Municipalities Matter

Municipalities Matter

Municipalities Matter

Municipalities Matter - Especially on Election Day

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Municipalities Matter

Especially on Election Day

Vote YesVoters want to control their own destiny in our state's great cities and towns. That is my key takeaway.  

In each of the 17 municipalities where a broadband question appeared, voters approved it overwhelmingly. In Fort Collins, the telecom lobby spent close to a half million dollars to defeat such a question - they were given the bronze boot (if you follow CSU football you will understand). So now there are 86 of 86 cities and towns where voters have said yes, and never once, no. Fort Collins voters approved $150 million in debt to move forward with implementation. 

Voters trust their local leaders. In many municipalities, where voters were asked multiple times for tax increases or debt authority, all of the questions received a thumbs up. Examples of this include Boulder, Denver, Lafayette, and Longmont. 

Approved bond proposals total more than $1.2 billion! Denver is a huge chunk of that, but even without counting Denver and Fort Collins, bond proposals still total more than $150 million. Voters are telling their municipal leaders to continue investing in the future. 

Further proof that voters trust their local leaders - extending taxes that were set to expire. In Lafayette, this is an open space tax; in Louisville, historic preservation sales and use tax; and in Boulder, community culture and safety sales tax and utility occupation tax.  

In addition, five of the six cities that asked voters to retain TABOR restricted revenue – either generally, as in Canon City, Leadville, and Salida, or within specific parameters, as in Greeley and Littleton – received approval.  

Voters recognize that local taxes mean local improvements and increased quality of life. Common themes for approved tax extension/increases or bond approvals include: public safety (tax: Durango, Firestone, Longmont, Pueblo; bonds: Denver) and road improvements (tax: Fort Morgan, Rocky Ford, Northglenn; bonds: Denver, Idaho Springs, Lafayette, Lochbuie). Longmont and Hayden approved debt for water improvements. 

Look at the whole range of elections from last week. I am impressed. 

Municipal leaders solve problems, and it is evident once again that local voters trust what Colorado's cities and towns accomplish every day of the year. 

Congratulations!

Municipalities Matter: Shift and Shaft

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Municipalities Matter

Shift and Shaft

Back in the day, when I was still lobbying for CML under the Gold Dome, there was an old parlor game I used to have to play. It was called “Shift and Shaft.” The game was pretty easy to follow: The legislature would try to pass something either preempting or restricting the ability of cities and towns (that was called The Shift), and then municipal leaders would be left holding the bag (that was called The Shaft). People attributed the term to me, and I am happy to take credit. Fortunately, it does not play out as much at the state Capitol these days. We have a strong and positive partnership with state lawmakers. I, for one, appreciate that. A dozen lawmakers at the moment once even served as municipal leaders, and many were active within CML. 

Dark Skies Over CapitolHowever, in Washington, I am sad to say, the game of shift and shaft goes on a lot more, this time under the guise of tax reform. 

Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee released its long-awaited “Tax Cuts & Jobs Act” plan. The proposed tax reform plan aims to streamline the U.S. tax code and create some tax relief for middle- and low-income Americans by reducing the number of tax brackets and marginal tax rates, while expanding family tax credits. 

Unfortunately, these cuts are paid for on the backs of the state and cities and towns in Colorado. Here are five things you need to know. 

 

