Plan to collect overdue stormwater fees leaking

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The city’s plan to collect delinquent stormwater fees by converting them into tax liens might be in trouble.

At this morning’s meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, former commissioner and TABOR author Douglas Bruce appeared before the commission and told them that, in his opinion, County Treasurer Sandra Damron does not have the authority to issue or collect such liens.

“The city’s stormwater enterprise is not a government, according to the city, but an enterprise,” Bruce said. “Under Colorado law, the treasurer can only collect taxes, not fees.  The stormwater enterprise is a government-owned enterprise, not a government-owned government.”

In response, County Attorney Bill Louis admitted that “the issues that (Mr. Bruce) has raised are worthy of taking time and resources to research and investigate. The legal issues are complicated and subtle.”

Louis also reminded the commissioners that “you don’t control the property tax system – the treasurer is a sovereign government official.”

Louis said that the crux of the issue is whether the stormwater enterprise is, or is not, a municipality.

He said that in the past the County has simply accepted the statements of other local governments regarding the legality of taxes or liens assigned to the treasurer for collection via the property tax system.

“The county has traditionally taken the position that it is not the policeman or ombudsman of other governments,” he said.

On Louis’ advice, County Treasurer Sandra Damron was not present at the meeting.

“As her attorney,’ Louis said, “I advised not to be present or to take a public position until we had researched the issue and could advise her.”

The commission, which only has advisory powers regarding the issue, did not take any position.  Commissioner Wayne Williams said that the county had paid stormwater fees as a voluntary contribution, not a mandatory assessment.

“We believed that we received value for our contribution, because the enterprise’s work benefited us, by for instance protecting county-owned bridges,” he said. “But I have concerns about using the (property tax system) to collect overdue bills.”

County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink has notified the city about his concern that the stormwater enterprise might simply ask his office to file thousands of liens in an attempt to collect overdue bills.

“We try to spot (phony) liens, when someone files a $5 million lien against a judge, for example,” he said. “But 10,000 at once – that would just be very difficult and burdensome.”

Leaving the meeting, Bruce was adamant.

“The city can’t commandeer the resources of the county,” he said. “This (fee) is neither a tax nor an assessment. They can’t use the property tax system to collect parking tickets or overdue electric bills, and they can’t use it for this either.”