Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Water in Peril

Over the past decade, my wife and I have helped a great number of people learn how to fill out their own paperwork with the Colorado Division of Water Resources so that they were able to adjudicate their ground water.  We are not lawyers nor are we water experts.  We are retired  school teachers who moved to Elbert County twenty years ago with the firm understanding that Elbert County is a great place to live as long as you are aware that there is very little surface water.  There are only a handful of creeks and most of them can be jumped over by the average grade school kid looking for tadpoles. I have joked for years that the county motto is "Aqua ludis et sunt optionem," which loosely translates into English as "Water sports are not an option."  A little over 98% of the residents in the county are on well and septic systems.

The Palmer Divide, located on the southern edge of the county and not including the panhandle, rises to over 7,300 feet above sea level and acts as a divider between the Arkansas River drainage and the Platte River drainage.  The greatest amount of precipitation falls on this Palmer Divide area, and the water that accumulates there is the only reason that the average precipitation rate for the entire county rises out of the desert category.  That is the story on the surface of Elbert County, but the hydrology beneath the surface of the county is quite different.  Ironically, the lion's share of the water in the Denver Basin aquifers lies beneath our feet.  The water there has been designated as a finite resource.  The great Denver Basin no longer can recharge itself at a rate that remotely keeps up with the rate at which we pump it out for our homes and agricultural purposes.  

In the Denver Basin we have the 100 year rule in place. Using geological science and computer modeling, experts have determined (scientifically guessed, really)  the approximate amount of water  that is in the ground.  There are five distinct aquifers (Upper Dawson, Lower Dawson, Denver, Arapahoe, and Laramie-Foxhill) separated by layers of rock.  There is much debate about just how much migration of water occurs between the layers of the Denver Basin.  The 100 year rule simply states that, in order to insure water will be available for the next 100 years, no one  should pump out more than 1% of the available water from the aquifer beneath their property.  

In some counties, including Elbert County, there is an even more restrictive discharge rule.  Our county leaders were once was so protective of  our water that  they decided to employ a 300 year rule.  In our county we allow 1/3 the amount of the water that the state allows, the idea being that it would insure Elbert County would have water for its residents until 300 years into the future.  This, of course, was in the days before water was expensive and there was no profit to be made from pumping the water out of the ground for watering lawns, washing cars, etc.  

Our personal adjudication of water rights on our sixty acres entitles us to approximately 100 acre feet of water per year.  If we had a pipeline and a customer in mind, we could make a fortune off of our water at today's prices even at the 300 year level.  We choose to leave it in the ground and enjoy taking the occasional shower and watering the garden.  However, not everybody agrees with this frugal and respectful approach to our water usage and conservation. 

The operative words in the previous paragraph are as follows, "If we had a pipeline..."  We don't.  We are also okay with that reality.  It is only when water districts form, gain the power to float bonds and consequently build pipelines, that people get wealthy off of ground water.  Trucking water is never going to be a money maker. This is why the Independence housing development is such a huge problem for so many people.  The project allows a number of small water districts to be formed.  Of course, one water district would be sufficient for the entire development's plans as they exist, but each water district can issue bonds.  It does not take a mathematician to understand that six water districts can get six times as much money through the issuance of bonds as one district can. Why would they need to have that kind of money?  If you just said, "PIPELINES!" then you just won a chewing gum cigar. 

The developers of Independence do not have to sell a SINGLE home if they can form water districts, build a pipeline, and pump water back into what would become a desperate metropolitan area.  The value of water can be expected to exceed $30K per acre  foot.  If you think all of this projected development  is about bringing the rooftops and all of the tax money that say will be generated, think again.  It would be a pleasant extra for them, but houses are the last thing they need to make money.  

Water is the new gold.  The scarcity of it insures a continued rise in prices.  These developers do not care if the water table drops or that it would cause those who are on well and septic systems to lose their wells.   Think about it:  if diamonds were as plentiful as Canadian thistle weeds, you could buy them in gumball machines.  These guys will pump the aquifers until the water table drops and then sell you your OWN water back at an enormous profit.  Greed has a mighty thirst.

