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Residents seek answers on stormwater fee flub

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County officials address citizens upset over bad data used for properties

By Gene Sears

BRIGHTON — Hundreds of angry property owners gathered Jan. 24, incensed over a county mandate to implement a stormwater utility, and the soaring fees accompanying the measure.
    Those fees, levied against impervious surfaces on each property, resulted in annual payments due to the county in many cases in the hundreds of dollars where none existed before.
    Promising “total transparency,” Adams County Deputy Administrator Todd Leopold addressed the throng, reassembled in a maintenance bay after overflowing a classroom at the station. Both Leopold and Adams County Stormwater Coordinator Andrea Berg shared the floor, taking questions while providing details of the project’s implementation.

    The pair faced a tough crowd, disillusioned by county efforts to inform and involve residents in the process leading up to levying what most see as a tax on their property.
    The county says it adopted the fee schedule in response to an unfunded Environmental Protection Agency mandate, with the funds collected to “address water quality regulations, capital improvement drainage projects and flooding to the maximum extent practicable. Often drainage problems are not easily attributed to a single source, and are usually the result of a combination of things that increase the amount of impervious surfaces (roads, driveways, and development) and affect water quality (erosion, fertilizers, and petroleum products).”
    Critics see it as a carefully crafted tax to boost revenues more than $5 million annually, on the backs of unincorporated residents with little or no recourse.
    Most rancorous was the estimation of fees owed, which most saw as wildly inaccurate in relation to their actual impermeable surface areas. Some claimed hundreds of dollars assessed on properties with no impermeable surface whatsoever, such as farm fields and pasture.
    Taken from aerial surveys, the estimations were based largely on shading of roadways and rooftops, with a clear margin of error. The estimations ran into hundreds of dollars per year for properties with rooftops similar in size to suburban homes.
    By way of comparison to the three-figure bills meted out in the county, stormwater fees in municipalities average $5.22 monthly, or $62.64 per annum.
    Admitting that the data collection and estimation methods used to assess the fees were inaccurate in many instances, Leopold called the aerial survey “the most cost-effective method available.”
    That answer didn’t satisfy the majority in attendance, many saddled with bills that made no sense based on personal assessments. Not taken into account in numerous instances, for example, were driveways constructed of recycled asphalt rather than asphalt paving. Identical from an aerial survey standpoint, the two types are vastly different in water permeability and runoff characteristics. With the majority of unincorporated county private property roadbeds dirt, gravel or recycled asphalt, the potential for miscalculation via aerial survey is high.
    Adding to the collective anger, property owners found that they are required to pay the assessed amount up front and on time, based on assurances that the county will return any overage as soon as possible. With more than 27,000 properties on the list for the staff of three to review, the county’s deadline of October for a collective reassessment struck many as a physical impossibility for the utility’s three employees. Coordinator Berg noted that property evaluation and reassessments averaged about one per day, furthering doubts.
    One deadline property owners will not want to miss is April 1, when appeals are due to the utility offices. For more information on the process, and the required forms, contact the Adams County Stormwater Quality Office at 720-523-6400, or visit www.co.adams.co.us.