Red Cliff to decide on 3 ballot issues next week
What are the issues?
• Question 2F: It’s a temporary property tax increase, intended to raise about $20,000 per year over five years.
• Question 2G: Asks voters to ban any marijuana sales or growing operation in town.
• Question 2H: Seeks an override of state law to allow the town to explore public-private partnerships to improve cable TV, telecommunications or high-speed Internet service.
RED CLIFF — Eagle County’s smallest town is asking the most questions of its voters this year. And, as far as Mayor Scott Burgess is concerned, the shortest question is most important.
That question is ballot issue 2H, which asks voters to authorize town efforts to improve telephone, TV and Internet service in town, “either directly or indirectly through public or private sector partners.”
Burgess said the ballot question is needed because of a relatively recent state law that restricts towns’ abilities to partner with TV, phone or Internet providers.
If the measure passes, Burgess said the town is poised to seek a state grant and negotiate an agreement with a provider. A Leadville-based company that provides broadband Internet service to rural areas has set up a couple of demonstrations in town to show how the system would work.
That system is wireless, and it would require the provider to send a signal to the top of Ski Cooper, then into Red Cliff using a site located on private land just above town.
If the measure passes, the town could have broadband service as soon as this winter, Burgess said.
“If we can get Internet service, that’s the biggest economic development driver we can get,” Burgess said. “It’s far more important than the property tax.”
INCREASE PROPERTY TAXES?
The tax measure asks voters to increase property taxes for five years. If passed, the measure would raise about $20,000 per year. That, Burgess said, could help the town cover current expenses and future needs for the next few years, until county property assessments, and tax revenues, can increase.
A 2013 request for a property tax increase failed, 46-36. That led the town to increase water bills. Residents’ basic water bills rose from $123 per month to $147 — by far the most expensive in the valley.
The town also cut services including street lights. When the street lights were turned off, the light poles also came down.
Burgess said if the current proposal passes, the town will look into replacing the old lights with newer, LED lights on shorter poles.
Burgess said this tax proposal asks for less money over a short period of time.
But longtime resident Barb Bomier said she’s opposed to the tax measure. She said she believes property values in town will rise at the next county re-assessment. The town now has a handful of second-home owners, she said. And the town must operate for just one more year under the current county assessment, which is used to determine property-tax rates. After that, she said, town revenues should rebound on their own.
THE MARIJUANA QUESTION
While she opposes the tax increase, Bomier said she supports a proposal that would ban retail marijuana shops or growing facilities in town. She said she believes a 2013 proposal for a ban might have been worded unclearly.
Burgess said the marijuana question is irrelevant to what’s going on in town at the moment — there are no medical or retail shops in town and no licenses have been applied for.
Town of Red Cliff residents in 2012 voted to approve Amendment 64, which legalized the recreational use and sale of marijuana, and in 2013 approved new taxes for any potential shops. Burgess said he hopes this year’s ballot issue, however it’s decided, will settle the issue once and for all.