And finally, you do not get protections from the courts for any of this.  If they have adjudicated the water rights, it is theirs to sell.  If they acquire water rights using the powers of their water districts, it will be theirs to sell.  I can sell mine.  You can sell yours.  But never forget this one fact, the water in the Denver Basin is a finite resource.  Once it is gone, it is gone.  The state will not hear complaints about the dropping level of your well.  The only remedy by the courts would come if you could prove that the quality of your water has been damaged by a neighbor's misuse.  Well levels do not count as damaged water quality.  

The only protection from this threat to the water tables can come from a require careful review of these projects.  We must demand our BOCC  stop any unnecessary formation of bonding schemes disguised as water districts.  They have the power to okay or deny applications on unnecessary pipelines.  The future of our water in Elbert County runs through the Kiowa Courthouse.  The developers have been romancing Elbert County for years.  From the perspective of this author, it looks as though, unless this whole Independence project is slowed down and reviewed for its potential benefits and anticipated negative impacts, the fuse will finally have been lit on the water rush in Elbert County.  In the words of the most interesting man in the world, "Stay thirsty, my friends."

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Short Followup to the Mike Akana Story - Sky Rim, Etc.

Imagine what would happen if a group of like minded home owners in a covenant controlled subdivision were dissatisfied with a reappraisal done by the tax assessor of a county.  Would they just call one another and complain?  Would they break into two political groups and try to lay blame for a less than acceptable reappraisal on the doorstep of the opposing political party?  Would they break into various factions within their community and argue with each other about why one group or another was responsible for what seemed like an unfair increase in taxes?  Of course not.

No, when something like a countywide reappraisal  occurs and something seems out of the ordinary, what normal people do is to call a neighbor and ask them if the got their appraisal in the mail, and if they did, ask the follow up question about whether they felt it was fair.  A friend of mine who is well versed in property appraisals looked at the list of 389 appeals that were sent into the Elbert County Tax Assessor's Office.  This person noticed that, of 80 homes in the Sky Rim subdivision,  23 of the residents living there, (or a little over a third of the homeowners) decided to appeal the reappraisal numbers calculated by the county.  It was determined collectively that not only did their taxes increase significantly,  nobody from the county actually went out to Sky Rim and actually inspected the properties.  As I have reported before, Elbert County  no longer even has a licensed appraiser employed who is qualified to do the inspections.
Three members of the Sky Rim subdivision enlisted an actual licensed appraiser.  As a result of the information presented by that professional and licensed appraiser, every appeal was found to be legitimate and all 27 members of Sky Rim subdivision were granted substantial cuts in their property taxes. Why does it look as though Billie Mills and her chief analyst, Mike Akana, are in way over their heads?  It appears as though the entire county reassessment was based on computer models, maps and guesses.  And could this be the reason Mike Akana never seems to work in one place for very long?

On another topic, I have noticed that the EC Republicans have been busy purging from a number of Elbert County websites everybody who even remotely is not in lockstep with the political ideologies of Peterson, Wills, Richardson or even former Commissioner Schlegel.  The vast majority of the people being tossed off of EC business sites, the EC Republican page, etc. are conservatives.  It makes one wonder why all of this purity of beliefs stuff is occurring at this particular moment in time.

Commissioner Richardson has been asked to recuse himself a number times from the review and approval of the Independence project because of  his perceived conflicts of interest. Richardson is being called out for endorsing the Independence project because he is a member of the Elizabeth School Board when he is well aware that the Elbert County Planning Commission had not yet presented their findings to the Elbert County BOCC.   He should not offer any analysis of any project that has not been been presented to the BOCC before it has gone through the correct channels.  

A few weeks ago, Andrea Richardson, Commissioner Richardson's wife, made a public spectacle of herself at the Stop Over-Development booth at the Elbert County Fair.  Mrs. Richardson, a successful realtor in the Elizabeth area, was wearing her Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce badge when she lost her temper and went on a 10+ minute rant that required intervention by Elbert County law enforcement.   