  1. The overall municipal bond exemption appears not to be affected, BUT. There is an exemption for municipal bonds in the federal tax code. It is a top priority for Colorado municipal leaders to protect it. Currently, the overall tax exemption for municipal bonds is not altered. But ... 
  2. Other types of bond financing are seriously threatened. The tax exemption for newly issued private activity bonds (PABs) is eliminated. This includes financing for important qualified projects and programs, such as affordable housing, economic development, hospitals, educational and cultural facilities, single-family mortgage bonds, single and multifamily housing, and much more. They help spur private investment and allow you to harness the private sector’s experience and engage in numerous public-private partnerships. Part of the PAB annual allocation is overseen by a committee within the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), and the Colorado Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) oversees the allotment of multifamily and single-family housing PABs. The plan also repeals the advance refunding of bonds which are done to achieve interest savings. This makes no sound fiscal sense. 
  3. Pass the SALT I: The property tax deduction survives, but is capped. The National League of Cities (NLC) was able to convince the House leadership from proposing a complete elimination of the state and local property tax deduction (SALT, state and local tax deduction). The plan right now proposes permitting a deduction of property taxes up to $10,000. NLC maintains that any reduction to property tax deductions hurts local taxing control. This could hurt property tax dependent local governments in Colorado, such as school districts. 
  4. Pass the SALT II: Deductions for state and local income and sales taxes (the rest of SALT) is axed. Colorado is not now, nor has it ever been, a high tax burden state by virtue of every statistic available. However, we are a high local sales tax burden state. Cities and towns rely more on the sales tax than municipalities in most other states. We are able to levy the sales tax at a rate higher than the state’s, and for many municipalities on a base more expansive than the state base. It is why we rely less on state-shared revenues. This proposal hangs us out to dry, period. 
  5. Some key tax credits for cities also are eliminated. The Historic Preservation Tax Credit (HTC), which encourages the redevelopment of historic and abandoned buildings, is slated for elimination, along with New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC), which are used to increase the flow of capital to businesses and low income communities by providing a modest tax incentive to private investors. CML supports the preservation of key tax credits such as HTC and NMTC that help revitalize communities. The federal HTC is leveraged with a Colorado HTC, and often is coupled with the historic preservation grants program keyed off of limited stakes gaming in Colorado. Historic preservation programs throughout the state will be dealt a serious blow. The NMTC has been used by several cities in the state to leverage local revitalization efforts through their urban renewal programs. 

 

This is a 429-page bill, the devil is very definitely in the details and fine print. Colorado’s tax base is coupled to that of the federal base. One of the things being altered is the estate tax, and this could have revenue implications for the state’s budget. 

And remember, we have TABOR to contend with as far as addressing revenue losses that might be caused by federal tax modifications. The House Ways and Means Committee (no member of Colorado’s delegation sits on this committee) will likely finish mark up by the time you read this. A vote in the U.S. House is likely during the week of Nov. 13. And, that same week, the Senate Finance Committee is expected to markup and report its version of tax reform. Sen. Bennet is a member of that committee. December will be a critical month to reconcile differences and then to attempt to pass something to President Trump. 

So welcome to Washington’s version of Shift and Shaft. I don’t like it, and neither should you. Please contact Sens. Bennet and Gardner and the members of our House delegation: Reps. Buck, Coffman, DeGette, Lamborn, Perlmutter, Polis, and Tipton. Go to the federal issues link of our web page for their contact information.  

Keep me posted on the results of your contact, and let’s hope we can shelve Shift and Shaft for another day.

Municipalities Matter - Especially on Nov. 7

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Municipalities Matter

Municipalities Matter, Especially on Nov. 7

For fun, I read municipal ballot questions. 

I pretend they are homework assignments, written by cities and towns and graded by voters on election day. My guess most of them will get an “A” on Nov. 7. 

Support for municipal government in our beloved Centennial State remains quite high. It is all about problem solving, and that is what city and town leaders in Colorado and across the nation do best. 

You want to fix a road, repair a broken water treatment facility, build a trail or bike path, or address affordable housing? You will wait a while at the Statehouse, and it will be an eternity in Washington. 

But, at the local level, you will get an answer pretty quick. That is what election day is all about. 

