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The million-dollar question 

Outstanding bill surfaces as city considers massive development

As City Council heads into a debate next week over whether to give the green light to developing the first phase of the massive Banning Lewis Ranch, a potential million-dollar matter involving fees already owed to the city remains unresolved.

Specifically, the California-based company that owns the property in eastern Colorado Springs has not paid its bill for city services since 2001. Between 2002 and 2004, the city tallied $685,531 in unpaid fees owed by Capital Pacific Holdings, Inc., mostly for police and fire protection. An estimate for 2005 has not yet been compiled, but based on previous years' figures, the total amount owed could approach $1 million.

Lisa Bigelow, principal analyst in the budget department, says the development company has contested the 2003 fee, and the matter currently is being negotiated. The city, she says, has not yet billed the company for the 2004 fiscal year amount of nearly $280,000. The fee was established in an annexation agreement signed in 1988.

"We hope to get it resolved in the near future," she says.

However, as longtime community activist Walter Lawson notes, city officials have not exactly exhibited dogged determination in the three years the balance has gone unpaid. In a draft letter to the chairman of Capital Pacific Holdings, dated May 21, 2004, then-city budget director Mike Anderson identified nearly $700,000 in unpaid fees, and noted that "if we do not receive any formal comments or protest from you within the 20 working days prescribed in the Annexation Agreement, your concurrence with the analysis results will be assumed."

It is unclear why the letter never was sent, and this week, Anderson, who now is the assistant city manager, initially indicated he was unaware of the situation.

After having reviewed the matter, Anderson says he expects things to be resolved, "hopefully very, very soon."

But Lawson isn't encouraged by the city's efforts to collect so far. "If you or I didn't pay a million-dollar [bill] to the city, what would happen?" he asks. "If Banning Lewis doesn't pay, you and I will."

On Tuesday, City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to approve building the first phase of the multi-year project that could double the population of Colorado Springs.

-- Cara DeGette

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