Did these two events trigger the recent purging of individuals and businesses from Elbert County websites? Coincidence? I wonder.

Touchy or vindictive?  You be the judge, but I suspect that before it's all over, this, too, will end up in court.  This debacle of recusal and the conflicts of interest, and even shoddy property reassessment will go down as another unforced err on the part of Elbert County government officials who still seem to believe that rules and procedures are for dimwitted suckers.  Heck, it's only taxpayer dollars and a well-earned, further tarnished reputation badge for our county.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Confusing Story Behind Mike Akana

Elbert County is experiencing more controversy in its county government.   The following report  is yet another example of the worrisome culture of government employees  who work in the Kiowa courthouse.  Senior data analyst in the Elbert County Assessor's office, Mike Akana, is a person of whom we should all familiarize ourselves.  If you are a property owner in the county, he does have a direct impact on you.  It is the  analysis that he conjures up from his desk that ends up changing your property taxes.  It is not based on first-hand observation of actual properties by licensed appraisers.  It is a system that uses mapping and often times flawed conjecture.    

Let it be known that Mr. Akana has a confusing reputation that precedes him.  It is not a reputation that I fabricated.  No, it is one that was being covered by the press long before he got to Elbert County. I figured I would let the words of others help you get to know the man at the heart of Elbert County's tax reappraisal controversy.

My first link is an October 16, 2016 television news story from Ft. Meyers, Florida.  The source of the story is NBC-2.  It was brought to the attention of the press by Mr. Mike Akana (described in the article as a whistleblower) who was working in the local tax assessor's office.  He alleged he was bullied and harassed by his department head.  The department head asked for Mr. Akana's resignation based on his conduct and he tendered it with no comment to the reporters at NBC-2.  There is no doubt that Akana's boss in Ft. Meyers was viewed by many in the department as being the aggressive one in this disagreement, but the irony should not escape the reader.  Today, Mr. Akana is accused of being a bully tyrant.

The only licensed and qualified ad valorem appraiser employed by the Elbert County Tax Assessor was K. Meis.  This licensed  employee resigned because she felt intimidated by the former  so-called whistleblower from Ft. Meyers,  Florida, Mike Akana.  Mr. Akana allegedly decided that while under the employ of  the Elbert County Assessor's Office, he should play the role of the bully when dealing with the assessor's staff.  

The following is an account of Mr. Akana's behavior with K. Meis. The article was written by local resident and retired attorney Rick Brown. It ran on several local web sites and as a news story on www.TruthColorado.com.  I have checked this information with several reliable sources.

"Our county government’s culture of bullying, enabled by former Commissioners Schlegel and Rowland and fostered by the disgraced former county manager and the soon-to-depart county attorney, lives on as their malignant legacy. Its most recent manifestation occurred in the office and with the knowledge of Elbert County Assessor Billie Mills and has led to the resignation of one of the county’s appraisers, a woman who has worked in the office for years and whom I know from experience to be highly competent, professional, and courteous in her dealings with the public

On June 28, Mike Akana, a senior data analyst in the assessor’s office, entered the office of the appraiser and angrily accused her of giving a member of the public information about the number of protests filed in response to recent property tax reassessments. It’s not clear why Akana was angry about the release of public information, which, in any case, had not been given out by the appraiser, but he lost control of his temper and kicked the chair she was sitting in.

The appraiser’s immediate response was to walk to the office of the County’s Human Resources Director. There, she was joined by Ms. Mills, the deputy assessor, Akana, and County Commissioner Danny Willcox. Akana accused her of being insolent, and she received no support from the assessor or her deputy. According to sources, Willcox said nothing. In the face of the total lack of support the appraiser wrote out a resignation on the spot.

Some of you may remember Mike Akana as the egregious suck-up who compared his boss to Galileo in the course of a power point presentation at a BOCC meeting. Mills is term limited, and I and others believe Akana hopes to convince voters to elect him as assessor next year.

