Adams County officials said nearly 8,500 unincorporated county residents were charged incorrect stormwater utility fee amounts on their 2012 property tax statements due to errors in a digital surface assessment system.
The computerized system, which used aerial photographs and computer mapping systems to calculate the fees last year, misidentified some ground surfaces as billable areas on some properties, and county officials say options to remedy the problem will cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.
Eric Weis, an Adams County Public Works senior civil engineer, said the problem, which first came to the county's attention in late November and early December, stems from the system's inability to identify certain billable impervious surfaces covered under the county's billing policy.
The stormwater utility fee, which was approved by the Board of County Commissioners during their Sept. 19 public meeting, defines “billable impervious surfaces” as all man-made, fully enclosed structures and all surfaces paved with asphalt or concrete, but exempts crushed concrete asphalt and gravel surfaces.
“Within the more urbanized portion of the county, the automated analysis gave us pretty good results — not perfect but within the tolerance we were expecting,” Weis said. “Once you get out east to predominantly farming properties that have compacted dirt, the infrared response of that surface was very similar to pavement. It correctly identified it with respect to how it behaves when rain hits it, but that's not our policy.”
Deputy County Administrator Todd Leopold said the county corrected about 2,400 statements before it was mailed out by the Treasurer's Office and is working to correct the remaining statements by April 30 — the deadline for property owners who chose the full payment option for their property taxes.
In all, Leopold said it will cost the county at least $76,000 in additional temporary staff time and office supply costs to complete all of the changes by that date.
Current policies do not allow for credits or exemptions, but Leopold noted that an ongoing credit study, which would establish the rates, fees and appeals processes, is scheduled to be completed by Oct. 1.
He said any adjustments outlined in the study are retroactive to Jan. 1 — a move that allows eligible residents to receive credits or exemptions for fees paid in 2013.
“I think that there has been a lot of work that has been done to address the problems immediately after the concerns became apparent,” said Adams County District 3 Commissioner Erik Hansen. “I think there has been a lot of work that was put into this and I think that the work has improved from where it was a few months ago.”
Unincorporated Adams County residents wanting to file an appeal may contact the Stormwater Quality Hotline at: 720-523-6400 or fill out and submit a Stormwater Utility Appeal Form along with supporting documentation that can be found at: www.adcogov.org/stormwater.
All appeals must be received by April 1 for the Stormwater Utility staff to make a determination.
Rebates will be issued by the Adams County Treasurer's Office to the payee of the property tax, if it is determined there was a stormwater fee calculation error.
A refund will also be issued if an overage has been identified after a property tax statement has paid in full.