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
Read Entire Complaint - Click Here
Boulder Road Fee Coming Our Way
Don’t let transportation ‘fee’ take us for a ride
The city of Boulder has launched a yearlong planning process for an update to its Transportation Master Plan, and simultaneously has been exploring the idea of a transportation maintenance fee. At first blush, the two have as much in common as grapes and gravel.
At a recent city council study session, however, staff linked the two because of a dearth of funding, at both the state and federal levels, and a concern that it will not be able to fund the “transportation vision” outlined in the master plan.
The city frames the funding problem by positing that the current sales-tax funding model erodes the system, impedes progress and diminishes buying power, resulting in a $3.2 million shortfall for transportation operations and maintenance. Enter the transportation maintenance fee as a proposed solution.
The fee, which would be charged as part of customers’ water and sewer utility bills, would be based on land use and vehicle trip generation based on data from the Institute of Transportation Engineers. The data is intended to approximate the burden that different properties impose on city streets.
But what is this fee exactly? What problems might it solve? And, what will it cost?
Is the TMF really a fee, or is it a tax? We would define a fee as a charge for use of a service or amenity, the amount of which is related to the cost of providing that service or amenity. A tax, on the other hand, while it may be applied to a particular good or service, is collected to raise general purpose revenue.
Taxes go into the general fund, and the city government can spend tax revenue on anything it wants. Some argue that without addressing the prioritization of how the city manages its budget overall, taxpayers have no assurance that revenue generated would go to needed road repair and maintenance.
We strongly support multimodal transportation as integral to the Transportation Master Plan and as an important asset in attracting and retaining employers and talent. However, we are concerned that the mundane basic safety expenses like asphalt repair may take a backseat to alternative-mode goodies such as universal Eco Passes and lighting for bike paths.
One problem a TMF solves for the city is TABOR, or Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights. By identifying this revenue stream as a fee, rather than a tax, the city could sidestep a vote of the people and could adjust the fee should costs increase.
At a study session in April, council members indicated that if they do opt for a fee, they would ask for an advisory vote on the initial amount, but we are left wondering what safeguards are in place for any future adjustments.
So, what will it cost? The city’s summary, maxing out at $6 monthly for the all-inclusive package, seems like a steal. What’s missing from their one-page summary is the cost for Boulder’s businesses, federal labs, BVSD and CU. This cost was disclosed in the city’s extensive community outreach to impacted organizations, including the Boulder Chamber, and we can tell you – it’s a big bite.
Rates for commercial and industrial properties would be considerably higher than those for residential properties. Based on the city’s proposed options, which range from $2.5 million to $5.6 million yearly, commercial and retail users would pay the highest rate, $16,000 to $20,480 annually, and warehouses the lowest, $525 to $672 annually. The federal labs would be charged $27,681 to $58,255, CU $70,536 to $158,000 and BVSD $93,599 to $209,662 per year.
If revenue must be raised for transportation purposes, we strongly recommend that the city put the question forward as a tax, subject to a vote of the people, with clear ballot language stating how the tax revenue will be spent. If passed, we ask for a regular and clear accounting on the measure and a restrained fiscal approach to managing the general fund overall, in accordance with the city’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Revenue. That way, no one gets taken for a ride.
Michigan Wins Lawsuit - It is a TAX!
ACLU says our rights where violated!
As you know our organization was recently targeted directly by Eva Henry (Commissioner District 1) in the Denver Post on Tues. May 28th. She stated "it's the storm water group, they were basically disrupting people trying to go in for other business. The last time they had a large group, it got to the point where it was too much".
As you know from a result of our last hearing / rally on April 29th, the two commissioners (Eva Henry and Chaz Tedesco) adopted a resolution on May 20th limiting our constitutional right to 'free speech'. This caught the attention of the Colorado ACLU and David Lane (civil rights attorney). Both of these firms contacted our organization and we recently held several meetings with them. A lawsuit was pending to be filed against the county this next week on behalf of our organization and all of you.
A huge THANK YOU to a lot of you, as well as the ACLU, who stood up in this attempt to intimidate our group to silence us and get us to go away. We WILL NOT go away and we WILL NOT quit fighting until our constitutional right to vote on the storm water fee is granted to us.