We have nearly 80 cities and towns with ballot measures before local voters. Here are just few interesting ones I am watching (in no special order): 

  • Talk about thinking big - The more than $900 million bond package proposed by Denver for infrastructure and citywide public improvements is huge. Citizen participation and tremendous Mayor Michael Hancock–City Council collaboration framed this issue. 
  • This is matched in importance, though not in size dollar-wise, by Dillon. There, voters will review a $5 million bond issue for workforce housing. This is a critical issue up in the high country. 
  • Then there is just the plain interesting: Should Pueblo keep the council-manager system or go with a mayor-council system? Should a mayor be directly elected and a change be made in how councilmembers are elected in Castle Rock? Will term limits be eliminated in Red Cliff and Wray? Should Boulder continue its pursuit of municipal electrification? The fate of a tax measure may determine the outcome. 
  • Every one of the 69 times since 2005 when asked about municipal broadband, voters have said yes, with rarely below 70 percent in favor. My guess this election day, we’ll see another 16 of 16 pass. Telecom lobby, can you hear me now? 
  • Colorado Springs has struggled mightily to address its stormwater issues involving Fountain Creek. I admire the leadership of one of our state’s best mayors, John Suthers, working with his wonderful council to put forward to voters a modest fee increase to address this significant challenge. He did it with a sales tax increase for streets, and I predict resounding success this time around for stormwater. 
  • While many measures are placed on the ballot via the efforts of the municipal governing body, others are done with citizen initiatives. One example is in Denver, where voters will deal with “green” roofs and solar energy requirements for certain new construction. 

Now, let me vent, and let me thank. 

First, the venting. 

There are a lot of nefarious outside interest groups trying to hijack some of our municipal elections. Municipal governance is about non-partisanship (state law says so) and doing what is right for the community with a broad leadership vision (that is what CML stands for at our core). I wish these groups with narrow interests on both sides of the political spectrum funded by who knows who would go back to where they came from and stay there. Ugh! 

Now, more importantly, to the thanking. 

I have a number of pals leaving the municipal family. I am going to list a bunch of names, and surely will have forgotten a few (apologies in advance). These are women and men who have served with distinction, often anonymously, without aspiration to higher office or for partisan or personal gain. Public service at the municipal level is the highest calling. It has been a pleasure to work for these folks and be on their team. 

So, thank you and a tip of my Rockies baseball cap to: Don Allard (Arvada councilmember, a quarter century!), Steve Nawrocki (Pueblo council president, and a leader in southern Colorado), Kim Dykes (Brush councilmember), Chuck Schonberger (Brush mayor), Walt Magill (Steamboat council president), Bob McWilliams (Fort Lupton councilmember), Rene Bullock (Commerce City council member, the party never starts until Rene has arrived), Dick McClean (Brighton mayor, kind and decent), Tom Norton (Greeley mayor, a political mentor), Bruce Beckman (Littleton mayor), Dallas Hall (Sheridan mayor), Patrick Lawson (Sterling councilmember), Val Vigil (Thornton cpuncilmember, and one of my best friends), Mack Goodman (Thornton councilmember, and we see eye to eye on everything!), Brad Pierce (Aurora councilmember, gentle soul indeed), Barb Cleland (Aurora councilmember, past CML president, a leader, and my pal of very long standing), Gabe Santos (Longmont council member), Dennis Coombs (Longmont mayor, with the best smile in the state), Glenn Michel (Crested Butte mayor), Cathy Noon (Centennial mayor, and “Leader" is her middle name), Matt Appelbaum (Boulder councilmember, my teacher on many things), Lynn Horner (La Junta mayor), Jeffrey Huff (Castle Pines mayor), Alberto Garcia (Westminster councilmember, bleeds Westy through and through - I love it!), Joyce Jay (Wheat Ridge mayor, what a legacy on good things for the Carnation City), Shakti (Lakewood councilmember), and Tom Bishop (Greenwood village councilmember and one of the best investment bankers I have worked with). 

Good luck to all those running for municipal office on Nov. 7. We will have preliminary results on ballot issues soon thereafter. CML newly elected official training will get underway in early 2018. 

I love municipal election day, and I hope you do as well. Please vote.

