UAWCD expansion election challenged in district court

Brief by Central Staff

Water – January 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

The 2007 election that added a portion of El Paso County and eastern Frémont County to the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District has been contested with a filing at the District Court in Cañon City.

Before the election, the water conservancy district comprised all of Chaffee and Custer counties, western Frémont County, and a sliver of Saguache County along Silver Creek in the Marshall Pass area.

Last summer, residents of eastern Frémont petitioned the court for inclusion. Since that would mean an increase in their property taxes — UAWCD collects a mill levy — the Colorado constitution required voter approval under the TABOR (TAxpayers’ Bill Of Rights) Amendment.

It passed 4,680 to 4,274. But it wasn’t a legal election, according to litigation filed by Ivan Widom of Cañon City and Mark B. Emmer of Salida. They are represented by attorney William P. Alderton of Salida, who maintains a small private practice in addition to his part-time job as judge of the Chaffee County court.

They cited several problems with the mail-in election, among them:

— In 2001, District Judge John Anderson ruled that the UAWCD could not conduct a mail-ballot election because it did not have such authority under state law. The District could have operated a polling place for the 2007 election, or waited until the 2008 general election.

— As a tax-supported entity, the UAWCD should have been neutral in the election, and yet the UAWCD “engaged in promoting the ballot issue,” and “appears to have printed the brochures supporting the petition drive and its employees were paid to promote the petition drive and ballot question.”

— The fiscal information on the ballot was seriously in error. It said the mill levy would raise $10,141 in its first year, when the actual amount was $178,954.

— The law allows both pro and con summary statements on the ballot. The pro statement, from John Sandefur, arrived after the deadline, and contained a list of supporting groups in violation of a state provision that “No summary shall mention names of persons or private groups, nor any endorsement of or resolutions against the proposal.”

And the con statement, which could be up to 500 words, was submitted at 479 words but was edited by the election officer (UAWCD general manager Terry Scanga) to 274 words.

As of press time, we hadn’t seen the response from the UAWCD.