Opponents of stormwater utility mull lawsuite
Bills sent to Adams County residents assessing them for a new stormwater fee have had a 34 percent error rate, further inflaming a group of residents organizing a class-action lawsuit to stop the fee they say is a tax.
“Adams County stormwater has been doing mitigation for years. This was just a way to raise their revenues,” said former commissioner candidate Gary Mikes, an Adams County business owner organizing the lawsuit.
Adams County commissioners approved the stormwater fee last fall, telling residents that new federal mandates and the inability to fund stormwater mitigation from the general fund led them to pass on the tab to residents of the unincorporated county. Not doing so put them at risk for costly federal fines for not complying with the regulations, officials told residents at a handful of community meetings.
The fee took effect Jan. 1.
Now the county has hired an outside consultant and is working with temporary staff to review 27,000 bills sent to residents. The county estimates it will spend about $100,000 to correct the errors before April 30, when payments are due.
Of the 6,600 parcels reviewed to date, 2,298 have been adjusted — about a 34 percent error rate.
“We knew there was going to be some calculations that would have to be adjusted, but, in part, the photography we used made things more difficult,” said deputy county administrator Todd Leopold. “It was more than we anticipated.”
Residents are assessed based on how much of their property doesn’t allow stormwater to soak into soil. The county estimated that a single-family home would be assessed an average of $62.64 per year. Some residents, however, reported bills as high as $900.
Adams County used photography it already had and contracted another vendor to analyze the photos. But, Leopold said, the pictures weren’t detailed enough to differentiate between impervious surfaces — such as roofs or concrete, which repel water — and hard surfaces — such as cracked asphalt or hard dirt, which allow water to soak in.
Mikes and other groups in Adams County have joined together to host the Monday meeting. They argue that the fee is a new tax, added without voter approval in violation of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. They’ve consulted lawyers.
“It’s the job of local officials to justify taxes, and if they can’t, then it’s probably not necessary,” said Stan Martin, another resident organizing the meeting.
Martin said he is one of many residents who didn’t know about the fee until they received a bill.
Mikes also argues that Adams County’s mostly rural unincorporated areas do not have stormwater problems.
County officials have argued that the fee program they implemented was going to cover only “bare-minimum” projects. Initial estimates of how much revenue the fee would generate also are being adjusted.
So far, the revenue projection is down by $700,000, and as it continues to decrease, project delays loom.
One of the first projects in line to get funding is the Utah-Junction-Clay Street outfall project near the area of West 60th Avenue under Interstate 76, Leopold said. The project needs $2.75 million from stormwater funds for completion.
The project involves sewer and drainage improvements as well as a trail system, and is being completed in phases.
Yesenia Robles: 303-954-1372, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/yeseniarobles
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