Municipalities Matter: A Case for an Online Sales Tax

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Municipalities Matter

A Case for an Online Sales Tax

This is a guest post by Lisa Soronen, State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) executive director. SLLC files U.S. Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the Big Seven national organizations, including the National League of Cities (NLC), representing state and local governments. This first appeared in CITIES Speak blog series by NLC

 

Online SalesFor years, local authorities have tangled with online retailers over sales tax collection within communities. But this fall, a new development in a blockbuster Supreme Court case could force the issue into the national spotlight. 

In Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (1992), the Supreme Court held that states cannot require retailers with no in-state physical presence to collect sales tax. Now, the state of South Dakota has filed a petition in South Dakota v. Wayfair asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a challenge to its law requiring out-of-state retailers to collect sales tax. 

In March 2015, Justice Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion, stating that the “legal system should find an appropriate case for this court to reexamine Quill.” Justice Kennedy criticized Quill in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl for many of the same reasons the State and Local Legal Center stated in its amicus brief. Specifically, Internet sales have risen astronomically since 1992 — and states and local governments are unable to collect most taxes due on sales from out-of-state vendors.  

Following the Kennedy opinion, a number of state legislatures passed legislation requiring remote vendors to collect sales tax. South Dakota’s law is the first to be ready for review by the U.S. Supreme Court. In September, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled that the South Dakota law is unconstitutional because it clearly violates Quill and that it is up to the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule it.  

Ruling in South Dakota’s favor will require the U.S. Supreme Court to take the unusual step of overruling precedent. In its petition, South Dakota explains why the court should agree to hear this case and rule in its favor: Quill clearly needs to go. 

When the court considers overruling its precedent, it looks to whether the existing rule: (1) is constitutional or statutory; (2) has engendered reliance interests; (3) has been undermined by changed circumstances; (4) has been consistently criticized as inconsistent with broader doctrine; and (5) has proven “unworkable” or “outdated” with experience. 

Quill fares poorly on every measure. It is a severely criticized, constitutional holding that itself warned when decided that it might later be reconsidered. It is also, in Justice Gorsuch’s words, a “precedential island … surrounded by a sea of contrary law.” And after 25 years of technological progress and economic changes, it has proven entirely out of date. 

At this point, the only thing South Dakota's petition asks the U.S. Supreme Court to do is agree to hear its case. U.S. Supreme Court review is discretionary; four of the nine justices must agree to hear any case. If the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to do so, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruling that South Dakota’s law is unconstitutional will stay in place. 

It is possible the court could hear this case this term — meaning it would issue an opinion by the end of June 2018.

Municipalities Matter: Wildfires Are a Community Design Problem

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Municipalities Matter

Wildfires Are a Community Design Problem

This is a guest post by Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and Yucel Ors of the National League of Cities (NLC); this first appeared in CITIES Speak blog series by NLC

Wildfire Outside Colorado SpringsEvery mayor or city manager has read an article or watched a news clip focused on a community ravaged by wildfire. Many have even witnessed firsthand the economic, environmental, and social implications that wildland-urban interface fires can create in unprepared communities. Every year, these images grow more widespread and familiar. 

For American communities, wildfire should no longer be considered an exception — it is a fact of life. 

Nor should government officials mistakenly assume that wildfire happens only to other communities and not theirs. We should approach the threat of wildfire as a "when" concern, not a "what-if". 

When wildfire enters a community, its path of destruction is fueled by overgrown, diseased, and drought-stricken vegetation. It destroys animal habitats, affects air quality, and quality of life. When wildfire encounters what is called a wildland-urban interface — such as the wooded edge of a populous suburb — it can alter course, burning through homes, businesses, and infrastructure.  

Each of these impacts comes with a price tag, which can quickly add up to tens of millions of dollars. But even more important than structures and money, wildfire may cost the lives of citizens, visitors, and firefighters/first responders. 

