by Rick Langenberg:
A bizarre rash of unrelated water woes has seriously impacted property owners in Teller County and Woodland Park.
Last week, officials of the Arabian Acres Property Owners Association confirmed that homeowners in the subdivision may have to foot the bill for tens of thousands of dollars allegedly stolen by a former contract administrator. They are cooperating with a criminal investigation launched by the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
And according to a report by News 5 in Colorado Springs, the residents in the district may be forced to go dry within the next month.
At issue is possibly more than $1 million in funds allegedly confiscated by Terry Malcom, who was once associated with both the Arabian Acres Metropolitan District and the Cascade Metropolitan District. Malcom was fired last summer following an accounting audit conducted by the Arabian Acres water district, which serves about 145 homes in Florissant and Divide. His termination occurred when suspicions arose about questionable transfers between the Arabian Acres and Cascade metro districts, as well as checks written to a suspicious consulting firm, according to Arabian Acres District officials. An initial audit indicated that approximately $206,000 of the district’s assets is missing, including $100,000 in loan proceeds for drilling additional water wells.
However, the total money stolen over the last decade is much higher, according to authorities. “We are going up a creek without a paddle,” said Jim Nash, president of the Arabian Acres Property Owners Association, according to a report aired on News 5 last week. “People are very concerned about what’s going on here…This subdivision may very well go without water in 30 days.”
Authorities from the District Attorney’s office have declined comment. Water district officials are hoping Malcom, who has disconnected his phone and isn’t responding to e-mails, can be found, and the money returned to the district.
In the meantime, property owners in the district are adopting stern conservation measures and water-sharing techniques. Recent reports have indicated their water tanks only have a reserve of 12,000 gallons of this precious resource.
Many residents in the area fear they will be forced to go dry.
Woodland apartment complex flooded
In another unrelated water crisis that recently commanded much attention, the break of a city water main in Woodland Park seriously damaged an apartment complex in the Forest Edge area near the high school. Property owners Dale and Debbie Carley, who have owned the 4-plex complex for nearly 10 years, made an emergency appeal before the Woodland Park City Council last Thursday evening.
Under law, the city doesn’t have to provide any financial relief to the landlords through government immunity provisions dealing with public infrastructure. These legal rules allow local governments to “dissociate itself” from these types of disasters, according to local officials.
However, City Manager David Buttery wanted to offer a “good neighbor” policy, without setting a precedent or incurring any liability. “I believe we are a compassionate city,” said Buttery, at last week’s council meeting. “We want to be a compassionate city, but I have to consider 7,100 citizens who are expecting services from the city.”
In essence, any relief funds the city provides for cases like this would have to come from its budget or from its insurance carrier. If the latter option occurs, then the city’s insurance rates would probably increase, according to most estimates.
At issue is significant damage to the Carley’s apartment complex and to their tenants, several of whom had to vacate their apartment units immediately and seek alternative lodging. More than five to six inches of water flooded the complex, when the city’s main pipe below the facility broke. Altogether, the damage exceeded the $50,000 figure, according to the landlords.
City officials and leaders admitted that the problems stemmed from Woodland Park’s infrastructure. “It was our pipe that burst,” said Councilman Bob Carlsen.
Most council members sympathized with the landlords’ dilemma, but worried about setting a precedent if they paid the full bill. “My heart goes out to you guys,” said Mayor Pro Tem Eric Smith. “I don’t know if I could support the full amount,” he added. Smith worried that if the city paid all the damages out of public funds, then it would have to adopt the same policy towards other property owners impacted by disasters, with the prospects of the city eventually getting hit with a several hundred thousand dollar bill.
Following much discussion, the city council agreed to pay the complex owners $5,000 and a similar amount to the impacted tenants (if they showed receipts of specific damage costs and lodging expenses). The Carleys complained that this didn’t come close to covering their expenses, incurred from the water disaster. But in a further compromise measure, Woodland Park officials agreed to pursue this issue further with their insurance carrier to see if the city could pay the property owners more money.