As a result of people fighting back on this "free speech" issue, the commissioners realized the citizens of Adams County, and specifically our group, will not be intimidated. They will be rescinding the free speech resolution in it's entirety at Mondays BoCC meeting at 9:30am.
Our organization, as well as the president of the Colorado ACLU (Mark Silverstein), will be attended the meeting. Mark spoke directly to the commissioners and letting them know this unacceptable behavior of targeting a specific group of individuals, misleading the press into believing our group was disruptive and taking away our constitutional right to free speech is wrong, is in direct violation of the law and it will not be accepted. Our organization will be speaking and asking for a public apology.
Please let the commissioners know there is a way this can all go away, and that is LETTING US VOTE!
Stop Stormwater Utility Association
Stormwater Utility Fee Sparks Controversy
A Storm Is Brewing In Adams County
The citizens of unincorporated Adams County face a new Stormwater Utility charge that the county has dubbed a “fee.”.
The decision by the former Adams County Commission to institute a stormwater utility and then bill residents for the privilege is a hugely unpopular move among the approximately 27,000 residents of unincorporated Adams County who had little-to-no notification that this was coming. Most residents only discovered it when they received their annual property tax bills, with some of the charges as high as $10,000.00.
It is hard to find a single person among them who will claim they will receive a single benefit from the “fee.” Residents argue that the fee amounts to a new tax which must go to a vote of the people, under Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) passed by voters in 1992. This state constitutional amendment requires voter-approval of new taxes. However, the Stormwater Utility was never put to a vote of the people. The county claims the utility is a fee, not a tax, and thus not subject to a vote. Here lies the legal dispute.
Both newly elected commissioners, Eva Henry and Chaz Tedesco, intend to uphold the fee, despite their campaign rhetoric which would leave one to think otherwise. One local resident, a Teamsters Union representative, sent Henry and Tedesco a letter warning that if they continued to support assessing the “fee” then the union would actively campaign against each, despite the union’s previous support for both.
Gene Sears of the Brighton Blade put it best, referring to Henry and Tedesco who both accepted campaign funds from their predecessors and members of the notorious “Adams Family:”
Despite platforms of openness and reform, the Adam’s Family is alive and well, huddled in their secluded mansion south of Brighton. We may have traded Uncle Fester and Mama for Wednesday and Pugsley, but the modus operandi is the same old, same old: bait and switch, ethics be damned.
The non-partisan group, Stop Stormwater Utility Association (SSUA), is organized and gaining wide-spread support. They are circulating flyers and petitions, and have retained legal counsel who, just last week, submitted a 3-page open records request to the county. They have even hired a public relations firm to help inform others. They claim the tactic of using a “fee” to bypass the vote of the people is not new and not isolated to the Stormwater Utility or Adams County. The group recently stormed two Board of County Commissioner (BOCC) meetings, filling over-flow rooms during normal working hours.
Commissioner Tedesco refuses to acknowledge the group other than as “a small number of trouble makers and bullies.” Commissioner Henry has spearheaded BOCC policy changes to restrict public comment and increase the cost of open records requests under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA). Henry even went so far as to ridicule Commissioner Hansen’s motion last week to repeal the fee as nothing more than a ploy to help his bid for re-election. The motion failed 2-1 on a party-line vote.
Adams County originally assessed unincorporated residents $5.1 million annually via the utility to pay for stormwater-related projects. Last year’s Consolidated Annual Financial Report (CAFR) shows nearly $152 million in unrestricted funds available to meet the County’s ongoing obligations to citizens. Adams County Commissioners and officials have been unresponsive to our inquiries on these hard numbers which is earning millions in interest alone. The new CAFR is due out in May and is expected to have an even larger balance.
The county’s Stormwater Utility presentation in May of 2012 (referring to 2011 data) painted a picture of financial doom and gloom, and specifically indicated that there was “nearly $8 million reduction in interest earnings.” The 2011 CAFR shows that General Fund interest earnings increased by $111,472, and that interest expense decreased between 2010 & 2011. It also said that property tax revenue did decrease by $773,247 in 2011 (unverified), but the County increased spending in Conservation of Natural Resources by a whopping 69% from 2010 to 2011 which came out to somewhere above $4 million dollars.
