Stormwater fees began in Colorado Springs, but some won’t need to disclose what they pay

Colorado Springs Independent: City stormwater fees, approved by voters in November 2017, will finally be billed this month. For most, the fees aren’t based on impact — or square footage of impermeable surface, such as rooftops or driveways, that lead to runoff. Instead, residential properties will pay a flat $5 a month, whether for a palatial estate or a tiny studio apartment, bringing in an estimated $7.9 million a year.

Nonresidential property owners, who are expected to pay around $8.2 million a year, will be billed $30 per developed acre per month. But properties that are 5 acres or less will pay the fee without any adjustment for impermeable surface, while those larger than 5 acres will be charged fees determined by the city’s stormwater manager based on impermeable surface. And the latter charges will be kept secret, the city confirms, even though Mayor John Suthers assured the Independent before the measure passed that the records would be transparent.

The city says that’s because fees are considered “utility bills” and the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) protects “addresses, phone number and personal financial information of past or present users of public utilities.”

City Councilor Bill Murray says that’s wrong. “It is not like a utility bill,” Murray argues. “It is a fixed amount based on property size, similar to our property taxes, which are readily available for everyone to see. I believe the voters will be upset if they were to see the calculations the city is using for commercial properties.”

He says the Council could release the numbers but some are “hiding behind the City Attorney’s opinion which is being supported by the mayor.”

First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg tells the Indy that while stormwater bills do qualify as a utility, CORA specifically states that nothing in that exemption “shall be construed to prohibit the publication of such information in an aggregate or statistical form so classified as to prevent the identification, location, or habits of individuals.”

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