Colorado Springs Utilities, the city-owned monopoly that supplies residents with gas, electricity, water and wastewater services, has told anti-tax advocate Douglas Bruce he’ll have to pay nearly $40,000 if he wants to restart water and wastewater services at seven rental properties.
Contending that the fees were almost tanamount to extortion, Bruce alleged that Utilities was imposing them because he was the proponent of Issue 300, a measure approved by voters last fall that effectively abolished the city-owned Stormwater Enterprise.
“Just because you don’t like somebody, or he’s your political opponent, or he just beat you on Issue 300, you can’t charge him 400 times the going rate to turn on the valves,” Bruce said at the Utilities’ monthly board meeting last week.
Jerry Forte, the Utilities’ CEO, defended the fees as reasonable. He said whenever owners abandon their property or disconnect from the system for a long period of time, other ratepayers have to pick up the costs.
Bruce said he has not abandoned his property and, in fact, was still paying utility fees on some parcels. “I haven’t left town. My yards are maintained. My property taxes are current.”
The fees, he said, were arbitrary and capricious and would not hold up to a legal challenge. “You’re planning to penalize me $40,000 because I’m your political adversary. There’s no way you can rationalize charging Douglas Bruce 400 times what you charge somebody else for turning on the water.”
Bruce is author of the 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which was approved by Colorado voters in 1992, and has restrained government growth.
In December, a month after voters approved Issue 300, Bruce sent a letter to Utilities asking to have an immediate turn-on and turn-off of water and wastewater services at seven rental properties in the city. He said he is willing to pay the standard $30 charges for each parcel, but asked Utilities not to actually put water in his lines because they had been blown out and were winterized.
Instead of fulfilling his request, Utilities officials sent him a letter saying his properties would be subject to some hefty reconnection and development charges. They were as follows:
1) 839 E. Las Animas Street, a multifamily dwelling. Utilities said the property last had water and wastewater service at that address in 1998 and was deemed in abandoned in 2003. The development charge was $26,032, but due to a rate change effective on Jan. 1, 2010, the cost would be $11,896. (Development charges are paid by developers and builders to hook into Utilities).
2) 2107 Preuss Road, a multi-family dwelling, which also had its last date of service in 1998 and was deemed abandoned by Utilities in 2003. The development fee would also have been $26,032, but the 2010 rate charge reduced the amount to $11,896.
3) 1326 W. Kiowa Street, a multi-family dwelling, last date of service in 1994 or earlier. Development charge of $26,032, reduced to $11, 896,
4) 633 ½ Boulder St., cottage. Last date of service 2005, reconnection charge calculated at $752 and scheduled to increase to $783 in January 2010.
5) 2707 Monument St. Last date of service 2005. Reconnection charge of $752, increasing to $783 in January 2010.
6) 2707 E. Monument St., rear. Last date of service was 2006. Reconnection charge calculated at $626 and would increase to $657 in January 2010.
7) 839 ½ E. Las Animas Street, rear. Last date of service in 2002. Reconnection charge is $752 and would increase to $783 in January 2010.
Bruce said the development fees amounted to placing liens on his properties. “I’m not going to spend $12,000 to rent an apartment for $500 a month. That’s crazy. You can’t let that practice stand and if you think you can, you’re going to find out you’re wrong.”