EAGLE COUNTY — Ballots were mailed this week to voters in the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District for the May 6 election. And, while most spring elections don’t draw much attention, this vote will decide some big financial questions.
There are two financial questions. The first asks voters for a tax hike to fund a bond issue to pay for about $25 million in improvements at the district’s three wastewater treatment plants. Federal and state agencies have created new rules that require wastewater treatment facilities across Colorado to further limit the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen discharged from treatment plants into streams.
In debating how to pay for the required work, the district’s elected board had two choices: a property tax increase or fee increases. When the numbers were crunched, the board determined that the tax hike would save district customers about $1.8 million during the life of the bond. The reason is lower interest rates, since companies that issue bonds find tax revenue streams more reliable than fees.
Rick Pylman is a member of the district’s board. He’s also a member of Citizens for Healthy Rivers, a separate group backing the ballot issues. That bit of legal yoga is required because TABOR, a state constitutional amendment that limits the ability of state agencies to tax and spend, doesn’t allow government agencies to actively campaign for or against ballot issues.
Pylman said the tax increase would be less of a financial burden on most of the district’s 22,000 customers than a rate hike would be.
But, he added, the legally required ballot language is less than clear. That’s why the separate group was formed.
The other part of the ballot issue is also required by TABOR and asks voters for permission to collect and spend the money from additional tax revenues and possible grants.
Board member Debbie Buckley cast the lone dissenting vote against the second ballot issue because of its TABOR implications. But Pylman said the current ballot issue maintains the main feature of the amendment — voters must approve any future tax increases the board might propose.
Cliff Thompson, a local political consultant working with the bond issue campaign, said the ballot issues are unique in his experience: “It’s the only time I’ve seen when voting ‘yes’ actually saves you money,” he said.