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Outsider

Tax dollars at work

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Readers of this column may have surmised that I don't often agree with our intermittently loony county commissioner, the always-combative Douglas Bruce. But I was glad the Dougster prevailed the other week in his fight with the city of Colorado Springs.

You may remember the details: Bruce had a junky old Honda parked in front of his house, and the city -- after slapping an orange sticker on the driver's side window -- towed it off to the impound lot. Why? Well, Bruce was violating a meddlesome ordinance that forbids you to park your car for more than three days in the same spot, even right in front of your house.

Car gone -- Doug mad! He fought 'em in court, claiming that an orange sticker on the side window did not give adequate notice, and that the city had not made a good faith attempt to locate him. A mediator agreed, and now the city's grumbling because it's going to have to try to find owners before towing their cars.

Bruce won on a technicality. Good for him. Now, let's think about the ordinance itself.

Leaving a junker parked on the street is aesthetically offensive, and may well irritate your neighbors, but should the penalty for your untidiness be so draconian? Without due process, your property is unceremoniously seized and dragged away to an impound lot. Sure, I know, people do abandon broken-down junkers on the street and they've gotta be towed away and disposed of. But I'm glad that, thanks to Bruce, they won't be towing my junker away without notice.

I thought of the Dougster the other day downtown, when I returned from coffee with my geezer homies to find my car decorated with a yellow sticker in the driver's side window and a boot on the left front tire. Yup, I'd forgotten to pay some parking tickets. So I walked testily through the noonday heat to the Municipal Court building, paid a hundred bucks and reclaimed my car.

I owed the city about $50 in overdue parking tickets. For my negligence, the city lowered the boom, seizing my car, charging me -- cash only -- for its collection efforts. No private business ever could use such efficient methods, other than a mafia moneylender, which might employ baseball bats rather than boots.

And let's think of the real purpose parking tickets serve: enhancing the city's cash flow from the parking system. These revenues have been used not only to benefit downtown merchants and their customers, but also to pay for the parking lots at the World Arena. You may think you're paying for a service when you park at a meter, but you're not. You're paying a tax.

Meanwhile, the curious saga of Commissioner Bruce's unpaid salary continues. As some may recall, he wanted the county to pay his salary directly to a "charity" -- a nonprofit entity he founded to push his anti-tax agenda -- without any withholding for income taxes. County officials refused, citing all kinds of statutes that, in its view, precluded compliance with Bruce's request. The Dougster then refused to take a paycheck and wouldn't give them his Social Security number. Absent that info, they couldn't cut him a check. So the money is just being deposited into an escrow account, and the standoff continues.

Bizarre? Well, yeah, and it's a lot of dough -- more than five grand a month. And it gets weirder, since Doug actually has given his Social Security number to those county officials in charge of employee benefits. Like any middle-aged guy, he needs health insurance. And since they can't deduct his share from his paycheck, he's just writing 'em a check every month. The benefits-people promised -- cross their fingers and hope to die! -- that they'd never share Bruce's Social Security info with the county payroll people.

So what happens to Bruce's accrued paychecks come December 31 and a new fiscal year? If his colleagues were really mischievous, they'd just return the dough to the general fund and start over.

Now that'd be a lawsuit worth watching.

-- johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net

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