Colorado bill would allow out-of-state property owners to vote in special district elections
EAGLE COUNTY — A number of High Country property owners are taxed without representation. A bill in this year’s Colorado Legislature seeks to change that.
A pair of state officials, Rep. Larry Liston and Sen. Jack Tate, both Republicans, have sponsored HB18-1181. That bill passed the Colorado House of Representatives last week and is now before the state senate.
If passed and signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, then the bill would allow people who live out of state, but own property in a special district, to vote in those district board elections.
If the bill passes, then districts will have the option of allowing out-of-state property owners to vote in district board elections. They can also decline that option.
The bill applies only to board elections. Other district issues, including tax increase proposals, would still be decided as they are now. Ballots would be mailed to out-of-state voters only by request.
Those methods can vary from district to district. The Vail Recreation District allows people who own property in the district, but live elsewhere in Colorado, to vote in board elections and on other issues.
One town in Colorado, Mountain Village, near Telluride, allows property owners to vote in town elections.
DISTRICTS ARE DIFFERENT
But there are far more special districts than towns in Colorado. In Eagle County alone, there are roughly 80 special taxing districts scattered throughout the county.
Metro districts can have limited work. Others, such as the ones in Eagle-Vail and Edwards, serve as the de facto local governments for those areas.
In Eagle-Vail, about 25 percent of all of the 1,447 homes in that neighborhood are owned by people who live outside the state.
Eagle-Vail Property Owners Association board member Stephen Daniels and Eagle-Vail Metropolitan District board member David Warner both went to Denver to testify in favor of the bill. Both went as private citizens. Neither board has taken an official position on the bill.
Daniels said he believes the bill could correct a basic matter of fairness in district elections.
Daniels said he and other supporters believe “it’s a good thing to have more people represented” in metro districts.
The current system, he said, “flies in the face of democratic values.”
In a separate phone conversation, Warner agreed.
“These people’s voices need to be heard,” Warner said, adding that out-of-state property owners pay the same tax rates as full-time residents and deserve a say in how those taxes are collected and spent.
That voice would have to come through the views of elected board members. Warner said if this bill passes, and he decides in 2020 to run for a term on the Eagle-Vail Metro District Board, then “I’ll have to address these people to get their votes, to prove to them I’m worthy of their votes.”
WHAT ARROWHEAD DID
Ken Marchetti is a partner in a firm that does a lot of work for metro and other special districts. Marchetti also went to Denver to testify in favor of the bill.
Marchetti noted that the Arrowhead Metropolitan District has written a letter of the support for the bill.
Arrowhead has relatively few permanent residents. The current board is keenly aware of people who own property there but have permanent residences elsewhere.
Marchetti recalled that a few years ago, the Arrowhead board wanted to buy a skier parking lot in the neighborhood but would have had to take on debt to do so.
All governments in Colorado can only take on debt if voters approve. Marchetti noted that the Arrowhead board essentially conducted two elections that year. The first, for full-time residents, was the official vote. But the board also conducted a straw-poll of all other property owners in the neighborhood.
Both of those elections resulted in a favorable vote.
Marchetti added that Arrowhead also can have a hard time finding board members. That won’t be addressed in the current bill.
The bill does allow out-of-state owners to be elected to a non-voting position on a metro district board.
Marchetti said he’d like to see that expanded to allow out-of-state owners to be elected to voting board positions.
“There’s a great pool of expertise and talent out there,” he said.
But the first step is passing the bill proposed in this session.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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