ADAMS COUNTY, Colo. - When Thom Stanfield opened his property tax statement last month, he was stunned to see a stormwater fee tacked on to the bill.
In Stanfield’s case, the fee was nearly $112.
“We’re a little upset by it,” he told 7NEWS, “because we really haven’t had an opportunity to meet with county officials to discuss this.”
The fee, to upgrade unincorporated Adams County’s storm drainage system, is based on the square footage of the property owner’s roof and paved driveways.
Several property owners told 7NEWS that the fee amounts to a new tax and that under Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights, known as Tabor. Passed by voters in 1992, the state constitutional amendment requires voter-approval of new taxes.
“The Revolutionary War was fought for no taxation without representation, and that’s what we’re getting right now,” Stanfield said.
County officials say there was no need for a vote, that the storm water utility fee is just that – a fee, not a tax.
“Our legal interpretation, that we’ve identified with our County Attorney… is that this is a fee that the local government can put in place,” said Assistant County Administrator Todd Leopold.
7NEWS checked and found that 32 other Colorado municipalities have done the same thing. They’re using the money to expand and upgrade storm drainage capability to prevent flooding, and for monitoring – to limit the amount of pollutants ending up in lakes and streams.
Leopold said the Environmental Protection Agency is requiring municipalities to come up with plans to handle pollutants like fertilizer and other petroleum based products.
But several homeowners say those projects won’t benefit them.
“I am so upset,” said Kathryn Lawrence. “This is so unfair.”
Lawrence said her stormwater utility fee is $347.
“If we don’t pay the $347,” she said, “they could put a tax lien on our home.”
Lawrence said the rain that falls on her roof and driveway stays on her property. She believes the county is gouging property owners.
“We already pay an Urban Drain and Flood fee on our taxes that help pay for those services already,” she said.
Leopold said Adams County has experienced tremendous growth and that storm water infrastructure work has been deferred.
He said without the fee, the needed improvements would have to be paid for out of the general fund and that that could affect other areas of public safety.
Lawrence said the average fee in unicorporated Adams County is about $5 a month.
7NEWS found that typical monthly stormwater fees range from a low of a $1.14 in Highlands Ranch to a high of $14.26 in Fort Collins.
Denver residents pay an average of $6.05 a month. Westminster residents pay about $3.00 a month, on average.
Lawrence said Adams County is working on a program to possibly exempt properties that handle their own run off, or provide credits to those whose square footage was overestimated.
When asked why the county didn’t figure that out before assessing the fee, Lawrence replied that it would take time to do that and the county wanted “to move forward with deferred maintenance projects now.”
Homeowners told 7NEWS they're circulating a petition to try to get the fee repealed.
“I would like it to be repealed now,” Lawrence said.
“I want to be able to vote on it,” Stanfield added.
Fee opponents have created a website – www.stopstormwaterutility.com to reach out to other homeowners who feel the same way.
Leopold said that as the county continues to grow, so will the need for more infrastructure.
Leopold said the new stormwater utility includes unincorporated areas of Adams County from the metro area east to Schumaker Road.
When asked why they didn’t include all of unincorporated Adams County, Leopold said the area selected was already part of the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District.
He said as Adams County continues to grow, other areas could be added to the utility.