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Don Ellis guest column: No on 1B

By Don Ellis

       It appears that Citizens for Responsible Stormwater Action has done a commendable job in identifying needed drainage improvements and anticipating the costs involved. It also appears that the group has been thoughtful and responsible in setting aside funds from its proposed stormwater "fee" for operations, maintenance, and emergency needs.
       Still, I voted NO on 1B and encourage you to do the same. There are two reasons:
       First, the complete lack of transparency as to how the fee would be determined is a red flag. Various news reports have mentioned that the fee

would be based on the amount of impervious surface. But, the ballot language makes no mention of impervious surface and simply states that the fee will be, "... a fee on real property set by a drainage authority to be named the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority (PPRDA)." Although I had previously seen no specific information as to how the fee would be determined, a story posted Oct. 17 in the Westside Pioneer gave a specific figure for the Old Colorado City Surplus building; and I wondered how the figure was obtained. A little searching on the Internet led me to the page, PikesPeakStormWater.org/estimate-your-stormwater-fee, which will generate an estimate of the fee based on user inputs. However, the website gives no information as to how that estimated fee is actually determined. Surely, if a ballot measure that is going to cost property owners money can take up half a page on the ballot, it should at least include specific information on how the fee would be determined! Oh. Wait. The fee would be set by the PPRDA. But, the PPRDA doesn't exist yet. Others may disagree; but I find little assurance in this that the actual fee would be close to the fee estimated by the PikesPeakStormWater.org website.
       Second, it is fundamentally dishonest to call this a "fee" rather than a "tax." A couple of examples should clarify the distinction. You pay property and sales TAX, a little of which goes to support parks. But, if you reserve a pavilion in one of the parks and have a picnic with a hundred of your closest friends, you pay a FEE to use the pavilion. When you get license plates for your vehicle, you pay an ownership TAX based on the value of the vehicle; and you pay a license FEE which entitles you to drive your vehicle on public roads. In general, you pay TAXES on what you own, what you earn, and what you spend; while you pay FEES to use certain public resources. Now, if the proposed "fee" was actually based on the stormwater discharge from a property it could properly be called a fee for using the public drainage system. However, since the proposed "fee" is based on certain property that one owns (even if all water from storm events is detained on the property) it has the essential characteristics of a tax, and should be called a tax. Why does this matter? By calling the stormwater assessment a "fee" rather than a tax, the published analysis and scrutiny which are required of a new tax were bypassed. PPRDA was modeled after the tax-funded Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority; and before PPRDA is approved it, too, should be subject to the same scrutiny as the tax-funded Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority was.
       When a stormwater ballot measure proposes a tax which will be subject to the analysis and scrutiny of any new tax, and when the proposal clearly sets forth the basis on which the tax will be assessed, I believe it could be worth supporting with my vote and yours. Until then, 1B deserves a NO vote so that its architects can go back to the drawing board and get it right.

       Editor's note: Don Ellis is a long-time local resident, non-fiction author and editor of the West Word publication for the Old Colorado City Historical Society.

(Posted 10/24/14; Opinion: Guest Columns)

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