November 18, 2009
If you thought the U.S.-Soviet summits of the Cold War were tense, try this one: Colorado Springs City Council members will extend an invitation to anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce to sit down and discuss legal problems they have with his recently passed ballot measure, Issue 300.
The measure, approved by voters Nov. 3, requires the city to end the Stormwater Enterprise fee and phase out $27 million that Colorado Springs Utilities pays the city as payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, designed to compensate the city for what it would receive if the utility was privately owned.
The measure amends the city code and requires the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes money to be returned to ratepayers, lowering bills by 50 cents a month, according to a city clerk’s analysis.
Mayor Lionel Rivera said at Wednesday’s Colorado Springs Utilities Board meeting that the ballot measure conflicts with the city charter, which trumps city codes and appears to allow the payments-in-lieu-of-taxes.
After lengthy discussion about asking a judge to interpret the issue, the council instead opted to appoint Rivera and Councilman Randy Purvis to meet with Bruce, who has battled city government for years.
There have been some heated exchanges over those years.
“Just shut up and let me have my say!” Councilman Larry Small screamed at Bruce during an October council meeting, after Bruce harangued the council for a half hour. “You’re an obnoxious, irritating individual. Now just shut up!”
While no council members appeared to relish the prospect of a meeting, some said it was better than trying to circumvent the will of the voters.
“I do not want to be in a position of seeking to overturn an election result in the courthouse. That undermines peoples’ trust in the government,” Purvis said.
Said Bruce, contacted Wednesday night: “I’d be happy to meet with them.”
But he disputes the interpretation that any section of the city charter overrides Issue 300.
“They’re coming up with anything and everything to try to ignore the plain language of the law and will of the voters,” Bruce said. “Are they totally lacking in honor? They lost. They’ve got to get over it.”
In the meantime, Utilities will hold about $3 million of payment-in-lieu-of-taxes in escrow, the first amount to be phased out, instead of cutting it from the Utilities budget or giving it to the city.