The most dangerous kinds of wildfires, which attack communities adjacent to and surrounded by wildlands, are not unique to the West or specific to the Rocky Mountains, as is commonly thought. Most recently, fires in the southeast have become frequent and severe — a glaring proof of threat for every city in the nation. For this reason alone, it is essential that leaders of communities containing wildland-urban interface zones take immediate action.  

Moreover, wildfire damages more than just what lies in its path: the aftermath of a burn is capable of contaminating or incapacitating watersheds. The deposition of ash, soot, and debris in reservoirs, streams, and water supplies for remote communities can prove catastrophic.  

Contaminated water means a temporary or even long-term loss of water supply — which can cripple a community economically. The significant expense of cleaning and rehabilitating, as well as any related lawsuits, is funded primarily by taxpayer dollars. 

Worse, deforestation from so-called "crown fires" can sterilize the ground — leaving soils unable to collect and retain rainwater. This can increase the severity of flash floods and landslides for years. Mitigate or deflecting the damage is costly, and it requires committing both resources and personnel over extended periods of time. Over time, this issue can also cause subsidence issues with existing infrastructure, bridges, and buildings.  

Simply put, fires that reach the wildland-urban interface are bad news. But when a community is prepared, the worst impacts can be avoided. Preparedness and planning are key to mitigating the damage — and community leaders should develop strategies to address the challenges these events impose. 

City leaders can prepare by following simple steps like these: 

  1. Planning and practicing evacuating, as recommended by the Ready, Set, Go! Program
  2. Discussing and planning with local fire and law enforcement officials. 
  3. Examining risks and developing strategies to lower risks. 
  4. Engaging and leading the community in Firewise® strategies, as already described through FireAdapted Communities
  5. Recognizing that fire is part of our natural environment. It is a method utilized by nature to clean and control forest and range lands. Fire is an essential component for the rejuvenation of forests, grasslands, and prairies. As such, similar to how the nation prepares for other natural forces and events, we must respect wildland fire’s power and learn to adapt.  

Strategic wildfire planning does not have to mean clear-cutting or obliterating forested land. It does not necessarily involve unsightly or cost-prohibitive building regulations But it does mean developing awareness and exposing risks, as well as identifying what outcomes are achievable through recognition, preparation, and dialog. 

Properly preparing community leaders for their roles in wildfire planning and development is an essential goal to National League of Cities. There are many resources available to assist.  

About the authors: John Suthers was elected the 41st mayor of Colorado Springs on May 19, 2015. Suthers brings decades of experience in government and management to the City of Colorado Springs. Before being elected mayor, Suthers served as attorney general of Colorado from 2005 to 2015.

Municipalities Matter: Managing Meetings for Civility

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Municipalities Matter: Managing Meetings for Civility

Jon Stavneya guest blog by Jon Stavney, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments executive director

In a recent editorial "We are neighbors not enemies," the Vail Daily praised Town of Gypsum Mayor Steve Carver, who did something quite unusual before a contentious hearing. 

It was a developers' second attempt in 2017 following a hearing Carver later described as full of "hatred and unruly people that just didn't start off good." That first proposal was denied on a 3-3 split vote. Unable to attend that first meeting, Carver, as owner of Big Steve's Towing, was occupied on Vail Pass that winter's night. This summer, the developer adjusted the project by reducing the density and reapplied. That this developer manages some very large rental projects in Avon from which some opponents were proud to have moved their families away from into homeownership in Gypsum, didn't help their case. 

Carver, when interviewed said, "I told the crowd there would be no bad mouthing or cussing; don't address the crowd, the developer, or staff, address the council."  

"In short, the lines were drawn and the meeting was ripe for confrontation," noted the Daily, but before the hearing started, the four-term mayor did something he had never done before. He asked the crowd to take five minutes, stand up up, and introduce yourselves to your neighbors. 

Public hearings, the right to testify, the right to due process for an applicant in a transparent, public process are hallmarks of our civil society that get a regular workout in our local jurisdictions. Yet on many levels, we seem unable to interact without name-calling. Community leaders have a golden opportunity to facilitate that increasingly rare thing - a civil discourse.  

