Stormwater slackers 

All seems well at Pine Creek Golf Course in north Colorado Springs. Its lush grass is bordered by rows of golf carts, and the pro shop is well-stocked.

So you wonder why the owner, Escalante Golf-Pine Creek LP, hasn't paid $11,791 in city stormwater fees, ranking it high on the list of 18,141 properties that represent more than $1.5 million in unpaid stormwater bills.

Those thousands face the prospect of having those obligations attached to property tax bills, if Colorado Springs city government gets its way; for the moment, there's an impasse with El Paso County over that. But giving people a pass isn't an option, City Attorney Patricia Kelly says, unless the city wants to face a lawsuit from those who've paid $45.1 million in fees since collections began in early 2007.

Last week, the city released a list of scofflaws, revealing that:

• The biggest deadbeat is the U.S. Postal Service, which owes $97,710 on 11 properties. More about that later.

• The biggest non-governmental deadbeat is MCI Telecommunications Corp., Washington, D.C., which owes $24,179 on property at 4678 Alpine Meadows. MCI's property taxes are state-assessed because its operations cross county lines, so city spokesman Mary Scott says she doesn't know how the city would attempt collection.

• El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen owes $12.75 on her Village Seven home, making her among 14,000-plus who owe less than $100.

• The county isn't likely to pay its balance of $5,847. "The county's position is that it contributed its fair and equitable share towards the improvements, although the county could not be lawfully compelled to do so," county spokesman Dave Rose says in a written statement. That "fair share" was $41,656.

Stormwater fees paid for flood-control projects and maintenance. The fees, amounting to about $15 million a year, were based on a property's square footage of impervious surface. The average homeowner paid $5 a month; commercial, industrial and nonprofits paid more.

From the beginning, many residents saw stormwater fees as illegal taxes enacted by City Council. In November 2009, voters passed Issue 300, barring payments between the city and its enterprises, and the Council reacted by disbanding the Stormwater Enterprise.

But the city still wants the money due through 2009. A collection agency hired by the city has brought in $422,915 through June 15, but hasn't pursued those owing less than $25, because the cost outweighs the amount due.

Council was all set last week to send the list to the county when Mayor Steve Bach put up a stop sign, saying the city and county should talk more first. Council President Scott Hente is adamant that affixing the charges to county property tax bills is legal.

But the city won't ever collect from the federal government, which has argued for years that stormwater fees are taxes, and federal agencies don't pay taxes. President Obama signed a bill Jan. 4 requiring federal facilities to pay local stormwater fees, but it isn't retroactive.

If the county does agree to serve as the city's collection agent, don't look for a grace period or payment plan. County Treasurer Bob Balink says such debts attached to property tax bills are due with 2012 tax payments.

That means Kasama LLC, which owns a mobile home park at 3100 N. Wood Ave., would have to cough up $11,574 in one lump sum, or two halves, depending on how it pays its taxes. A stop at the mobile home park to find out why the bill hasn't been paid turned into a dry run. "The only thing I can tell you is we're not allowed to comment right now," manager Mary Howland said.

Owners of the Clarion Hotel at 314 W. Bijou St., the Jarosz Family Limited Partnership of Colorado Springs, has stiffed the city for $13,293. The manager hasn't returned our call.

Back at the Pine Creek course, a white-haired man identifying himself as the general manager refused to give his name or discuss the unpaid bill.

But all those businesses have plenty of company. Those owing more than $2,500 include several hotels, storage facilities, apartment complexes, even banks (perhaps due to foreclosures).

While the top 60 slackers account for 22 percent of the total owed, most bills are small — 11,540 owe less than $50, and 2,557 owe less than $10. They're scattered all over town, including the ritzy Cedar Heights and Broadmoor areas, where some with homes in the $500,000 range owe $19.50.

But perhaps those residents, like Lathen, are in the dark. Asked Tuesday about her outstanding stormwater bill, Lathen was stunned. "If there's a bill out there, they should have sent me something," she says. "I have received absolutely nothing from the city. I wasn't aware of it at all."

Many aren't likely to notice the bump in their tax bill, such as the final entry in the city's list — a home in southeast Colorado Springs that owes $1.09.


Coming up dry

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