From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The Grand Valley Drainage District has collected $10,000 so far in stormwater collection fees, even before most district residents have opened their invoices, the drainage district said.
The bills mark the beginning of the district’s effort to collect about $2.5 million this year for stormwater management projects.
A significant chunk of that money will come from outside Colorado, district General Manager Tim Ryan said.
The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, raised questions about whether the fees are legal under the Colorado Constitution.
“We want you to know there are still numerous questions about the GVDD’s process, in particular whether the bills are even legal: rather than a ‘fee,’ this may actually be a ‘tax’ that must be voted on by those affected before the money may be collected,” the chamber wrote this week to its members.
The district has maintained the fee is indeed that and points on its web page to a 2015 decision in which an Adams County judge upheld a stormwater fee after finding that the county’s stormwater utility was a government-owned business that receives less than 10 percent of its funds from state and local authorities combined and is consequently exempt from the requirements of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
In the ruling, the court also found that the fee was “reasonably related to the overall cost of providing services related to water drainage and water-related activities in the service area.”
The chamber is considering withholding payment on its drainage district bill until it’s clear the district has the authority to demand the fees on top of the property taxes they pay to the district.
The state constitution requires that businesses pay higher property tax rates than residences.
“We encourage all of our members to review the information provided so that they may make an informed decision on how to proceed with the invoices,” the chamber wrote to its members.
The district also maintains that the legislation that established it more than 100 years ago allows it to charge a fee.
The district is billing residents and businesses $3 a month for every 2,500 square feet of impervious surface for stormwater improvements. Those improvements are needed because rain and snowmelt runs off surfaces such as roofs and parking lots, potentially exposing government agencies to fines for failing to control pollutants contained in the runoff.
Most — 78 percent — of the bills sent out to commercial and industrial landowners went to addresses in the Grand Valley, but the 22 percent of bills sent outside the state account for about 50 percent of the revenue anticipated from that sector, Ryan said.
That breaks down to about $500,000 coming from outside Mesa County and an equal amount from within the county, Ryan said.
In many other places, stormwater improvement fees are a “part of the cost of doing business,” Ryan said.
Drainage district employees, meanwhile, are already dealing with questions as bills arrive.
One person complained to The Daily Sentinel that payments are to be sent to Denver.
The address is to the ANB Bank processing center — the same one used by Mesa County to process property-tax payments, Ryan said.
Most callers were cordial on Thursday and Friday, Ryan said, with many just wanting to be sure that the bill wasn’t a scam.