Learning to do so can take learning from painful experiences. How do we respect each other and the process when the decision has no right or wrong answer? The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments had a taste of that challenge recently in Grand Lake where they presided over a complex "208 water quality" hearing with a room filled with well-prepared residents. The attendees showed up on behalf of a single outcome-clearer water in Grand Lake - but with widely varying opinions about the course of action to best achieve that outcome.  

CivilityCivility is also a question contemplated by the City of Craig Mayor Jim Ponikvar who spoke recently at the CML conference about how desperately his community needed to "change the culture and the conversation," which they did through an extended public conversation about an iconic book called Thirteen Ways to Kill Your Community, by Doug Griffiths and Kelly Clemmer.  

Back in Gypsum, Carver's Five-Minute Method provided a coup de grace to incivility at one hearing. 

With the tone of the conversation at fever pitch in social media and in places such as Charlottesville, Virginia, navigating toward civility may just be a local leaders' most important role.

Municipalities Matter: Especially in Washington

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Municipalities Matter

Especially in Washington

U.S. Capitol

I am very concerned with the package of budget cuts proposed by President Trump. Either we have a solid partnership with Washington, or we don’t. Domestic budget priorities always reflect the mood of the White House and Congress on how fairly cities and towns, and their residents, should be treated. 

Let me highlight some spending reductions that really concern me at the moment: 

  • Elimination of the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG). Colorado’s 17 municipalities that receive direct disbursements, known as “entitlement communities,” shared some $27 million in 2015, while the state received nearly $8 million for disbursement to non-entitlement local governments. Cities and towns use CDBG dollars to fund both municipal programs as well as contracting services through nonprofit entities. Housing programs are the major focus, but city council decisions on where to spend CDBG money reflects local needs. Among the wide variety of programs that benefit: public housing, homeless facilities, homeownership assistance, food banks, mental health services, child care services, and senior citizen services. 
  • Reduction of the EPA Superfund program budget by 30 percent. Seventeen Colorado cities and towns are directly impacted by the 25 Superfund sites in the state. 
  • Reduction of Amtrak funding by $630 million to eliminate long distance routes including the California Zephyr and Southwest Chief that serve Colorado. Coloradans board Amtrak trains in Fort Morgan, Denver, Winter Park/Fraser, Granby, Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction, Lamar, La Junta, and Trinidad. The state is working with local governments and Amtrak on plans to expand service to Pueblo.  
  • Elimination of the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes passenger flights to rural areas. Cortez, Pueblo, and Alamosa would lose passenger air service.  
  • Elimination of TIGER transportation grants that have funded such projects as railroad crossing quiet zones in Windsor, Southwest Chief track improvements in southeast Colorado, and North I-25 improvements impacting Johnstown, Loveland, Windsor, and Fort Collins. 
  • Reduction of funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture – Rural Development programs such as the water and wastewater loan and grant program (recent projects include Wiggins, Crook, and Del Norte) and the rural single-family housing direct loan program. 

There also is a threat to the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds. The greatest impact Congress can have on improving our nation’s infrastructure is by retaining the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds. Local government investments in infrastructure financed through municipal bonds are two-and-one-half times that of all federal infrastructure investment. Eliminating or reducing municipal bond tax-exempt status would drive up the cost of financing infrastructure both for municipal budgets and for taxpayers. 

Elimination of the state and local government tax deduction on federal tax returns would result in double taxation for American taxpayers. In Colorado, one-third of taxpayers use it with an average deduction of $2,796. It is not just the top tier income levels making use of the deduction – 40 percent of taxpayers in the $50,000 to $75,000 bracket take the deduction, which has been a fundamental element in the federal income tax code since its inception more than a century ago. 

These are a few items at the moment on my mind. If you agree, I hope you will contact the members of our federal delegation during this summer recess. I have a strong suspicion Sens. Bennet and Gardner and Reps. Buck, Coffman, DeGette, Lamborn, Perlmutter, Polis, and Tipton want to hear from you. 

