The town of Estes Park and its attorneys are asking a court to award them more than $28,000 in fees after a judge dismissed a lawsuit alleging the town violated the Taxpayer Bill of Rights in its funding arrangement for an infrastructure project.
On April 1, Larimer County District Court Judge Juan G. Villaseñor found the plaintiffs, a group of Estes Park residents, lacked standing to sue because the reported constitutional issue did not involve their local tax dollars.
The crux of the lawsuit involved an agreement Estes Park entered into in March 2014 with the Federal Highway Administration setting the financial terms of the Estes Park Loop, a traffic route to be constructed through downtown. The Colorado Department of Transportation awarded the town $4.2 million for its share of the project.
The plaintiffs argued Estes Park should have asked for voter approval of the arrangement given that TABOR requires such a vote for the creation of "any multiple-fiscal year ... debt or other financial obligation." They asked for Estes Park to refund, with interest, revenue "spent illegally."
Instead, the judge ruled that because the funding was state money, and the residents had not taken action against the state, they had no legal leg to stand on.
"Estes Park hasn’t touched funds collected from Town taxpayers. As the undisputed evidence shows, all funds came from CDOT and were properly accounted for," wrote Villaseñor in the court's order.
Town officials told the Estes Park Trail Gazette they were pleased with the order. In a motion to recover more than $27,000 in attorney fees and $766 in costs incurred by the town, Estes Park pointed out it was entitled to reimbursement as the prevailing party.
"Plaintiffs' claim lacked substantial justification and was not well grounded in fact or warranted by law. As such, the Town seeks to recover its reasonable attorney fees incurred in defending against Plaintiffs' claim," the town's attorneys wrote.
Dan Burrows, the legal director of the Lakewood-based Public Trust Institute who represented the plaintiffs, slammed Estes Park's request.
"The request for attorney fees is mendacious and vindictive," Burrows said. "It serves no purpose but to send a message that any citizen who dares to challenge the government will get slapped down as hard as possible, so as to discourage anyone else who thinks about asserting his rights."