Keystone voters approve town charter, securing home-rule status

More than 80% of voters endorse town’s proposed rules, setting stage for council election early next year

Robert Tann/Summit Daily News
Keystone residents who've led the incorporation effort celebrate the charter's passage at the Keystone Center on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023.
Robert Tann/Summit Daily News

Keystone voters paved the way for the recently incorporated town to become a home-rule municipality after approving a proposed charter in an election that ended 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 26. 

Approximately 83% of voters cast ballots in favor of the charter, with 288 votes of approval and 57 votes of disapproval, according to unofficial results released Tuesday night around 8 p.m.

Keystone has roughly 900 registered voters in total. 

“I can’t help but be ecstatic, and it’s the right answer,” said Ken Riley, a Keystone resident who helped lead the charge to incorporate earlier this year

Riley, who serves as chair of the nine-member commission that drafted the charter, said the vote was a matter of securing local control. 

Under a charter, Keystone is able to set specific parameters around government structure, tax collection and rules for boards and commissions, among other priorities. It provides the town greater latitude in how it governs compared to statutory municipalities, which must defer to state statute on many of these policies. 

Had the proposed charter ultimately failed, Keystone would have automatically become a statutory town. 

Home-rule status, Riley said, “gives the town tremendous flexibility” that will “meet Keystone’s needs.” 

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The approved charter addresses a variety of elements that make up the fabric of town government and community involvement. 

It establishes a seven-member council structure that will operate similarly to the towns of Breckenridge, Frisco, Silverthorne and Dillon. The town will have a “weak mayor” who will have the same voting power as each council member, as is typical for mid- to small-size municipalities. 

Council members will be elected to staggered, four- and two-year terms, with elections held on the first Tuesday of April on even years. While the inaugural town council will be elected at-large, meaning candidates and voters can reside anywhere in the town boundaries, future elections may be divided by districts, if the council so chooses. 

Eligible candidates must be registered Keystone residents for at least one year. 

Non-registered residents will not be able to vote in local elections or hold elected office. However, the charter does allow such residents to initiate petitions and sit on boards and commissions, though the town’s planning and zoning commission, which makes recommendations on land-use policy, will still need a majority of registered residents. 

Election commission members said this was done to ensure second-home owners have a voice, a concern raised by some part-time residents who said they were frustrated with the inability to vote.

“We’re very aware that there is a disconnect between the number of second-home owners and the number of full-time residents or registered voters,” said Gretchen Davis, a Keystone resident who helped write the charter as a commission member. 

Before she was a full-time resident, Davis said she was a second-home owner, adding she felt it was important to “keep both groups in mind” in the charter. She feels the town rules ultimately make good on that, with accommodation for second-home owners that won’t minimize the voice of registered residents. 

“I’m pleased with the whole thing,” Davis said. “There was a lot of thoughtful disagreement, and the fact that we can reach an understanding is just really great.”

With a charter in hand, residents said they will have the power to pass laws that are more tailored to Keystone’s needs. That includes a potential lift ticket tax, which some community leaders have floated as an additional revenue source to pay for future growth. 

Any new tax would need to be approved by voters but home-rule status gives Keystone residents the ability to do so. 

Another area where residents say a charter will prove critical is in establishing a town zip code and post office, which, according to Riley, is already being explored. 

With a vote on incorporation and now a charter, residents will see their third election early next year when they will be asked to vote for a town council, which Riley expects will happen in late January. 

Voters will elect a mayor and six council members at-large who, once seated, will begin the process of installing a town manager and establishing departments. Riley said he expects the full transition of services from the county to the town to be completed by early 2025.

“The work that we’ve done in the past has been the easy work,” Riley said.

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