Let me know the results of your contacts. A continued Washington-municipal partnership is vital.

Municipalities Matter: Happy Birthday to Us

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Municipalities Matter

Happy Birthday to Us!

Colorado flagToday is our 141st birthday. 

I say "our" because Aug. 1, 1876, is when President Ulysses S. Grant approved statehood for The Centennial State. And today, as in everyday, we are Colorado. 

We have so much that unites us in our natural beauty and glory, strong economy, and dedicated leadership at the state and especially at the municipal level. 

And the League is a catalyst to help cities and towns work together for the common good in the spirit of good governance. 

So, today give special thanks for something you really appreciate about Colorado. Let me know what it is - I would love to hear from you!

Municipalities Matter: Leadership Matters Most

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Municipalities Matter

Leadership Matters Most

Inspiration PhotoIt was such a delight to see so many of you at our recently concluded annual conference. It was another record-breaking, successful event. Thanks to so many of you who attended, from all four corners of our great state. 

If you attended, I encourage you to complete an evaluation. This will help us plan for next year’s conference June 19-22 in Vail. 

If you were not able to attend, many of the conference materials are posted on our wonderful website, which I hope you have bookmarked. 

There were two things at the conference which truly energized me:  

 

 

One session focused on climate change and how communities are coping with the issue. The session was packed with municipal leaders from across the state. A question was posed by one of the presenters: How many of you feel climate change is an issue your city or town should be addressing? Every hand in the room went up as near as I could tell.  

In another session, we heard from Craig Mayor John Ponikvar, one of our new mayors, who participated in a session addressing the changing nature of our rural economies based upon some important research conducted by the Leeds Business School at the University of Colorado - Boulder. It was a riveting panel. Mayor Ponikvar acknowledged the changes happening in Craig and discussed how elected leaders can adapt. A terrific session. 

I was not only inspired, but proud CML can be the “go-to” organization bringing local leaders together to explore complex challenges and treat them as wonderful opportunities that can be discussed in a respectful and insightful manner. Inspiring indeed! 

Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke to us, and gave a full throttled endorsement of our beloved state’s potential to do much more in the area of climate change while continuing to grow Colorado jobs and without increasing consumer costs. He is concerned about climate change, I am concerned about climate change, and I have a feeling many of you are, as well. The governor talked about how the state and municipal leaders can work together as partners in this policy arena. 

Earlier this week, Gov. Hickenlooper released an Executive Order on this issue. Three things from the order resonate with me:  

 

  • Developing a statewide electric vehicle plan. A number of cities and towns are facilitating local electric chargers. The state has been an active participant in promoting this. It makes good sense.  
  • Encouraging a robust partnership between the state and municipalities on local-led climate resilience actions. An exchange of best practices across the state is one way to accomplish this with state facilitation.  
  • Working with local leaders from communities especially impacted by the changing energy landscape. I consider this the governor’s most important recommendation. No community should feel left behind, and their desires should be acknowledged, respected, and supported.  

 

There are a number of municipal leaders already jumping in with both feet on the issue. I want to recognize the recent efforts of Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron with the Compact of Colorado Communities Conference; Colorado Climate Network (co-convened by the League and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, of which I am a board member); and, finally, the Colorado Communities for Climate Action, an advocacy organization of county and municipal officials. 

I would like to know how many of you would be interested in exploring ways to partner with the state on the topic of climate change, sustainability, and resiliency.  

If we pursue a state partnership on this issue, what do you think it should look like? Send me an email or give me a shout at the office (303-831-6411 or 866-578-0936). 

I don’t know where this might take us, and I am respectful of the various viewpoints that are out there.  

I do know this, all of you are problem solvers, and I think this is one in which we can make a difference, both individually as well as collectively.  

I will keep you posted. 

Go Rockies and enjoy the rest of the summer!

