November ballot questions tackle broadband, economy
October 10, 2015
On the Nov. 3 ballot, Craig and Moffat County residents will have the opportunity to vote on two initiatives geared toward economic development. Ballots will be mailed out on Tuesday and must be submitted to the ballot box at Moffat County Courthouse by 7 p.m. Nov. 3.
To help inform voters, the Craig Daily Press offers this breakdown of the ballot questions.
Override of Senate Bill 152 could boost broadbandOverride of Senate Bill 152 could boost broadband
Override of Senate Bill 152 could boost broadband
Ballot measures 1A and 2A ask whether the city and county may reestablish the legal ability to provide cable television services, telecommunication services and advanced services with public or private sector providers.
The ability to provide these services was restricted by the state legislature in 2005 with the passing of SB 152, which takes away local governments' capacity to engage in the provision of telecommunication services directly or indirectly.
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In putting the question on the ballot, both Moffat County Commissioners and Craig City Council recognized the importance of high-speed broadband networks in developing the local economy.
"Broadband is an economic tool that will help us move forward and attract businesses that normally wouldn't come to Craig and Moffat County because of the lack of infrastructure, broadband speeds and access," Craig Mayor Ray Beck said.
City Attorney Sherman Romney said the simplest way to explain the initiative is that it allows local government to participate in the development of telecommunication infrastructure by giving it the option of forming public-private partnerships.
"We want to be at the table so that we can help negotiate and be involved in the expansion of broadband so that we have better data services available through the Internet, which will help business and education and also private individuals," he said.
Other rural communities across the state suffering from a lack of telecom infrastructure, such as Rio Blanco County, have already passed overrides of SB 152. It is on the ballot in Steamboat Springs this election cycle as well.
Jennifer Riley, chief of marketing and business development for The Memorial Hospital, said THM's reliance on data transfer is a prime example of where better broadband services would come into play
"As a hospital we are huge consumers of broadband services, everything we do anymore is cloud based, we're transmitting images electronically and we use up a huge amount of bandwidth," she said. "There are challenges when we don't have access to that."
Establishing Moffat County's Local Market DistrictEstablishing Moffat County's Local Market District
Establishing Moffat County’s Local Market District
Ballot measure 5A establishes a Local Marketing District that would levy a 4 percent tax on rooms and accommodations in Moffat County.
The projected revenue from the tax is $275,000 in the first year. State statute dictates that the funds must be used for marketing and promoting the county. It cannot be allocated to capital projects.
A sunset clause is included in the ballot question, which automatically sends the LMD back to a vote in ten years. If it is not reapproved, it will expire.
The initial governing body for the LMD would consist of all members of the boards or councils for Craig, Dinosaur and Moffat County. It would be the responsibility of the initial board to form a regular board, which must consist of at least two representatives from Craig and Moffat County and one from Dinosaur.
Under state law, the board is responsible for publishing an operating plan each year, explaining how the additional tax revenue will be used.
Before the resolution was adopted, supporters of the LMD had to collect signatures from commercial property owners representing 50 percent of the total assessed commercial property value in Moffat County — around $18 million.
"The vision of this is, finally, we're going to have an uninterruptable funding stream that we can use for matching grants, we can use to fund economic development, we can use to market our community just like businesses market their business when they need to get more revenue in," said Craig resident and LMD supporter Dave DeRose.
Moffat County Commissioner Frank Moe, who owns Deer Park Inn & Suites, said the majority of hoteliers support the LMD, and he doesn't think the tax would negatively affect his business.
Randy Looper, owner of the Elk Run Inn, said he supports the concept of collecting additional revenue to help the county but he feels that the process is being rushed, which could lead to the LMD being voted down.
"It think it's too short a period, they're throwing things together too quickly," he said. "That's my problem."
Tammie Thompson Booker, corporate director of sales for Mars Hospitality, the company that owns Candlewood Suites, echoed Looper's concerns.
"It's not that we don't support the idea of this — there's too many unanswered questions and Ray Beck and Commissioner Moe can't promise how this is going to end up," she said.
The 4 percent LMD tax would be in addition to the current 1.9 percent lodging tax, which directly funds MCTA, and a 7.15 percent sales tax. The resulting 13.05-percent room tax would be about 1.5 to 4.5 percentage points higher than those in neighboring Steamboat Springs, Meeker or Vernal, Utah.
Reach Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or Reach Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.Reach Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.