Back on March 26, 2003, Alan and Dianne Brass sold their 2,100-square-foot, two-bedroom home to Colorado Springs Utilities for $500,000, according to media reports at the time. That was nearly three times the taxable value and didn't include another $340,925 in moving costs paid by the city.
That and similar deals, which triggered an overhaul of the city's real estate practices, unfolded as Utilities pushed to lock up land around Jimmy Camp Creek, where a reservoir was envisioned for the Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir. The new reservoir, originally planned to be built earlier, now is slated for 2020 to 2024 as part of SDS' Phase 2.
During the 2003 buying spree, the city made about 15 sweet deals, adding another perk for sellers: They could stay put — paying rent of only $300 a month — until Utilities built the reservoir.
That day never came, of course. Confronted with archeological discoveries in the Jimmy Camp area, Utilities opted instead for a reservoir site in the Upper Williams Creek area a few miles south.
Now, 13 years later, as the city plans to dedicate the SDS project on June 17, it's still sitting on the Jimmy Camp properties, for which Utilities ratepayers paid a total of $6.1 million.
The Brass transaction was among the highest amounts paid. At the time, the property was listed as being worth $181,952 for tax purposes. Another example was a home owned by Joseph and Kathleen Kuberka, for which the city paid $380,000, plus another $340,804 in moving costs, whether they moved or not. At the time, that 40-acre tract was listed on the tax rolls at a value of $269,296.
Although all the parcels are tax-exempt because Utilities is a public agency, the Kuberka home now is on the tax rolls for $385,045, while the Brass home's value for tax purposes is $197,751.
Still, the Brass home value puzzled El Paso County Assessor Steve Schleiker when the Independent inquired about it, because it should have substantially increased based on Utilities' $500,000 purchase.
"I'm going to pull the historic price records to figure out what was going on with that one," Schleiker says.
After ditching the Jimmy Camp site, Utilities identified roughly 2,500 acres in Upper Williams Creek for a reservoir. So far, Utilities has purchased 2,120 acres at a cost of more than $19.3 million and needs another 385 acres, to be acquired this year, according to an email response from Utilities. Until all that land is in hand, Utilities will retain the Jimmy Camp properties, it notes.
Meantime, the rental agreements state the former owners can rent until Utilities no longer needs the property and then have first right of refusal to buy back their homes at current market value when they're sold, retaining all monies previously paid to them by Utilities.
All residents have chosen to stay put except one, Utilities spokesperson Kim Mutchler says, via email. After that home was vacated, another tenant leased the home for a year, but since has left and Utilities hasn't re-leased it.
When it comes time to sell, Utilities will have new appraisals conducted, Mutchler notes. "We will wait to do the appraisals until we are ready to sell," she adds, "so that we have the most current pricing."
It's also worth noting that Utilities owns six tracts in Pueblo West, acquired as part of SDS, that are no longer needed. One includes a home, and the others are vacant land. Those properties will be sold this fall.