Why are we suing ourselves?
By Linda Nuzum
Prepared in response to a Letter to the Editor dated January 5, 2011
… My letter was intended to lend a unfiltered voice to, and encourage the citizens of Castle Pines, to be aware of the ongoing “gut fight” between the City and the Metro District. Both are directing tens of thousands of tax dollars to political and legal infighting, that fail to benefit the citizens directly, and convey a negative image about the community in which I call home …
As a citizen, neighbor, and taxpayer, I believe that I have boiled down this question into a new mantra:
“WE ARE *SUING OURSELVES with our own TAX dollars” Why? (*suing, simply implies any pending legal action re. dissolution and/or integration.) …
What is this court action between the City of Castle Pines and the Castle Pines North Metropolitan District all about?
This debate started with incorporation of the City in 2007. City founders envisioned that all functions and revenues now associated with by the district should be transferred to the city.
In November 2007, when Castle Pines [North] voters approved incorporation, they also said that, under certain conditions, up to 19 mills of the metro district’s operating funds could be shifted to the city. However, subsequent citizen votes seemed to call for caution on the issue of integrating the metro district into the city.
In November 2008, voters defeated the city’s request to shift tax money from the metro district to the city. In the metro district’s board election in May of 2010, current and former city council members who ran on a platform of dissolving the metro district into the city were defeated more than two to one. And the city also placed a non-binding poll on the November 2010 ballot regarding “how the city should provide water and wastewater services in the event of the possible dissolution of the Castle Pines North Metro District.” The poll results were: 41 percent preferred the city, 21 percent preferred one of the other parties listed on the ballot issue (although not all viable possibilities were listed as options), and 38 percent stated “no preference.”
Discussion of moving functions from metro district to city have been ongoing since incorporation. There have been some times where the discussions have been productive – for instance, both city and metro district have agreed in principle to transfer functions such as parks and open space from metro district to city. However the parties have not reached agreement on how the money should be allocated for these services. There has not been any agreement on the water, renewable water, and wastewater functions currently performed by the metro district. The metro district argues that it has superior credit and bond ratings capacity to fund renewable water investments, however the city counters that it has the greatest capacity.
The courts get involved
In the fall of 2009, the city council directed the city attorney prepare paperwork to file a petition with the Douglas County District Court asking that they order the metro district legally dissolve into the city; however the city withheld action for several months. In the meantime, a citizen group co-chaired by spouses of two city council members filed a petition requesting the action. In January 2010, the city council voted 5-1 to have the city officially file the court action. The city’s petition was filed one year ago, in February 2010.
The court responded that while the city has the power under state statutes to ask that special districts within the city’s boundaries prepare a dissolution plan for the court and the voters to consider, under the state statutes, the city is not able to force the metro district to simply merge into the city. The court indicated that the metro district may consider dissolution options that it feels reflects the best interests of the people it serves and represents, which may include integrating some or all functions into the city but can also look at merging functions into other special districts or municipalities. The court further emphasized that the metro district was to develop the dissolution plan without interference from the city.
The metro district board engaged StepWise Utility Advisors, a firm that specializes in cost-benefit and comparative analysis of utility operations, to evaluate possible scenarios for other parties to take over functions now performed by the district. The metro district sent letters to the city and several surrounding water providers to determine their interest in participating in the StepWise analyses.
Initially, the city did its own integration study, engaging an accounting firm to do the work. This study was completed in late 2010 but has not been released by the city.
After several months of discussion, it now appears that the city and metro district have agreed upon the city participating in the StepWise comparative analyses, and it is hoped that this will be underway soon.
In the meantime, StepWise had already begun with assessing the other potential partners. They are currently wrapping up their evaluation of merging functions into the Town of Castle Rock or Parker Water and Sanitation District, and will begin the evaluation of merging functions into the city soon.
Ultimately, the citizens get to decide
If all goes smoothly in incorporating the city into the StepWise analyses, the metro district board expects its Phase I comparative analyses results will be available for public review and feedback in early spring. The metro district board will then prepare the dissolution plan, present it to the court, and finally to community voters.
In the end, voters within the metro district will determine to either approve the dissolution plan or maintain the status quo. While many factors affect the timing, it is possible that the judge could put the metro dissolution question on the November 2011 ballot.
Where do things stand now?
The city presses on toward the goal of absorbing the metro district, citing the citizen vote of November 2007. The metro district has said that they’d prefer to talk with the city and the other parties without the courts and lawyers being involved, but as long as the city continues the court order they have no choice but to proceed with all of the steps ordered by the court and required by the state statute for filing a dissolution plan.
The cost-benefit studies that will provide citizens with some useful information are a small portion of the costs of this effort (approximately $25,000 has been spent to date), while most of the remaining $350,000 spent so far has gone toward lawyers and public relations on the court action as well as other tug-and-pull between the entities.
As Donald Reese said in his Letter to the Editor dated January 5, “I would urge every Castle Pines resident to go on-line, or attend public meetings of both the city and the metro district, ask questions, and see where our tax dollars are being needlessly spent on communications and legal fees.”
CPN Metro District dissolution expenses thru 11-31-10 – detail 209k pdf
To learn more about the on-going legal action between the city and the metro district, read “City of Castle Pines taxpayers funding both sides of City – Metro District legal action”