Drainage district fee dispute going to trial on June 5

Judge dismisses arguments from both sides for summary judgment

The festering dispute between the Grand Valley Drainage District and critics of its stormwater charge will go to trial next month, a judge ruled.

Mesa County District Judge Lance Timbreza on Wednesday rejected motions from both sides for summary judgment in the case, meaning that a trial set to begin June 5 will go forward.

The drainage district in 2016 began charging the fee — $36 per year for most residences — within its 90-square-mile district on the north side of the Colorado River.

Businesses are charged $36 a year for each 2,500 square feet of impervious surfaces, generally roofs and parking lots.

The Mesa County Commission and Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce filed suit alleging that the charge amounted to an illegal tax under the state Constitution.

The district has collected more than $3 million so far from the bills it sent out last year and this one.

The undisputed facts offered by both sides do not resolve whether the district’s charge is a fee or a tax, Timbreza wrote, noting that he was aware that his predecessor said the charge was “in the nature of a fee.”

Judge David Bottger made that finding in denying a request by the county and chamber for a preliminary injunction halting collection of the fee.

Bottger’s finding, however, “does not carry any precedential value in this case or in any other case,” Timbreza wrote.

One issue Timbreza said he wants resolved is the primary purpose of the charge.

The district needs to raise revenue to improve its ability to handle “regulated water,” or water that is unrelated to the district’s original purpose, that makes its way into the district’s system of pipes, conduits and ditches.

“I cannot determine whether the primary purpose of the revenue generated by the fee is to improve all facilities for the benefit of all of the district’s services or only for the specific purposes of regulating regulated water, which includes stormwater, and the regulation, handling and control of stormwater is a primary, legislative purpose of the district,” Timbreza wrote.

Representatives of both sides said they welcomed the trial.

“I think both sides would agree, we need a good, serious judicial look, so we all know where we stand,” Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis said.

Better to determine the status of the charge now instead of 10 years from now, said Tim Ryan, general manager of the drainage district.

“The whole process is a welcome development for the district,” Ryan said.

Ryan and McInnis both are to testify in the case.

“We look forward to the opportunity to present our case in court that this is indeed a tax on residents in the Grand Valley Drainage District,” said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the chamber.


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