Opinion | Bruce Butler: The new town of Keystone

In 2017, the Town of Silverthorne celebrated its 50th anniversary as a home rule town. Serving as mayor at the time, we had a short ceremony and buried a time capsule in Rainbow Park to be opened on the town’s 100th anniversary.  As I recall, the time capsule contained a letter to the future mayor and citizens, some miscellaneous examples of early 21st century technology, some town photos and maps, and a bag of marijuana. Obviously, Silverthorne has changed a lot in the past 56 years, and the authority to operate as a home rule jurisdiction has been overwhelmingly beneficial.

Silverthorne was the last jurisdiction in Summit County to become a town, in 1967.  However, that may change in the near future as residents in certain areas of Keystone will be receiving ballots, due March 28, to decide whether to incorporate as the town of Keystone and, if yes, to form a home rule charter commission by electing nine individuals to serve on the commission.

Although I have no preference regarding the outcome of the vote, this is a unique moment in Summit County history. In modern America, it is rare to see new towns formed, and as a student of history and politics, the movement to create the Town of Keystone is very interesting to watch. If I were wagering on the results of the March 28 vote, I suspect the measure will pass.

Proponents of incorporation correctly focus on some of the “glamorous” sides of becoming a home rule town, such as the ability to recover sales, housing, and lodging tax dollars, exerting more control over local zoning and short-term rental rules, and the ability to spar with Vail Resorts over “ticket tax” revenues in return for various public works, infrastructure, and logistical support. Vail Resorts has remained remarkable silent, as least publicly, regarding the ballot measure, but tensions will inevitably rise should the measure pass and very real costs, taxes, revenues, zoning, and regulatory limits are on the table.

On the flip side, there is a lot involved with operating a home rule town government that is far from glamorous. From their literature, the proponents of incorporation vastly overestimate the amount of influence they will have over the Colorado Department of Transportation, Highway U.S. 6, the school board in Summit County, and the U.S. Postal Service. In my opinion, proponents also underestimate the challenges of operating and staffing a town government, a police department and the cost of future public works maintenance.

During my tenure as mayor of Silverthorne, I received more complaints about traffic lights and the timing of the traffic lights than any other single issue. Most people do not realize the Town of Silverthorne owns only two traffic lights. All the rest are owned and controlled by CDOT. Several times a year, the town council would forward a list of requests and grievances to CDOT that was routinely ignored. I predict the very same will happen to the prospective Keystone town council and staff regarding Highway 6, so don’t base your vote on perceived leverage over CDOT. Regarding the U.S. Postal Service, fuhgeddaboudit!

Interestingly, according to Incorporate Keystone, nearly half of Keystone’s permanent residents live in deed-restricted and traditional workforce housing, with more workforce housing planned. This demographic will give local workforce residents significant influence over the composition, policy, and politics of town government, should they choose to enfranchise themselves. It will be interesting to watch as pressure to expand social services, flex against Vail Resorts, and inevitably raise taxes, potentially divides local residents and vocal, but disenfranchised, second homeowners. Managing these constituencies will be a real challenge for potential Town of Keystone elected officials.

Regardless of the ballot results, I understand the concerns and frustrations that many Keystone residents have expressed, and I understand the desire for more local autonomy and self-determination. The Keystone Incorporation Committee members have worked hard and done solid due diligence. I am interested to see the results of the March 28 vote, and I wish the residents of Keystone good luck as they debate their future.  At the same time, be careful what you ask for — you may get it.

I urge all eligible Keystone voters to return their ballots by no later than 7 p.m. on March 28.

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