In itself, this incident is disturbing, but it is also part of a pattern whereby female county employees are bullied or subjected to inappropriate conduct. A pending lawsuit against the county has arisen from such conduct. County commissioners seem to treat these issues as unworthy of swift and unambiguous discipline. Commissioner Richardson has reserved his most vigorous response for a letter to the Ranchland News accusing citizens concerned about such matters as having a “prurient obsession with the private lives of others” (for more on this letter see Robert Thomasson’s article posted below. It remains to be seen if any legal liability will flow from this latest incident.

(end of article)

According to the State of Colorado,Mr. Akana is not qualified to actually go out and do any property appraisals in the field.  I am including a copy of the only licensure that Mr. Akana currently holds with the State of Colorado in regards to assessments.
The license (above) is what is known as an Ad Valorum license. It qualifies Mr. Akana to do almost nothing in the way of an actual site appraisal. This level of licensure is only utilized for appraiser employees of county tax assessment offices.  There are no assessment capabilities/requirements  connected with it.  Mr. Akana only received this license on July 15, 2017 and it is good only through  the end of this year.  

So all of you who were led to believe that Billie Mills and Mike Akana had proper credentials to jack with your taxes during this year's lengthy tax reappraisal were at a minimum, misled.  He got this inadequate license well after he had already been doing the appraisal.

The female appraiser, K. Meis had the next higher level of qualifications from the State of Colorado.  Her license, of which I have a copy, is current and is called "Licensed Appraiser."  The definition of that level is found here on the DORA website.


"The Licensed Appraiser credential allows the appraiser to appraise non-complex 1-4 unit residential properties having a transaction value of less than $1 million and complex 1-4 unit residential properties having a transaction value of less than $250,000."

If you are confused because it appears that even this licensed employee falls short of the mark necessary to do appraisals on  most properties in the county, do not blame her.  She has at least met the much more rigid state standards for appraisal by the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) in Colorado.  Becoming a registered and licensed appraiser requires coursework and performance standards. She had to pass a difficult exam. She earned her status and it is a step well beyond what Mike Akana rushed down and applied for when people began to ask questions in July of this year. Billie Mills, the actual Elbert County Assessor, is the one in this case who should be answering the important questions in regards to who is and who is not qualified to go out into the county and perform assessment evaluation work that meets state requirements.  We can only assume that our entire Assessors Office is pulling some grand charade if we have not managed to hire qualified employees.

The following is another interesting article from 2007 when Mike Akana worked for Teller County as the chief analyst in the assessor's office,  and property values did not seem to align with what property owners were expecting.  Read it and see if you see any resemblance to some of the questions that are being asked of our 2017 Assessment in Elbert County.


Then there is this article written by Michael Phillips on May 25, 2017. The link is as follows:

