Palisade joins fight against drainage district fee

Palisade’s board of trustees became the latest local government entity Tuesday night to decide not to pay a new fee from Grand Valley Drainage District.

The district sent bills June 2 to Palisade, Mesa County and the cities of Grand Junction and Fruita, all of which have notified the district or plan to notify the district that they intend not to pay. The district’s board of directors decided in April to start charging a monthly fee this summer to local governments for use of drainage facilities.

The monthly charges are $13,250 for Mesa County, $11,911 for Grand Junction, $4,278 for Fruita and $354 for Palisade. Each fee was measured based on how many square feet of roadways local governments own that may send rainwater into district drainage systems, according to Dan Wilson, assistant manager for government and regulatory affairs at the district. Wilson said the district decided it was time to start billing local government bodies for use of the district’s drainage system via stormwater from public roadways in an effort to cover maintenance costs of the drainage system.

“They’ve been able to milk the cow for free for 100 years, so they figure why buy it? The district is saying no, now it’s time” to pay a fee, Wilson said.

Wilson said the city of Grand Junction sent a letter to the district saying it does not plan to pay the fee, and he has heard Fruita plans to follow Grand Junction’s lead. Palisade Town Administrator Rich Sales Wednesday morning said trustees decided the previous night to ignore the invoice but would like to talk with the district and other government entities to come up with an alternative way to help the district function.

“We don’t see a reason for the bill and we don’t intend to pay it,” Sales said.

Mesa County commissioners reviewed a draft letter Wednesday morning that they plan to send to the district explaining they do not believe the district is authorized to levy the fee. Colorado Revised Statutes allow the district to charge fees to people who own real property in the district or own property indirectly or directly connected to the drainage system. Acting Mesa County Attorney Dave Frankel wrote in county documents the county should be exempt from a fee because it is exempt from real property taxation.

“They don’t have the authority to do this at all. They’re wasting our time,” Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said Wednesday.

Wilson replied the charge is a user fee, not a real property tax.

“I can only conclude Mesa County doesn’t want to pay it and that’s the best they can come up with,” he said.

Wilson said the district has not decided what to do if local governments decide never to pay the fees. Instead, he said they’re focused on discussing a solution with each entity in hopes of finding a way to pay for drainage systems he said are not adequate for handling a major storm.

“We have a ticking clock and we as a valley need to deal with it,” he said.


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