Amendment 66, secession among topics for Moffat County voters
October 12, 2013
Craig — Moffat County citizens can perform their civic duty come November and vote on state, county and municipal issues. While the 2013 coordinated election hasn't exhibited the same frenzy as a general election, there still are some hot topics that have riled up Moffat County and Colorado residents.
Mail-in ballots for the November election will go out starting Tuesday to voters around Craig and Moffat County. Among the issues for which residents will be voting for or against are state educational funding, local term limits and potential county secession.
Amendment 66 is a proposed piece of legislation to the Colorado Constitution that would provide an estimated $950 million annually for the Colorado school districts.
Under the amendment, a two-tiered tax increase would be implemented in January 2014, raising the flat tax rate of 4.63 percent for state income taxes to 5 percent for those with an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less and 5.9 percent for incomes of more than $75,000. The rate would be an 8 percent increase for the first tier and 26.6 percent increase for the higher income tier.
For example, an individual whose income is $50,000 would pay an extra $132 each year, and someone making $100,000 would pay an additional $252. Overall, the annual funding for Colorado public schools would rise from $5.5 billion to $6.4 billion.
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The amendment also stipulates that 43 percent of state excise, sales and income taxes will be placed in the State Education Fund each year.
At the local level, the Moffat County School District would receive an estimated $2.88 million of additional revenue annually, an increase of about $1,000 per pupil.
Tinneal Gerber, finance director for MCSD, said the district should have received about $8.77 million in additional funding between the 2010-11 and 2013-14 school years under the previous legislation, Amendment 23, which established a base amount per pupil in each district which has been adjusted for inflation since being enacted.
"There was a recision that the state had to put in place because of budget issues," she said.
The per-pupil funding model set by Amendment 23, the Colorado Funding for Public Schools Act, will be altered under the terms of Amendment 66, allowing the terms of Senate Bill 213 — passed in May — to take effect and reorganize how Colorado schools are funded in programs such as At-Risk, English as a Second Language, Special Education and Gifted and Talented.
Among the differences of the new system is the state directly providing funding for full-day kindergarten and preschool for eligible children ages 3 to 4 within all school districts, releasing district budget money for other purposes.
The Colorado Count Day that determines the amount of funding each district receives based on one day of attendance numbers will be replaced during the 2017-18 school year by a count that determines enrollment more frequently throughout each year.
The concerns about Amendment 66 include the impact the tax increase — applicable to personal income taxes — would have on the business community such as sole proprietorships, S corporations and partnerships filing as individuals and the fact that school districts will not see any money brought in from the increase until the 2015-16 school year.
Opponents of the amendment have argued that a majority of the funds could or will be used for the Public Employees' Retirement Association of Colorado.
The language of Amendment 66 specifies that any money collected for the State Educational Achievement Fund be used for "implementing educational reforms and programmatic enhancements."
However, at least a portion of these funds will go toward PERA, as it will for regular educators' salaries.
"We have the responsibility to put that money toward PERA, but will it be onerous or different than it was before? No," Moffat County School District Superintendent Joe Petrone said. "It's not going to be any dissimilar."
Moffat County joined the 51st State Initiative, a county-led movement to secede from the state of Colorado. Currently, 11 counties are working together to become the 51st state.
Moffat County Commissioners voted, 2-1, to put the question on the ballot in late August, and there have been voices of support and dissent for the measure.
Craig City Council unanimously came out against the measure at its meeting Tuesday, but council members had spoken against it beforehand.
"I can't believe we're talking about this. I find it insulting, personally," Councilman Gene Bilodeau said. "We appear to be the spoiled child in the group. Most of us are choosing to live in rural Northwest Colorado."
With that choice, he said, come challenges that people should work on overcoming instead of seceding.
Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid, who introduced the idea to Moffat County, disagrees with that sentiment.
"Rural Colorado is indeed under attack from the Denver and Boulder elite. People have moved here from out of state and landed in the Front Range," Kinkaid said. "I like Colorado, but people are bringing ideas from California, and this isn't working."
Detractors have remarked on the infeasibility of secession, but supporters said that it can be effective as a statement to the state government.
If Moffat County were to vote to secede, it would lead to a lengthy process that would involve collaboration between county commissioners in the counties who voted for secession, state legislators, the governor, U.S. legislators and the president of the United States.
If Moffat County voted in favor of the measure, the county wouldn't immediately secede. The ballot language just asks voters whether they want county commissioners to pursue the question of secession. That means commissioners would bring the issue to a state legislator to sponsor a bill. If a bill were sponsored, it would have to be approved in the state House and Senate and signed by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. Then that legislation also would have to be passed in the U.S. Senate and House and signed by President Barack Obama.
If Moffat County successfully seceded with the 10 other counties involved, several state monies would be in question. Because the 51st state would have to write a new constitution, many specifics are unknown.
• Water rights: "The (city of Craig's) water rights are … established by the state of Colorado," said Craig's water attorney, Mary Elizabeth Geiger. "Colorado is part to an interstate contract. A 51st state would not be party to that." But 51st State Initiative Executive Director Jeffrey Hare said the Supreme Court already has decided that states can't withhold water from other states. "This concept of the rights being eroded is a misunderstanding. Water is private property. One state cannot impede the flow of water to another," he said.
