Eagle mulls possible November ballot questions
EAGLE — The lightning rod Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton presidential race will top Eagle County ballots this fall, but the way things are shaping up, county voters will likely have a number of local questions to consider as well.
As things stand today, Eagle County Schools is poised to move on an estimated $140 million bond issue question and a mill levy override question that will increase property taxes to fund school operations. Eagle County is considering child care and affordable housing ballot questions along with a request to repeal the sunset provision on its open space, trails and transit sales tax. Now, the town of Eagle is the latest local government to mull November ballot questions regarding provision of broadband services, marijuana excise taxes and publication of ordinances.
The deadline to present ballot language to the Eagle County Clerk and Recorder is Sept. 9 and prior to that time, the Eagle Town Board would have to approve resolutions calling for the election questions.
Of the three questions under consideration, the broadband issue is the most likely ballot contender. In a brief discussion of the topic this week, Eagle Town Board members were in general agreement regarding the issue, which centers around state law that restricts municipalities from providing services described as “advanced services” —telecommunications services and cable television services — either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners to potential subscribers.
A memo from Geoff Wilson, general counsel for the Colorado Municipal League, and Eric Bergman, policy director for CML, outlined the reasoning for the ballot question.
“In order to compete in today’s economy, communities across the state have become increasingly dependent on broad bandwidth Internet access (“broadband”) for business development and operations. The availability of broadband also enhances the quality of life and desirability of a community by providing residents access to things like online education and distance learning opportunities, telemedicine and entertainment content. Broadband has become so critical, in fact, that many now regard it as a basic infrastructure need — on par with roads, water systems and energy grids.”
The memo noted that because of the importance of broadband services, local governments are starting to invest public dollars in broadband infrastructure improvements.
“One of the biggest impediments to local governments enhancing broadband infrastructure is a law passed in 2005, which has since been commonly referred to as ‘Senate Bill (SB) 152.’ SB 152 prohibits most uses of municipal or county money for infrastructure to improve local broadband service, without first going to a vote of the people. The hurdles put in place by this statute are not insurmountable; indeed, in the past few years 10 municipalities and three counties have placed measures on the ballot to override the prohibitions in SB 152. These measures have passed handily in virtually every jurisdiction — with the support of citizens who are frustrated and want timely action on broadband service in their communities.”
“This one is kind of a slam dunk,” noted Eagle Mayor Anne McKibbin about the town’s position.
No taxes are involved in the proposal and the question is aimed at giving Eagle more options regarding future broadband needs.
Marijuana Excise Tax
This ballot measure would impose an excise tax on marijuana cultivation in the town of Eagle. The municipal excise tax would be paid by marijuana cultivators when they ship product to retail stores or to infused products manufacturers. The state of Colorado already has an excise tax in place for marijuana cultivation.
In discussion of the topic, town board member Andy Jessen noted the tax has been suggested to capture revenue in the event a new, large cultivator starts business in town. He stressed the proposal is not aimed at charging additional taxes on the town’s sole existing retail and medical marijuana operation, Sweet Leaf Pioneer.
Eagle Town Attorney Ed Sands noted that the town board could exclude a retail operation that cultivates its own product from paying the tax if it decided to move forward with an excise proposal. Town board members instructed staff to discuss the issue with Sweet Leaf Pioneer to determine the business’s position regarding the excise tax idea.
When contacted this week, Sweet Leaf Pioneer owner Dave Manzanares noted he was grateful the town board was aware of the impact an excise tax would have on his existing business. However, he also said the overall effect of charging a municipal excise tax would likely discourage cultivation operations from locating in town.
Public Notice publication
The third item under consideration is a proposal to change public notice reporting requirements to allow the town to publish adopted ordinances by title only, rather than by publishing an ordinance in full.
A number of years ago, the town of Vail considered a similar move, but ultimately decided against proceeding with the action.