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The Squirrel Tax
By Kathy Hare

          Ah, just like clockwork the annual property tax bills have arrived in the mail. Take a look at it. Is one of your tax authorities listed as UPPER BLK.SQUIRREL CRK.GRD.WATER?

          It's been exactly a year since I conducted my last meeting as president of the Upper Black Squirrel Creek Ground Water Management District. Not long after the tax bills hit the mailbox, I would receive calls from residents in Woodmen Hills, Paint Brush Hills and Meridian Ranch. Most of the calls went something like this, "I'm already paying for my water, so why do I have to pay a tax to you too?" After I spent twenty minutes explaining the difference between a metropolitan district and a ground water management district, most callers said, "Thank you," hung-up, and paid their tax. Probably because they had just spent more time on the phone with me than it takes to earn the amount they owe to the UBS. My tax for the UBS equals $5.33. While that's low, few UBS tax bills are more than $25 per year.

          But other callers were irate; the tax was a true case of double taxation in their minds. So I thought this might be a good time to explain the difference between a metro and management district, and tell readers how the UBS Board spends their tax dollars. Many Falcon residents don't realize it, but whether you live in a subdivision, or own a private well, your water supply comes from an alluvial or a deep rock aquifer in the Black Squirrel Creek Basin.

          Falcon metro districts own or buy water rights to that water supply. They dig wells, put in pipes, treat the water, and send it to your home. Homeowners then receive a monthly bill to cover their metro district's expenses and profit.

          Ground water management districts get their authority from the State of Colorado. Board members are charged with the responsibility to protect, conserve, and manage water quantity and quality within a closed basin. That's what the Black Squirrel Creek Basin is - a closed basin. Its headwaters begin in the north-eastern portion of the Black Forest, spreading out over the plains of Peyton, Falcon, and portions of Calhan, making its way south through Ellicott, where it ends at Black Squirrel Road. The majority of the time residents won't even see water flowing in the creek because it quickly seeps through the soil, becoming part of the alluvial aquifer.

          The UBS management district does not provide or sell any water! However, the decisions made by the UBS Board can have a huge impact on your water supply. So if you care one iota about keeping water flowing to your home, you should know what the UBS Board does, and who represents you on the board.

          Much like the El Paso County Board of Commissioners, the management district is divided into five sub-districts based on population. A representative from each sub-district is elected once every four years. But while county commissioners are paid over $80,000 a year, UBS Board members receive absolutely no compensation for their service. That's good news for taxpayers. On the other hand, it often makes it difficult to find dedicated people willing to devote many "free" hours per month to protect the basin, unless they have a vested interest in the UBS water supply.

          Yet oddly enough, the current make-up of the UBS Board represents everyone in the district including: farmers, metro districts, and small private well owners. Board president Dave Doran owns 50 acres in Calhan. Donald Booker, vice president, is a sod farmer living in Ellicott. Since Falcon has a concentrated population compared to rural areas east of town, three board members come from here. They include: Rick Jenkins, a school teacher and lawyer, Mitchell Baldwin, a real estate broker, and Doug Woods, the developer of Meridian Ranch.

          The board meets on the first Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. Their office is in the same building as the Taste Bud Restaurant in Calhan. It was chosen because of its low rent.

          Monthly meetings represent only a small fraction of the time board members spend reviewing subdivision plans, applications for determinations of water rights, well-permits, legislation for new water laws, and other water-related issues. The board president also attends numerous county and state meetings.

          Paid employees for the district include one office manager, and the attorneys who represent the UBS in court. Tracy Doran has been the office manager since 1999. She is the most organized and efficient person I've ever encountered. In my opinion, her salary could be doubled and taxpayers would still be getting a bargain. As for the attorneys, well they are a necessary evil. No board member likes spending tax dollars to pay a lawyer $190 an hour. But here's the rub; metro district attorneys make far more than that, and they're the ones UBS lawyers normally face in court.

          A good example of this was a case involving Cherokee Metro District and UBS, which after numerous appeals was decided in the Colorado Supreme Court. UBS won the case,  which means more water remains in the basin today instead of being exported to eastern Colorado Springs to grow more roof-tops.

          As an ex-board member, I can tell residents there's not enough tax dollars coming into the management district to fight every battle. Therefore, board members often must decide to fight only that litigation which will do the greatest harm to the water supply. The cases not defended today may cause problems in the future, but the board has no other option than to work within its budget.

          However, after spending five years on the UBS Board, I know how residents could get even more bang for their tax dollars. Start attending UBS district meetings. Then when it comes time to elect new representatives from Falcon in February of 2010, you will know what questions to ask prospective candidates. Who knows? You may even decide to run for the board yourself.

          If you do, I'll bet my $5.33 tax that you will never complain about your UBS tax bill again.

First published in The New Falcon Herald
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