Feeling the pressure, the BOCC did recently pass two resolutions (a temporary fee cap and the formation of another citizen’s task force). Both resolutions were posted online the Saturday before Easter, and then voted on via the consent agenda, without even being read into the record, on the Monday morning that followed Easter Sunday, thus allowing virtually no time for public review. This does not seem to be an earnest attempt to engage the public with more open and transparent communications.
Opponents of the tax are concerned that the new task force will be hand-picked and stacked by the BOCC, and that they, too, will be lied to and ignored. Citizens are simply tired of the county throwing good money after bad, and it seems the SSUA is drawing a line in the sand.
The new temporary rate cap is based on the average stormwater fees currently being charged, including the original over-billed erroneous rates which the county has now spent over $100,000 to remedy. How can the commissioners accurately and fairly come up with an average, when approximately 35-50% of the accounts being used to calculate it are inaccurate, according to their own admission?
The county previously had a Stormwater Advisory Committee (SWAC) whose members have gone on record saying that they were ignored and lied to by the county and their no-bid / sole source contractor, AMEC – an environmental consulting firm. AMEC provided inaccurate and misleading information to county staff, the commissioners, the SWAC, and taxpayers when they said the county would be fined a $10,000 per day per violation for non-compliance of the EPA’ MS4 permit.
It should be noted that AMEC also helped the EPA to author the “Guide To Municipal Stormwater Funding,” which instructs municipalities on how to convince taxpayers to “go with the flow” on Stormwater Utility programs. SSUA is now circulating a copy of the recent Virginal Court ruling against the EPA (which the EPA refused to challenge) that discredits the county’s main justification behind their Stormwater Utility program.
SSUA issued a media release in response to the resolutions and stated the resolutions are a “temporary” appeasement to quiet the crowd. Once citizens disengage, the commissioners will have free reign to elevate the fee structure back to pre-determined levels or higher.
The video below details SSUA’s latest astonishing research. For example, residents are already being assessed a mill levy to the Urban Drainage and Flood Control district to fund the same projects. The video also reveals SWAC meeting minutes (page 3) where AMEC recommended the county hide the fees on the tax bills so people would not notice it.
This whole effort stinks so bad that the stormwater may quickly turn into raw sewage for the county, especially if it heads to court.
August 2013 | Important Info / Facts:
Download this important Fact Sheet and share!! - Click Here
Stop Stormwater Utility Assoc. (SSUA)
Is a non-partisan grassroots organization, comprised of and supported by Adams County residents, property owners, community members and businesses.
Support, represent and advocate on behalf of those individuals whose voting rights have been ignored and whose lives have been impacted by the newly implemented storm water utility ‘fee’. We will accomplish this by providing a clear and united voice to the taxpayers of Adams County as well as our county officials.
Repeal the newly implemented storm water utility fee, through all means necessary, including but not limited to education, public pressure, legislative action and legal efforts. SSUA will not allow our local government to operate a ‘fee based program’ where the taxpayers have no choice, no say, no control and NO VOTE.
If you live or own a business in ‘Unincorporated Adams County’ west of Shumaker Rd, you are paying a ‘rain tax’ you did not vote on. Our local government is taking our money without our permission and it is time to say STOP!
PLEASE log onto our website at www.StopRainTax.com and enter your email address under our newsletter section. This is the only way we can remain in contact with you.
In 1992, the citizens of Colorado voted to approve the TABOR amendment, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Colorado Constitution article X, section 20. This law ensures the people of Colorado a vote before the State or any local government may: create new debt, levy new taxes, increase tax rates, or institute tax policy changes directly causing a net tax revenue gain.
Yet Adams County has bypassed the voters, saying we don’t need your vote, we will take your money anyway!
THIS IS WRONG and must be stopped. Our organization, on behalf of all citizens in Adams County, is in the process of seeking legal action. We need your support. Please become a member via our website and join the 1000’s of citizens deeply concerned over this issue.
