for our fee.
- Fees by definition are paid “voluntarily”.
Statute the county is threatening the citizens with. This statute was cited on the Stormwater bill for 2014.
C.R.S. 30-20-420 (Copy w/ Cite)
COLORADO REVISED STATUTES
*** This document reflects changes current through all laws passed at the First Regular Session
of the Sixty-Ninth General Assembly of the State of Colorado (2013) ***
TITLE 30. GOVERNMENT - COUNTY
COUNTY POWERS AND FUNCTIONS
ARTICLE 20. PUBLIC IMPROVEMENTS
PART 4. SEWER AND WATER SYSTEMS
C.R.S. 30-20-420 (2013)
30-20-420. Failure to pay rates and charges - lien
In the event any user of the system neglects, fails, or refuses to pay the rates, fees, tolls, and charges fixed by the board of county commissioners for the connection with and use of the system, said user shall not be disconnected from said system or refused the use of said system unless the user is outside the boundaries of the county, but the rates, fees, tolls, and charges due therefor may be certified by the county clerk and recorder to the board of county commissioners of the county in which said delinquent user's property is located and shall become a lien upon the real property so served by said system and collected in the manner as though they were part of the taxes.
HISTORY: Source: L. 71: p. 365, § 1. C.R.S. 1963: § 36-29-20
Here are the latest Newsletters published by SSUA. Please download these PDFs and share!
Word of mouth information is very important. Not everyone knows about the illegal fee they are paying and did NOT vote on. Let people know we are fighting for our rights and there is something they can do!
Still No Vote yet More Taxes
I believe it is fair and reasonable to question the integrity of any elected official who misuses and abuses their power to take money from its citizens without first asking permission.
In a few short days, 27,500 property owners in Adams County will get hit with round two of the controversial storm water tax. A burdensome tax the citizens were denied the opportunity to vote on. Only this time, it will bill separate from our property taxes, so be prepared to write Uncle Sam Adams yet another check from your hard earned savings or social security income.
Let us not forget, many of our neighbors and local businesses already struggle to make ends meet, provide food for their families, make mortgage payments, pay down debt, and the list goes on. Taking additional money from our pockets and extracting over $2 million annually from our local economy is bad policy.
Our two commissioners in favor of continuing this illegal tax (Eva Henry and Chaz Tedesco) must ask themselves, are we willing to file liens on properties and evict citizens who simply cannot afford this additional tax?
Obviously the answer is yes, and from the meetings I’ve attended, they act as if they are looking forward to it.
Fortunately, a group of concerned citizens has formed a grassroots organization and we are desperately fighting to defend everyone’s constitutional rights. We are looking forward to our day in court. Our trial has been set for August.
Will you please visit our website, educate yourself regarding these illegal taxes, sign up for our newsletter and help defend our citizen rights.
A government too powerful and willing to take our money without first asking permission, is a government who lacks regards for its citizens.
Task Force Urges $2.1M Refund
Panel pans stormwater fee
TASK FORCE ALSO URGES ADAMS COUNTY TO REFUND $2.1M
By Yesenia Robles
The Denver Post
After six months of debate, a citizens task force urged Adams County commissioners to discontinue a controversial stormwater fee and pay back the $2.1 million in fees already collected.
The recommendations were presented by staff to the commissioners during Monday's public hearing — almost two months past the Oct. 1 deadline commissioners had first set for the guidelines.
It's unclear when the board will take action.
"We do not know what the next steps will be nor what will happen with the program in the future," said Andrea Berg, the county's stormwater program manager.
The task force, which has about 20 members, has been meeting on the matter since May and has been divided. Its five recommendations were drafted Sept. 25 and presented Monday.
Some task force members have criticized the stormwater fee over billing errors, called it a tax and asked commissioners to take the issue to voters instead.
One recommendation — put there by mistake, according to member Thom Stanfield — contradicts the other guidelines by stating the stormwater utility should continue in a minimized capacity.
Commissioner Eva Henry said she hopes to implement some recommendations next month.
The fee, which is based on estimates of how much rain runs off of a property, started Jan. 1 for residents and businesses in unincorporated Adams. It was estimated at an average of $62.64 per year for a single-family home, but some reported bills as high as $900.
Funds collected were meant to pay for water quality and flood- mitigation systems, but projects are now on hold. The fee was capped in April when the task force was created after numerous complaints and threats of litigation. A lawsuit was eventually filed in August and is pending.
Adams County Lawsuit !!!!!!UPDATE!!!!!!!!
- THE CITIZENS WILL GET OUR DAY IN COURT!
- Our lawsuit continues to move forward. By no means are we backing away from this legal challenge and we believe the misguided decisions from our elected officials has only strengthened our case.
- Our trial date has been set for August 4th, 2014.
- The lawsuit is now in the ‘discovery phase’. Our attorneys have up until 7 weeks before the trial date to request discovery information and the county must respond to all discovery requests.
- Once discovery info is collected, our attorneys will conduct several focused depositions leading into the trial.
- This is a long, slow and tedious process and we are grateful for your patience as we continue moving forward protecting our constitutional rights.
Read Entire Complaint - Click Here