Regardless of November's election results, Colorado Springs' most famous anti-taxer could find himself crying in the rain.
Like Wile E. Coyote, Douglas Bruce has gone through hell over the past few years in his relentless pursuit of the city's Stormwater Enterprise fee. He's been ticketed, gone to court, lost an election, and engaged in endless bickering with City Council and officials. And yet, that slippery little sucker may wriggle from his grasp yet again.
It's got to be frustrating.
The latest glitch: Some attorneys, including City Attorney Patricia Kelly, say that even if Bruce's Measure 300 passes in November, it may not eliminate Stormwater fees. Bruce didn't write the question clearly, they say.
The controversy revolves around the last sentence of Bruce's proposal: "Hereafter, all loans, gifts, and subsidies between an enterprise and the city or another enterprise are prohibited[.]"
Kelly says as she understands it, that means Measure 300 would end some payments between enterprises and the city. But the Stormwater fee, expected to bring in $15.8 million this year, is a payment directly from citizens to an enterprise, she explains, so it wouldn't seem to be banned. Also untouched would be payments for service between the city and its enterprises, she says.
Kelly feels the most significant change to come via Measure 300 would be prohibiting Colorado Springs Utilities' payment in lieu of taxes to the city, which Utilities doles out because it is publicly owned and therefore not subject to regular taxes. In 2009, Utilities will pay a total of $26.91 million in PILT.
Kelly isn't the only one who thinks Bruce's language might not serve him as he had hoped. Gary Shupp, a longtime local lawyer and Monument's town attorney, says he'd fully expect the matter to end up in court if the measure passes.
"My guess would be that the city's more accurate in the reading of the language than Mr. Bruce is," Shupp says, "but I'm not a district judge."
Bruce, of course, is taking all this speculation in stride. When told of Kelly's opinion, he replied, "She's delusional; she can't read!"
Bruce says his proposal bans all subsidies between the city and its enterprises, and, he argues, since Stormwater fees are used to improve city property, they're a subsidy.
All of which begs the question: Why wasn't Bruce more straightforward with 300? Why not just ask voters to end the Stormwater fee?
Bruce gives three main reasons. First, he thought targeting Stormwater could backfire, because the city could simply reinstate the same fee under a different name. He also believed a previous court decision barred him from going after a specific entity, instead dictating a question must concern broad policy of government. Third, he was aiming at more than one target. The way 300 is phrased, he says, it not only will end Stormwater fees, but also PILT and other practices he doesn't approve of, like using Parking Enterprise money to pay for unrelated city services.
Bruce sounded almost gleeful when interviewed on this topic Monday — so much so that he told the Indy that he'd notify the Gazette and other media about the information we had obtained. (The Gazette was informed by the city that Kelly's comments came in response to the Indy's questions, but in its Wednesday story declined to credit our paper.)
Bruce predicts "a riot" if 300 passes and the city does not end Stormwater fees. Though a similar issue failed last November, Bruce insists, "This issue is going to pass, big time."