Almost 60% of Colorado’s population, roughly 2.8 million people, live within the seven county Urban Drainage and Flood Control District (UDFCD). If you are a voter within this district, you will see question 7G on your ballot, the first question ever referred by the district since its creation in 1969. The ballot language asks voters to approve a $14.9 million property tax increase, and to exempt that new money from the revenue limits in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). They deceptively claim this really isn’t a tax increase, but rather just a full restoration of their taxing authority.
If you are like me and want your community protected from flooding, and also love spending time near your local pond or stream, then why would you want to vote against such a proposal?
The answer has to do with two things, common sense and government entitlement.
Any voter with common sense would want to find out how the money is to be spent and what kind of oversight mechanisms are in place. Unfortunately, the Flood District has never held an election that allows citizens to choose their board of directors. Instead, 20 of the 22 directors of the District are politicians appointed by local city councils or county commissioners. For example, the Mayor of Broomfield was appointed to the board by Broomfield City Council. These politicians then appoint two professional engineers to serve with the board.
Advocates of the tax increase like to point out that that board members were actually elected at one point in time, but this doesn’t make the Flood District board accountable. These politicians were elected by their own local voters, not by the voters as a whole within the district.
The District has spent next to nothing on public awareness campaigns for the past 49 years. But in October of last year the Board approved $1.4 million of tax dollars to spend on TV, Facebook and other forms of media advertising from June to mid-August 2018.
According to email communication I have had with the executive director of the District, the $1.4 million was paid to a single political consultant, Steve Welchert with Welchert and Company. About the same time the $1.4 million advertising campaign ended, Welchert then becomes the designated filing agent for the issue committee supporting the ballot question.
This money spent on advertising could have been spent on maintaining and cleaning up our rivers, streams and ponds. The District claimed the advertising was needed to raise awareness of flood safety and the resources that the District provides towards flood safety, but it is transparently obvious they spent this money to try and manufacture taxpayer consent for a property tax increase. If the Flood District wanted to increase flood safety then why didn’t they just spend the $1.4 million on keeping us safe from floods? On one hand, advocates of the tax increase want to present this dire scenario where they need money to clean up our waterways, but decide to spend District money to soften up voters instead.
The deceptive language of the ballot question is why the lack of accountability is important. The ballot language for the mill levy states that the tax increase will at first be $14.9 million. However, because the language allows the District to exempt itself from TABOR, members of the Board will be able to vote to give the district increasingly larger budget increases.
The executive director of the District, Ken MacKenzie, has publicly stated that they plan on approving a $24 million increase for 2020 (2018 budget – $30 million, 2020 budget – $54 million). So if you vote Yes on 7G thinking your taxes will go up by $14.9 million, they may very well actually be going up by $24 million.
Another problem with ballot question 7G is that the reasons given for why you should vote Yes.
Advocates of the tax increase are using their Yes on 7G social media posts to scare voters into thinking that homeowners are at risk of severe flooding. But if the Flood District was created 49 years ago to keep citizens safe from severe flooding then what have they been doing for all those years? If homeowners are truly all of the sudden at risk of severe flooding, then this would actually be a good reason to get rid of the existing Flood District entirely, and replace it with something that actually controls flooding, not to reward it with a tax hike and budget increase.
Advocates of the tax increase are also claiming that funds from the tax increase will go towards cleaning up the river-side homeless and transient camps. Yes, the District pays for 100 percent of the cleanup of these camps, but even if you vote No on 7G, the cleanup of these camps is not at risk. Why should a voter like me, who lives in Broomfield, where there are no river-side homeless or transient camps, be forced pay for the cleanup of these camps in Denver?
The executive director of the District explains in an interview with the Special District Association of Colorado the real reason why they want an extra $24 million of your money.
Local governments had a wish list of over $80 million of construction projects for 2018. The Flood District will only able to provide $20 million toward those projects, which means that they weren’t able to meet their goal of a 50 percent match. Note the word goal, not legal requirement, not mandate, but a goal. Of course, the District could just set a goal of a 25 percent match instead, and let the cities and counties fund their wish-list items at 75 percent. This 75 percent would come from taxpayers who actually live in the cities and counties where the projects will be.
Rather than this practical solution, the District wants to be able to meet their 50 percent wish-list funding goal.
Unless the District decides to hold elections like the majority of other special districts in Colorado they will remain unaccountable to their taxpayers. Supporters of the tax increase are willing to do whatever it takes to get this tax increase passed. This includes using language that tricks voters by hiding the true purpose of the 7G ballot question. Vote No on 7G!
Karl Honegger received his Masters of Professional Accountancy from the University of South Dakota and works in finance for an energy company in Denver. He lives in Broomfield.