Legal action is our last resort. It is truly unfortunate citizens would have to file suit against their own government. You would always hope your elected officials would listen and represent the people. However, despite the public outcry over this new tax, two of our recently elected commissioners have ignored the citizens. Instead they have “hand selected’ a 20 person panel to make decisions for me and you. How is it the commissioners think 20 individuals can adequately represent 27,500 property owners living in the unincorporated area? If a government is going to take your money, shouldn’t you at least have the opportunity to vote on it?
Know the facts / history:
In 2007, Adams County Public Works Director, Lee Essay, hired an environmental consulting company by the name of AMEC, via a sole source bid, for nearly ¾ million dollars to the taxpayers to help implement a new storm water utility. Lee Essay is now in prison for county related corruption violations.
AMEC recommended placing the fee/tax on our property tax statements so it wouldn’t be “HIGHLY NOTICEABLE”. We believe a majority of citizens and business owners still do not know this additional tax is being placed on them.
Fees have certain common traits that distinguish them from taxes. They are ‘voluntary or paid by choice’, in that the party paying the fee has the option of not utilizing the government service and thereby avoiding the charge.
The new storm water utility tax is designed to extract an additional $5.1 million annually from the taxpayers.
Does the county really need more of our money? Or is it just GREED?
- Fact 1: According to the 2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) released weeks ago, the county’s ‘unrestricted fund balance’ remained at over $150 million.
- Fact 2: The county’s net position increased $9.3 million from the previous year. This typically serves as a useful indicator whether the financial position of the county is improving or deteriorating.
- Fact 3: The county’s governmental funds recorded an increase in fund balance of $7.7 million from 2011.
- Fact 4: Property tax revenues are estimated to increase in 2013 by 2.1% bringing in millions more.
- Fact 5: Sales tax revenue is projected to increase approx. 10% over last year bringing in approx. $3.5 million.
- Fact 6: Adams County has the second highest mill levy property tax rate in the state of Colorado.
- Fact 7: According to the 2012 CAFR, “the financial health of the county is good”.
- Fact 8: Compared to similar county’s along the front range (Pueblo, El Paso, Weld, Arapahoe, Boulder, Jefferson), Adams County has an average of $90 million more in ‘unrestricted funds’.
Why isn’t the county being honest with its own citizens?
- The county’s #1 major selling point for this entire stormwater utility has been this.
- “The EPA’s Clean Water Act regulations require Adams County to implement a stormwater quality management program and non-compliance with the EPA can result in large fines from $10,000 - $25,000 per day”.
- HUGE difference between a ‘stormwater management program’ and a ‘stormwater utility’. The county wants us to think they are one in the same. WRONG!
- Fact 1: The county already has a ‘quality stormwater management program’ since 2003 and has been in full compliance with the EPA Clean Water Act since that time. Remember, BIG difference between a ‘stormwater utility’ and a ‘stormwater management program’. Read carefully! The county makes it sound and wants us to believe this new ‘stormwater utility’ is required by the EPA. This could not be further from the truth. This is extremely misleading information.
- Fact 2: The county has never been fined or reprimanded from the State or EPA, nor has there ever been any threat of fines. This is a ‘scare-tactic’ to get us to believe the county will soon be getting fined if we all don’t go along with this utility. Again, very misleading information.
- Fact 3: The EPA’s Clean Water Act only regulates areas of 1000 people per square mile or more. Nearly 2/3 of the unincorporated area within the ‘fee area’ DOES NOT fall under the EPA Clean Water Act. Nathan Moore from the Colorado Dept of Public Health and Environment who spoke at one of the meetings stated “this is an urban policy and has little to no affect on rural areas”.
- Fact 4: The EPA’s Clean Water Act only regulates the quality of water, not ‘quantity’. This is important to note, because a tremendous amount of our money the county is spending on storm drainage related projects has nothing to do with the quality of water, only quantity. Yet the county wants us to believe this program must exist because of the mandated EPA Clean Water Act. Once again, WRONG!
We need your help, please donate:
Checks to SSUA, PO Box 713, Brighton, CO 80601 or via our website
or click here
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This is about our constitutional right to vote! If we do not stop this illegal fee now then what fee will we be forced to pay without our vote?