"Sticker Shock? You’ve been Akanaed…

Ok so have most of you recovered from the shock of opening up your 2017 Notice of Value from the Elbert County Assessor?
Some background: You might be wondering by what unicorn magical process did they come up with the percentages of increase? The legend goes that in 2013 County Assessor, Billie Mills, decided two things; to fire or run off a bunch her employees, and that property in Elbert County was undervalued. So that year, property values increased slightly and employees decreased a bunch.
Then in 2015 the County hired a “well-respected company from Lamar” to do assessments that the now sharply reduced EC staff was unable to accomplish. Then this is where the typical Elbert County government fog rolled in to muddy the facts: Mike Akana (who has his own interesting reputation in various Counties) somehow wormed his way into working under said “well-respected Lamar company “ (as a subcontractor-surrogate-buddy of Billie – or something else that nobody concerned will admit to.) So Mike Akana did the residential and commercial values for the County, apparently from the state of Florida at the time using wild-ass guessing or software, but never actually physically inspecting the properties (as required by law.)
Flash forward a bit. Billie Mills then hires Mike Akana as her special data analyst....and what happens....residential values jumped all over the board (even in the same neighborhoods) from a minus to over 181% increase and those are just the ones that have been investigated so far. And commercial properties, which Elbert County is desperate to attract, go from a minus 3% to a 200% increase. Apparently Akana’s Ouija board got his Monopoly game pregnant.
Property assessments are supposed to be based on property sales information gathered from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2016. And your property value is established from those sales - when like property is compared to other like properties.
Is that what is happening? The Ouija board says NO.
YOU NEED TO DO THIS FAST So, figure out your percentage of increase from the valuation the Assessor’s Office sent you...if it's not like homes in your neighborhood then PROTEST your value. With your Notice of Valuation is a “Real Property Appeal Form.” Fill it out and get it into the Assessor’s office (hand deliver or get Postmarked) by June 1.) Demand that the assessor's office to show you how they valued YOUR home....and if you don't like the answer they give you....go on to higher authority ....the County Board of Equalization...and then to the state Board of Equalization. Remember the taxes you’ll pay next year are based on your property valuation – you know, in case you didn’t think this issue is important. 
Elbert County is not booming like say Denver or high valued San Francisco; we are not shiny with lots of friendly services. We’ve got dirt roads, essentially non-existent infrastructure and scant services. Contrary to Elbert County Government’s rich fantasy life, property and values here are not sky-rocketing to raise the tax base. We are not a destination; we are a dusty pass-through on the way to somewhere.
Billie Mills needs to quit hiding behind Mike Akana’s data cloud, cut him loose, and do the job she was elected to do. Hire employees that know what they doing and get the job done right. Oh and by the way your County Assessor's value went down in 2015 ....up in 2017 but not by the 75-100% that other's did.....now that’s unicorn magic in action." 
(end of article)

So where does this information leave us?  It is not my intention to suggest that there is an easy fix to all of this.  Mike Akana is not without his skills in assessment.  He has worked in several locations and has risen to the level of Senior Assessment Analyst, and so one must fairly reason that he does have a knowledge base about his field.  Unfortunately, it is based almost entirely on software-based analysis that often meets with severe critical review by practitioners in his field. The concern here is the licensure, the cloud of public dissatisfaction with his methods, and the nagging employee turmoil that seems to follow him.  Elbert County government has already come under enough public criticism over the past decade without adding this to the list of complaints.

Why is Billie Mills not hiring qualified and licensed assessors in her department to reassure the public that the tax assessment is being handled within the recommendations of the state laws put forth by DOLA?  It is virtually impossible to get any sort of answers from the elected officials at the Kiowa Courthouse on these subjects without going through back channels, CORA requests, and the reporting of perceived violations uncovered by this process to state government officials.  

This newest iteration of elected officials likes to say that they have been more transparent than past groups, but it is my observation that what transparency we do have should be credited to the citizens from both sides of the political aisle who have, quite frankly, had enough of the "good-ol'-boy" methodology.  Elbert County wants to grow into a position of a modern and high functioning governance so that it might take its rightful place at the table with neighboring Arapahoe, Douglas and El Paso counties, but it refuses to acknowledge the need for compliance to state standards. When people come into adulthood, it is not good enough to say you are an adult, you must act like one.  This is a concept that Elbert County seems to fight tooth and nail.  There is a misguided notion that the "Elbert County way" has always worked in the past so the state and surrounding counties should accept it, but ultimately the adults around you will demand maturity and proper behavior.

We're waiting.


Licensed Ad Valorem Appraiser

  • This level of licensure is only utilized for appraiser employees of county tax assessment offices. 

Licensed Appraiser

  • The Licensed Appraiser credential allows the appraiser to appraise non-complex 1-4 unit residential properties having a transaction value of less than $1 million and complex 1-4 unit residential properties having a transaction value of less than $250,000. 

Certified Residential Appraiser

  • The Certified Residential Appraiser credential allows the appraiser to appraise 1-4 unit residential properties without regard to transaction value or complexity. The credential includes the appraisal of vacant or unimproved land that is utilized for 1-4 family purposes or for which the highest and best use is for 1-4 family purposes, but does not include land for which a subdivision analysis is necessary. 

Certified General Appraiser

  • The Certified General credential allows the appraiser to appraise all types of real property.