Summit County commissioners push Colorado lawmakers to consider child care, housing, mental health bills |

Summit County commissioners push Colorado lawmakers to consider child care, housing, mental health bills

The Village at Wintergreen brought nearly 200 affordable housing units to Keystone when it first opened. Summit County commissioners are supporting Colorado bills that would provide more funding streams for affordable housing developments.
Jason Connolly/For the Summit Daily News

Summit County commissioners are pushing for bills that will improve affordable housing, behavioral health and child care as the 2022 Colorado legislative session meets its halfway mark.

In addition to approving local policies and budgets, the commissioners spend their time influencing state governance by sitting on panels, testifying to lawmakers and writing letters to state officials. More than two months into the legislative session, which ends May 11, the commissioners have expressed support and suggested amendments for dozens of bills that would impact the lives of local residents.

We’re “consistently reminding people of what a rural resort community is and what that means, especially for funding,” Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said.

Lawrence has spent much of her time over the past few months advocating for House Bill 1117, which is also known as the “lodging tax bill.” The bill, which has already passed in the state House of Representatives and Senate, would open the doors for the commissioners to use the funds generated from a 2% lodging tax on projects and initiatives in unincorporated parts of the county to pay for housing, child care and advancing visitor experiences.

Unincorporated parts of the county include any areas outside of town limits.

While towns like Silverthorne and Breckenridge have taxes on hotels and short-term rentals, unincorporated Summit County does not. That is largely because current state law restricts counties from using funds gathered through a lodging tax for anything other than marketing and advertising. If signed by Gov. Jared Polis, the bill would allow counties more flexibility in using the funds from that type of tax.

Lawrence said she plans to propose that the lodging tax become a local ballot issue. The commissioners would still need to work out how the money gathered through a county lodging tax would be distributed, but Lawrence said she likes the idea of it supporting the county’s efforts to build more affordable housing and child care centers.

Lawrence added that the commissioners hope to hear from people on how they should prioritize the funds if a lodging tax was passed.

The commissioners are also supportive of a number of other housing bills. Last fall, Commissioner Tamara Pogue participated in a legislative sub-panel for the Affordable Housing Task Force, in which she helped recommend priorities on how the state should spend $550 million dedicated to housing from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Pogue said she’s particularly excited about Senate Bill 159 and House Bill 1304, which would create loan and grant programs to support affordable housing developments. The bills, both of which still need to pass in the Senate and the House to become reality, could mean that Summit County’s affordable housing actually looks affordable, Pogue said.

“I know folks feel like even affordable, attainable housing isn’t attainable, and it’s not,” she said. “But the real problem there is the state’s never given us an additional subsidy to offset our very high costs for buildings.”

Currently, the bills define affordable housing as housing for people living at or below 120% of the area median income, which is $115,320 for a family of four according to the Summit Combined Housing Authority. Pogue would like to see that definition include households at or below 180% of the area median income to account for the high cost of living in rural resort communities.

“Most mountain communities, because our cost of living is so high, really need to be able to access funds to be able to build housing for more of that middle income,” she said.

The commissioners are also advocating for bills that would improve child care. House Bill 1295 would establish a Colorado department of early childhood that would be tasked with creating a universal preschool program.

The bill, which is under consideration in the House, would help support local efforts to improve early childhood education. However, the commissioners hope some aspects of it change, Lawrence said.

As it is currently written, the new department would be led by an executive director. Lawrence said she’d instead like to see the department led by a board composed of county and local leaders.

“We would like a governing board so that all of Colorado is represented, all of Colorado’s children are represented,” she said. “There’s huge differences between an urban and a rural county. Then you add in a rural resort county, like Summit, and there’s even more nuances.”

Lawrence said she planned to testify regarding the issue Wednesday, March 24.

The commissioners are keeping their eyes on a number of other bills, as well.

Pogue is hopeful that House Bill 1281 passes. It would establish a $90 million grant to improve behavioral health systems. That bill goes hand in hand with House Bill 1278, which ensures the creation of a Behavioral Health Administration for the state.

The commissioners encouraged the community to keep an eye on the state Legislature by visiting

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