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Weld County Fights Back!
· Council Supports Colorado Clean Water Compact: The City Council passed a resolution in support of the Colorado Clean Water Compact, joining a coalition of local governments, that include Weld County and Loveland, that oppose the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s initiative to impose new and expensive regulations concerning stormwater control. Joel Hemesath, Greeley’s Public Works Director, said the move while symbolic for the moment, was important because Greeley agrees the EPA’s proposal is unnecessary and inappropriate in Colorado. On the national front, NAR opposes the proposed new regulations. See more, below.
· Colorado Clean Water Coalition Pushing for Local Study: A group of local governments and business organizations, the Colorado Clean Water Coalition (CCWC), argues that Colorado already has a thorough and effective system for managing stormwater runoff. It opposes the EPA’s proposed rules, which have been in progress since 1999 but were delayed as a result of litigation by various jurisdictions across the country.
The CCWC argues that there is no clear connection between the new rules and a demonstrated local problem in Colorado. Its goal is to convince Colorado’s Congressional delegation to pressure the EPA to choose a different strategy, beginning with a local study to identify any current stormwater issues.
Two of the CCWC’s biggest concerns include the expansion of the “universe” of regulated stormwater discharges and the attempt to introduce a concept of regulating existing properties through forced retrofitting. It estimates that the adoption of the EPA’s proposal would increase development costs in Colorado by more than $50,000 per acre. And for commercial projects, compliance would add $400,000 to an eight-acre retail or industrial project.
NATION (from NAR)
· NAR Opposes Latest Stormwater Regulations: The history of stormwater regulations began in 1972 with the federal Clean Water Act, which defined stormwater as “stormwater runoff, snow melt runoff, and surface runoff and drainage.” During rain or snow events, water runoff from urban streets, parking lots and construction sites can carry oil, grease, sediment and other pollutants, either directly or indirectly through storm drains, into surface waters. In time, it became evident that these more diffuse sources of water pollution were major causes of water quality problems.
Since its passage, the Clean Water Act and stormwater regulation have been actively litigated in courts at the local, state and national level. In 2012 the EPA and litigants negotiated new deadlines for the issuance of a post-construction stormwater rule. That rule is now expected to be released by the EPA by June 10, 2013. It will cover stormwater discharges from newly developed and redeveloped sites, and define performance standards for reducing runoff. NAR and a coalition that includes the home builders and a variety of other real estate-related groups will oppose the new rule, which they argue will require unnecessary and expensive compliance measures, according to Russell Riggs, a Senior Regulatory Representative with NAR.
Teamster Letter To Commissioners Tedesco and Henry
Eva and Chaz,
Let me re-introduce myself. My name is Don Ramsey and I am a member of the Teamsters Local 455 (membership of over 11,000). I had the pleasure of meeting you both at the Political Coordinator meetings prior to your succesful election. My team not only vetted but supported you both in campaigning including door to door and phone bank campaigning.
I have been assesed $500 for this rainwater fee for a single family home on 2.5 acres. I fail to see how this is fair as the Adams County code is a maximum of 6% building on my property. That leaves 94% of my property to absorb the rain. My subdivision also has a collection area so in effect not a drop of water will enter the stormwater utility. I was also burdened with supplying a self contained fire sprinkler system in my home and paying a road impact fee to build my own house. I live on well and septic. My requirements of the Adams County services are limited to say the least.
My last house was in town and was at least 40% of the property yet no fee. How is it possible to put the highest burden on a property like mine? I already pay higher taxes for owning a nice home but I do not utilize nearly as much services from the county as those in a less rural area.
If we are to use a "formula" such as the .00167 per square foot it should also include a variable to account for percentage of total property. Until this occurs I will devote spare time to petitioning the fee. I will also extend my energy from supporting politicians and instead channel it into recalling them. I have spoken with the principal officer at Local 455 and he supports my position. I understand this mess was inherited by you but just like in business, when a mistake is made it is how it is dealt with that determines character and customer service to maintain the customer. The same holds true in politics and the ability to sustain support.