April 16, 2009
No more Mr. Nice Guy.
After a two-year reprieve, the city of Colorado Springs has decided to put its foot down and go after delinquent property owners who owe a combined $2.44 million in outstanding Stormwater Enterprise fees.
"I think it's only fair to those people who are paying their bills and paying their fair share of making sure the stormwater infrastructure is taken care of," Mayor Lionel Rivera said Thursday.
"It's an obligation," he said. "It's an ordinance that was passed by the City Council, and I think everyone has an obligation to follow the law."
Expect a letter from the city this summer if you owe money.
Delinquent property owners will have two options: pay now or pay more later.
If property owners refuse to pay right away, the city will attach a lien to their property. A lien allows the Stormwater Enterprise to collect overdue fees through a property owner's property taxes.
Property owners will be on the hook for even more money if it reaches that point.
"If they don't pay (after receiving the letter) and we do have to send it to the county for collection, the county adds a 30 percent administrative fee," said Mary Scott, a city spokeswoman.
"There's no way that we can waive that," she said. "It's completely out of our hands."
The city will work out a payment plan with property owners who are having "financial difficulty," Scott said.
"If you stick to the terms of the payment agreement we make with you, then you won't be part of that lien process even if you're not caught up," she said.
The fees have been cloaked in controversy from the very beginning.
After the fees went into effect in 2007, some people discarded their bills in protest.
Critics argued the fees, adopted by the City Council in 2006, are nothing more than a tax that required voter approval. The courts, however, disagree.
Last year, Douglas Bruce authored a ballot measure to make the stormwater fees voluntary, but voters shot it down.
Scott said the city has always planned to pursue liens against delinquent property owners.
But it didn't the first year because people were unfamiliar with the fees, she said. The city held off the following year to do more outreach.
"We were finding that the bill wasn't necessarily getting to the right people," she said.
The city also wanted to avoid any confusion that might arise with the ballot measure, she said.
"We're in our third year and, at this point, it's really not fair to the 95 percent or so people that have been paying to let other people ignore the bill," Scott said.
"We feel like we've done our due diligence," she added. "By this point, if people don't know what the enterprise is or that it's a mandatory fee, I don't know where they've been living."
Call the writer at 476-1623
2007: 4 percent of Stormwater Enterprise fee invoices unpaid
2008: 9 percent of Stormwater Enterprise fee invoices unpaid
$2,449,705: Total amount owed
$12.75 average quarterly residential bill