Opponents cry foul as City excludes arguments from blue book - KOAA.com | Continuous News | Colorado Springs and Pueblo

Opponents cry foul as City excludes arguments from blue book

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Activist Douglas Bruce speaks with reporters at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum September 14, 2017 Activist Douglas Bruce speaks with reporters at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum September 14, 2017

Two separate political activists in Colorado Springs are lining up against the City's proposed stormwater fee and complaining that the City Clerk isn't giving voters the full picture about the ballot issue.

The disagreement has to do with the fact that Question 2A asks for a stormwater fee, not a tax.  The City Clerk's office believes there's no reason to print arguments for and against the ballot question because that Blue Book requirement of the TABOR Amendment only applies to tax increases.

The opposition groups tell News 5 the City would still be taking new money out of the pockets of voters, which is a very "tax-like" thing to do.
One of those opponents is anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce.  He called a news conference Thursday to try get his points across.

"They're not allowing people to file election notice comments and have them printed in the ballot language like the other three governments do," Bruce said.

He also believes the fee is a property tax in disguise because it would be charged to property owners. Question 2A calls specifically for a maximum $5 per month fee to be added to the utility bills for every residential unit or dwelling in the City and $30 per month for every commercial property. Owners of undeveloped land would not be required pay the fee.  

Bruce said this structure is unfair because real estate holds different value in different neighborhoods.

"Mayor Suthers and his friends in the Broadmoor pay the same as grandma in a rusty trailer in a mobile home park."

Bruce, who was convicted of tax evasion in 2011, isn't the only voice in town saying "no."

Local blogger and civic activist Laura Carno estimates the City will haul in around $35 million in new revenue this year alone as a result of the repayment of old SKIP bond debt, new cable provider fees and higher sales taxes collections than were forecast due to the stronger economy.

"They have the money to do these things," Carno said of about improving the stormwater infrastructure. "In our families when we have unexpected expenses, we tighten our belts and we look for money somewhere else. The city has the money."

She also believes the ballot language would allow City Council to increase the fee amounts at any time. Like Bruce, she's frustrated that the City Clerk won't publish her arguments against the measure.

"Voters, all they're going to see is the ballot language which starts with the words 'without raising taxes' which me and my group, we think that's deceptive ballot language."

The fee vs tax disagreement is really at the heart of this whole matter.  City Council President Richard Skorman explained in an interview with News 5 last month that voter approval isn't necessary for the City to impose a stormwater fee. In fact, City Council did that exact thing a decade ago with the creation of the Storm Water Enterprise or SWENT. 

"I was on the council before and we just imposed it and we wanted to do that so we could get the SDS project built," Skorman said. "In retrospect we should have asked for permission."

Under the SWENT, residents were issued fees according to the total impermeable surface area of their property. Those who refused to pay had the their debt handed over to the County Treasurer to be added to their property tax bills.

In response, voters passed the Bruce-led Issue 300 in 2009 which mandated that payments to City enterprises be phased out over an 8 year period. Immediately following the election, Council abolished the SWENT enterprise.

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