Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Going after stormwater deadbeats

Posted By on Wed, Aug 10, 2011 at 9:26 AM

Whether or not the city's stormwater fees get collected on tax bills now is in the court of El Paso County.

And judging from a statement by County Treasurer Bob Balink, it's impossible to tell which way he's leaning.

In a release Tuesday after the City Council voted to send the list of deadbeats to the county for attachment of the fees to tax bills, Balink issued this statement:

“Upon receipt of a copy of the City’s ordinance regarding delinquent Stormwater fees, which was apparently passed earlier today, the County Treasurer will thoroughly review it and all applicable statutes before making further comment. There are many issues to consider and discuss prior to making a final determination as to how we will proceed. We will work judiciously to address this in a most timely manner."

As of July 25, there were 18,073 accounts still delinquent totaling $1.6 million. We wrote about who some of the slackers are back in June.

Nearly 10,000 accounts are less than $25, but 148 accounts exceed $1,000. City officials say it's unfair to not collect from those who haven't paid, considering other residents paid $43.4 million during the three years the fee was in place.

The irony behind the City Council's decision Tuesday to send the delinquency list to Balink for collection is that the city always claimed the fees were not taxes. Had they been taxes, the voters would have had to approve imposing them. They didn't. The Council imposed the fees. But now, the city wants them collected as if they were taxes.

City Attorney Patricia Kelly cites a Colorado statute in support of the collection through tax bills:

"Any municipality, in addition to the means provided by law, if by ordinance it so elects, may cause any or all delinquent charges, assessments, or taxes made or levied to be certified to the treasurer of the county and be collected and paid over by the treasurer of the county in the same manner as taxes are authorized to be by this title."

But anyone who didn't pay will have one more chance. The city will notify all delinquent account holders of the amount due prior to sending the list to the county treasurer. The city will accept payment in the next 30 days. Those who pay won't have the fee added to their tax bills.

Council formed the Stormwater Enterprise in 2005, imposed fees in 2007 and dismantled it in late 2009 in response to a November 2009 ballot measure. The city faces hundreds of millions of dollars needed flood control projects without a revenue source to fund them.

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