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El Paso County Colorado District 49

Stormwater fees not a county issue

After the controversy and wrangling for years over the Stormwater Enterprise, it looks like the end may be in sight. Or is it? There is another chapter to this story, and in this chapter the city of Colorado Springs could drag El Paso County into the debate.If you have not paid your Stormwater Enterprise invoices, the outstanding balance is considered delinquent by the city. Estimates from the city are that 5 percent of all the Stormwater charges are delinquent, and the city is going after those dollars.The city could go through their own collection process or seek to certify these delinquencies to the county treasurer and have the fee placed on your property tax statements citing Colorado Revised Statute 31-20-105. This statute states that a municipality may certify delinquent charges, assessments or taxes to the property tax statement for collection. But, is an enterprise a municipality? Based on much research and discussion, I believe the answer is no.Such a process would compel the county, on behalf of an enterprise, to use its power to collect these fees. Your nonpayment could result in liens through county power that the city has previously not had available.Imagine, for example, you receive a property tax statement for $1,000 of which $100 is a Stormwater invoice delinquency. You have made the choice not to pay this fee and you remit $900 to the treasurer’s office. The treasurer will return your check because, by statute, a partial payment of your property tax statement cannot be accepted. Now you are delinquent on the entire bill.Imagine you have an escrowed account on your property. This means that you do not pay your property tax bill directly, but your mortgage company does so. Your mortgage company will pay the entire bill, and you will no longer have the ability to say no to a fee, which has been placed on your property tax bill and was never voted on by the people.Imagine again that the city is allowed to do this because they believe that an enterprise may use the power of the property tax collection process to collect its fees. What is to stop any other enterprise from using the same coercive power? What is to prevent delinquent golf fees from ending up on your property tax statement? How about delinquent hospital charges, airport parking fees? You see, according to the interpretation of the statute considered by the city to force the collection of the Stormwater delinquencies, the use of the county’s property tax collection powers could be forever vulnerable to this decision if the city is allowed to certify these fees.The Board of County Commissioners has no authority in the decision to certify these fees to the property tax statements. That power lies in the hands of the elected county treasurer. The BoCC has made it clear to the treasurer that we do not believe this is an appropriate use of the property tax collection process, and I am one commissioner who is asking the treasurer to say no to the city, should they seek certification. The power and resources of El Paso County must be used judiciously and should not ever be used in any way to collect what is called a fee by an enterprise.There is constant talk about city/county collaboration, much of which I agree. This, however, is a complex legal issue that stands to set a dangerous precedent. Remember, only 5 percent of all Stormwater invoices are delinquent. Why would the city consider going to such lengths to collect them through this untested process? Standing between your property tax statement and a flurry of future fees must be staunch opposition to this request and any future request.If by the time this letter runs the city has chosen not to certify these fees, I thank them. If it is ever considered again, even requesting certification opens the door to possible litigation that will result in the county being forced to expend resources to defend the treasurer, as is statutorily required in the event of any lawsuit against that office.There is a great deal at stake here. The integrity of the property tax collection process stands to be exploited; thus, subjecting all El Paso County citizens to untold future fees and the use of the coercive powers of the county to collect them. I would note that this precedent would not be limited to residents of Colorado Springs, but all citizens of the county. The line must be drawn in the sand right here, right now; otherwise, Katie bar the door.Amy LathenEl Paso County Commissioner, District 2

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