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Huerfano County leaders view election options facing city and towns

by Bill Knowles

WALSENBURG- With the state economy and local economy under stress, leaders from across Huerfano County met at the Huerfano County Community Center on Aug. 9 to discuss issues that will affect the area over the next decade.

    This November voters will decide several propositions.  One will be asking the voters to approve tax cuts; another will ask if the electorate desires to hobble the ability of state counties and municipalities to create debt.  Yet another will require voters to deal with the idea of regulating and taxing medical marijuana dispensaries.

    Proposition 101 is the measure that proposes to cut registration, license and title fees to $10 per vehicle, reducing transportation revenues by $164 million. 

    Proponents intend that measure to impose lower spending limits on all cities and counties in Colorado, and, if approved, it will.  The total amount in spending cuts amounts to about $1.7 billion according to a study released by the Bell Policy Center.

    Losses in vehicle and property taxes would directly impact K-12 and higher education in the state further increasing budgetary distress in the state’s educational system.  If this proposition receives voter approval, it would also directly impact the maintenance of the state’s road system. 

    For example, Huerfano County has 663 miles of roads to maintain.  These roads are bladed and graveled.  Cuts in taxes will make caring for these roads nearly impossible.  Sheriff and ambulance services will also suffer.

    Amendment 61 calls for a change in the way local governments may borrow money.  These activities would have to be approved by voters in a November election.  Local borrowing would be seen as bonded debt and would have to be repaid in 10 years. 

    Currently local governments use Certificates of Participation, lease-purchase and other forms of borrowing. These can be entered into without voter approval, and this initiative will make it more difficult for local government entities to use these mechanisms to borrow funds.

     In addition, local governments would be required to cut their tax rates equal to the average annual amount they pay on their debt after the debt is paid off, even if the debt is not being paid with tax revenue.  These are characterized as “voter-approved revenue changes,” thus lowering the local TABOR revenue limit.

    The maintenance of schools would also take a hit.  Certificates of Participation are the funding mechanism currently used to renovate, repair and replace K-12 schools throughout the state that have been diagnosed with major structural problems.  Under Amendment 61, this method of financing school maintenance would be prohibited. This work improves the health and safety of Colorado’s school kids.

    The November ballot will also see a measure asking Huerfano County residents about the taxing and regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries as well as the forms of marijuana that will be used.  Currently the city is drafting an ordinance looking at the issue of taxing and licensing of dispensaries.  The county will place a measure on the ballot by Sept. 3.