Proponents and opponents of ballot measures take center stage at Summit County election forum
BRECKENRIDGE — Dozens gathered at a nonpartisan election forum last week to take in a debate between Summit School District board candidates and to hear the pros and cons of local and state issues hitting ballots this November.
In all, one state proposition and five local ballot measures were discussed on stage, including Proposition CC, the TABOR spending override; Measure 1A, the nicotine sales tax; Measure 1B, the open space mill levy renewal; Measure 1C, the Peak 7 paving project; Measure 4A, a kindergarten mill levy override; and Measure 7A, a Colorado Mountain College district expansion.
Proposition CC could become one of the more significant changes to the state’s fiscal policies in recent memory, asking voters to give up their refunds due under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to help better fund K-12 schools, higher education and transportation projects around the state.
Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier spoke in support of the proposition, noting that it could make a major difference in helping to address spending issues in schools and improving infrastructure.
“CC is really easy for me,” Stiegelmeier said. “CC asks you to allow the state to keep funds already collected, but due to TABOR restriction, cannot keep that money unless asking the voters. It will allow $264 million in 2020, and $143 million in 2021 to be split equally amongst the desperate needs we have in Colorado for K-12 education, for higher ed and for transportation. … CC does not solve these issues. But it’s a big step forward, and to me it’s really common sense. There isn’t some angel out there that’s just going to come up with money in Colorado. … It’s up to us to provide the government services with our tax dollars.”
Debra Irvine, a representative from the Summit County Republican Party, took the opposition stance in the debate, calling into question how the money ultimately will be spent and what impact it would have if the proposition passes.
“One of the issues with having Proposition CC is trust,” Irvine said. “… I do not trust the additional moneys will be used as promised. … Proposition CC wants to keep surplus tax revenue forever. Apparently, there’s never enough money. There’s no guarantee how the money will be spent. Proposition CC is a statute and not a constitutional amendment, meaning the next Legislature can take the money and use it wherever.”
The two argued about what the actual refund likely would be for voters — somewhere between $20 and a few hundred. Stiegelmeier noted that there would be comprehensive audits to assure the money is spent properly and called on voters to support the change. Irvine insisted state legislators develop new strategies to spend the money they have more efficiently, without taking refunds away from taxpayers.
Measure 4A would have significant impacts on the Summit School District’s budget. If passed, the measure would allow the district to retain a tax originally intended to fund full-day kindergarten, which was nullified by a decision to fund full-day kindergarten across the state.
Citizens for Strong Summit Schools campaign manager Peggy Hiller spoke on behalf of the measure, claiming the additional funds could help attract and retain teachers while having minimal impact on taxpayers.
“What we would like to do with this roughly $950,000, if you should approve it, would be to continue to fund our Summit School District employees and teachers,” Hiller said. “The average teacher in the Summit School District earns about $43,000. If you think about the property expenses that exist in our community, it’s sad to me that we can’t provide a better cost of living for recruiting and maintaining the best teachers for our Summit School District. … It’s no new tax. We’re not asking for anymore taxes than what was already voter approved back in 2007.”
Summit County Republicans Chairman Mike Tabb, who spoke in opposition to the measure, said he wasn’t opposed to the intent but rather to the funding mechanism. Tabb noted several tax increases the school district has asked voters for during the past 15 years and said it’s time for the district to begin prioritizing and more efficiently using the funds that have already been approved.
“I’m concerned that it’s an open-ended tax with no effective limit on the amount,” Tabb said. “The $950,000 is only the estimate for the first year. So there’s no limit on how much might be collected. And unlike its predecessor in terms of kindergarten, it doesn’t really have a fixed use. It has an intended use, but since there’s no time limit, it’s never ending unless it comes back on the ballot. There’s no doubt in my mind priorities will change, and the money will migrate to something else. … I think it’s time, at this point, to focus spending on our priorities with what we’ve already approved.”
Measure 1C won’t appear on most people’s ballots this November, though it has become one of the more contentious issues for people living in the Peak 7 neighborhood. If passed, voters would approve the paving of 21 roads in the area. But the voters also would be responsible for funding the $6.6 million project, which could mean almost $20,000 per landowner.
Shannon Bosgraaf spoke in support of the measure, noting that the paving work would contribute to improved maintenance and safety on the roadways and that homeowners in the area might have only one chance to get it done.
“Paving the road has been long overdue,” Bosgraaf said. “We all want to reminisce about how Summit County and Breckenridge used to be in the old days. We simply can’t live in the past anymore. Peak 7 roads are currently being used well in excess of acceptable levels for unpaved roads. The maintenance, health and safety issues are becoming increasing concerns for our residents. … This project is about preparing that neighborhood for the growth that is being driven by working around a world-class destination resort.”
Larry Lewarton, another resident in the area, took the opposition side of the argument, noting that a $20,000 bill was financially prohibitive for several in the area and that the paving ultimately would have negative impacts on the neighborhood’s character.
“Many homeowners simply feel they cannot afford this task, which in most cases would more than double their current property taxes,” Lewarton said. “Several of our neighbors fear it would force them to have to sell their homes. … There will be character changes to the neighborhood. We all moved into a woodland neighborhood ripe with wildlife, and paving would affect that character. Paving would certainly result in increases for both passenger and commercial traffic going to the ski resort and at increased speeds.”
Measure 1A would increase sales taxes with the goal of reducing tobacco and nicotine products throughout the county. If passed, the county would place a $4-per-pack tax on cigarettes, along with a 40% tax on all other nicotine and tobacco products that would increase 10% annually for four years.
Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson spoke in support of the measure, and no dissenting opinion was offered.
Davidson noted that tobacco and nicotine use is the leading cause of preventable death in the country and that higher costs can have legitimate impacts on usage. Davidson also spoke about the revenues generated from the proposed tax, which would be used first and foremost on reduction and cessation programs for youths and adults.
“In Colorado, the counties are responsible for public health, and so this absolutely falls to the county and our mission to get people to make healthy choices,” Davidson said.
Measure 1B would renew a property tax to help fund the acquisition and preservation of open space land across the county in addition to other projects in the realm of maintenance, workforce housing, wildfire mitigation and more.
The measure first passed in 2008, and if approved would extend the current 3.062 mills property tax rate and allocate the funds to the Summit County Open Space Fund.
Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence spoke in support of the measure, though no opposition opinion was offered.
Lawrence noted several projects the fund already has supported in the past, including the West Hills, Huron Landing and Lake Hill neighborhoods. Officials believe the tax is still necessary to continue funding critical projects around the community.
“It’s important to keep Summit County beautiful, open and something that our children and grandchildren can enjoy for generations to come,” Lawrence said.
Measure 7A will ask voters in Colorado Mountain College districts whether the taxing district should expand to include the area served by the Salida School District.
Annexing a new school district into the CMC district wouldn’t have any impact on taxpayers in the current CMC district, though it would lower tuition rates for people newly included in the district, who would pay a 3.997 mill levy to support the college.
Patty Theobald, a Colorado Mountain College Board of Trustees member, voiced support for the measure at the forum, asking voters to take a look at the very bottom of their ballots Nov. 5 to find Measure 7A.
“We see this as a win-win situation,” Theobald said. “The people of Salida are willing to pay, and we will slowly move more services into their area thanks to the offer of facilities in the short term. We also feel like the Salida community is very similar to our tourism communities in Summit and the other districts we serve. So we think it will be a good relationship, and it will open up opportunities not just for the Salida district but for the students in all of our other communities.”
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