Unincorporated Adams County residents angry over newly implemented stormwater utility fees made their voices heard during a Monday community meeting, where many in the standing-room-only crowd called for the fee’s repeal and said they are willing to fight the charges in court.
The meeting — held at the Werth Manor Event Center in Commerce City and hosted by the Stop Stormwater Utility Tax group — attracted nearly 400 residents and property owners who allege the newly implemented fees are taxes that should be subject to voter approval.
“In my opinion, they (Adams County officials) poorly notified the public in their efforts to sell it to us,” Former Adams County Commissioner candidate Gary Mikes said to the crowd. “This is something that’s being forced upon us.”
The stormwater utility fee, which was approved by the Board of County Commissioners during their Sept. 19 public meeting, allows for an annual allocation of $5.1 million “to plan, construct, acquire, operate, and maintain flood control facilities as well as to manage stormwater quality” in line with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unfunded mandates and regulatory requirements.
In all, the stormwater utility fee affects about 27,000 unincorporated Adams County residents.
The group is currently sending out a mass petition calling on the three sitting county commissioners to repeal the fee, but Mikes said he and other group members are working on a plan to file a lawsuit against the county.
Denver Attorney Sean Gallagher, who is working on behalf of the group, said the fee may violate the state Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), which requires voter approval on state and local government tax rate increases.
“Those of us who have watched the erosion of the TABOR amendment over the years are concerned by recent (Colorado) Supreme Court decisions that have allowed local governments to simply go around TABOR by claiming anything is a fee,” Gallagher said. “Adams County has tried to do that in this situation by claiming this stormwater tax is a fee and my concern is not just about the fee or tax in this case but the precedent that this kind of conduct says. If you don’t limit it here at stormwater, where is the limit? Why can’t Adams County impose fees for police or fire protection or anything else?”
Deputy County Administrator Todd Leopold disagreed, saying the county followed all of the guidelines to implement a fee and consistently held public meetings to encourage public input.
“I don’t see that there’s any legal standing that would take place to overturn this,” Leopold said. “From that standpoint, I don’t think there’s any concern from the county’s perspective.”
Unincorporated Adams County resident Annette Tarantino said she was charged about $170 in stormwater utility fees for her one-acre property and expressed concern that many residents who have mortgages on their homes may not even realize they are being charged a fee.
“I’m not really happy about it,” Tarantino said. “I hope the county commissioners change their mind when they see the amount of support we are getting.”