• Highway management: Roads have been a point of contention between rural Colorado and the Front Range for decades. Since the counties pushing for secession are rural, transportation issues for the 51st state would be different from what they are now. The city of Craig now receives $300,000 from the state for road management, City Manager Jim Ferree said. It's unknown how the 51st state would finance road and highway management. It could prove to be problematic for rural counties with state highways, said Amy Ford, communications director for the Colorado Department of Transportation. If Moffat County were to secede, "the maintenance, snow plowing, improvements on any state-owned highway or bridge would not be done by the state anymore," she said.
• Taxes: The state provides a severance tax to Moffat County for coal produced. The property tax from coal mines would go back to the 51st state and not be subject to Colorado property taxes. But the county would stop getting the $812,000 in severance tax.
• Boundaries: The boundaries of the 51st state would be oddly shaped. Hare admitted that if not all counties voted in favor of secession, it would be a "setback." Any new state needs to be contiguous, he said, so even Moffat County being involved will prove challenging as far as drawing boundaries goes. "We'll be drawing the boundaries to make the state contiguous," Hare said.
One of the criticisms, Ferree said, is that little research has been done to see how a 51st state would function.
But many in the secession movement see this referendum as a way to gain a voice in the state Legislature and don't see secession as the probable or even ideal outcome.
"This is about trying to have more influence at the state Capitol," Kinkaid said.
Term limit extensions
The issue of extending term limits from two terms to three terms has been on the table in Moffat County before. A similar question was on the ballot two times in the past — both were turned down. In 1996, term extensions were divided up much like they are on the 2013 ballot, but it was voted down. Then in 2002, it was put on the ballot, but all the positions were lumped together, meaning that if someone wanted to extend the county sheriff's term limits, they would have to vote for county commissioners to get the same extension.
Nancy Hettinger brought the issue before Moffat County commissioners on July 2. Her experience working in the Safety Center factored into it. Sheriff Tim Jantz is doing good work, Hettinger said, and he should have the opportunity to remain sheriff for another four-year term.
"Tim (Jantz) is doing an excellent job, and I think the county needs him for another four years," she said. "We need our county officials. They should be in there to do their job."
Carol Beumer worked with Hettinger to get the question on the ballot and said it was important for small communities to hold on to qualified officials longer.
"There are some of these positions where very few people would be qualified," Beumer said. "The longer you have the right person in there, the better it is."
Officials still would be up for election at the end of each term; they just would get an opportunity to keep their job for four more years.
This shouldn't extend to county commissioners, Hettinger said. She thought this was more appropriate for high-skill offices where there weren't a lot of people to draw from anyway.
"I put the commissioners on there because I think the voters have the right to turn that down," she said.
Term limit extensions that will be on the ballot include:
• Moffat County sheriff
• Moffat County clerk and recorder
• Moffat County treasurer
• Moffat County assessor
• Moffat County commissioners
• Moffat County surveyor
Shadow Mountain improvement district
The Shadow Mountain modular home development, built in the 1970s, has a deteriorating water and sewer system. Director of Moffat County Development Services Roy Tipton introduced a measure to increase the county debt to pay for improvements in Shadow Mountain.
The cost to Shadow Mountain residents would be about $4,300 per resident, and they could pay it back to the county with about a $20 payment on their utilities bill per month, but Tipton said the cost of not voting on this would be much greater for individuals if their pipes broke.
"If we don't do this and your lines fail, you will have to replace it," he said. "That costs close to $10,000."
City Manager Jim Ferree agreed that it was an essential project that needed collaborative support from the county, city and residents. It is necessary just to get the pipes up to standard.
"The water lines are not capable of providing standard fire pressure," Ferree said.
The county has been setting aside money for this project for two years, Tipton said. If the improvement district measure doesn't pass, then that money will be allocated toward other projects.
"If it doesn't pass the money the county set aside for this project for two years, that money would be set aside for other projects," he said.
Getting the ballot measure approved also likely would mean more grant money from the Department of Land Affairs, Tipton said. If it doesn't pass, it would be harder for the county to make a case to DOLA for grant money.
Only residents of Shadow Mountain can vote on the improvement district measure.
Amendment 64 passed in the 2012 election, decriminalizing the retail sale and possession of recreational marijuana, and it came with an excise tax of 15 percent. Any new tax needs to be approved in an election, though, so in the 2013 election, voters will decide whether they want to impose the tax on retail marijuana, directing a significant portion of the revenue toward schools.
Fifteen percent of the revenue from the recreational marijuana sales tax — sales tax on marijuana is 10 percent — will be redistributed to cities and counties that allow it to be recreationally sold.
On Aug. 27, Craig City Council voted to ban the sale of recreational marijuana, so the city initially will not benefit from that tax revenue unless council decided to lift the ban.
Town of Dinosaur to vote on allowing sale of retail marijuana
The town of Dinosaur decided to ask voters whether they wanted to allow the sale of recreational marijuana within town limits. Whereas Craig City Council decided it was clear their electorate had voted Amendment 64 down, Dinosaur decided to put the question on the ballot.
The town council decided to put it to the voters to empower citizens, Town Councilman Richard Blakley said.
"There was a council member who thought it should be put to a vote. Rather than have a big battle and everybody having a big fit, we decided to put it to the voters," he said. "I feel as voters and as a citizen, we have no voice anymore."
If it's allowed and Proposition AA is passed, Dinosaur will receive tax revenue from the sale of recreational marijuana.
But Blakley said he hoped it wouldn't pass because he thought it would cost more for law enforcement.
"We don't need any more (marijuana) than we already got," he said.