Municipalities Matter: Supporting Summer Meals

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Municipalities Matter

Supporting Summer Meals

Before you know it, summer will be here and that means a lot of fun in the sun, especially for our kiddos throughout the state. 

Cities and towns do a lot to support programs targeted for children, and I want to put in a plug for one that I think is keenly important and where municipal leaders can play an important role - supporting summer meals programs. 

Kids at LunchDuring the school year, 21 million children receive free and reduced-price meals through the School Breakfast and National School Lunch Programs. But when school is out, many low-income children relying on these school meals go hungry. To fill this gap, the USDA provides federally funded meals through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). This program provides free, nutritious meals to children at approved sites in areas with high concentrations of low-income children. 

The SFSP brings federal dollars into communities in the form of combined reimbursements for meals and operations/administrative costs. Community leaders can help by making SFSP a priority. Empower your various community organizations to champion summer meals and let these groups know that federal funds are available to support their efforts. 

To find summer sites near you, visit Kids Food Finder.

In Colorado, there are 86 program sponsors and 595 meal sites. The number of meals served in 2016 was 1,465,426. Pretty impressive I’d say! Gov. Hickenlooper has declared June National Summer meals for Hungry Children Awareness Month, and one goal of the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) Office of School Nutrition is to increase program access and awareness in Colorado. The CDE Office of School Nutrition collaborates with statewide organizations to help promote the program and connect with community stakeholders to increase food access for families. The statewide marketing campaign includes Denver RTD bus and light-rail advertisements, AMC Movie Theater ads, Family Dollar receipt advertisements, Facebook and Instagram ads, and summer magnets distributed to WIC clinics.   

For more information about supporting a summer meals program in your city or town visit the CDE website or email Ashley Moen

CML is a proud co-sponsor of this effort. I hope you will join in. Let me know.

Municipalities Matter... And So Does Resiliency

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Municipalities Matter

And So Does Resiliency

CML, individual cities and towns, and allied organizations continue working to bring about new collaborative efforts between the state and local governments to make our communities more resilient to climate-change-related risks.  

Two years ago, the state government commissioned an overview study by experts from the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, and other institutions on Colorado’s vulnerabilities to increases in wildfires, floods, heat waves, and other climate change impacts. 

The Colorado Local Resilience Project brought together 78 representatives of 30 local governments, who produced a broad, consensus report outlining a path forward in how local governments can improve their resilience to climate-related risks. 

This call for action asks more local governments to take action in their own communities to improve their local resilience, and for local governments to work together and in partnership with the state and federal governments. Climate-related risks do not respect governmental boundaries, and coordinated actions among all levels of government will be necessary. 

In the past few months, delegations of local officials and staff have had meetings with the governor’s staff and top officials at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade to push collaborative state-local action on several priority recommendations. 

The central message in these meetings has been that local governments are demonstrating leadership in preparing for the potential risks of climate change, but that to be fully effective those efforts need to rest on a strong foundation of state and local collaboration. 

Out of the 36 recommendations from the Local Resilience Project, we have pushed for several practical, affordable priorities: 

  • That CDPHE collaborate with local public health officials and others to determine how climate-related risks can best be factored into state public health programs and regulatory decisions. 
  • That the state government lead a collaborative process, with input from local health departments and others, to assess the existing capacity of state and local health departments to address climate-related risks to public health, and as necessary to develop proposals to fill in the gaps in that capacity.  
  • That a detailed assessment of climate-related risks to natural resources and recreation in Colorado be prepared. This could be a comprehensive study, or it could begin with one or more individual topics. A scientific assessment of exactly how a hotter, drier climate could increase our wildfire risks would be a logical starting point. 
  • That CDPHE take the lead in convening an annual workshop for state and local health officials to learn from experts about the latest information on climate-related risks to public health, and how those risks can be tackled. 
  • That DNR convene similar annual workshops focused on risks to natural resources and outdoor recreation. 
  • That the state government pull together and make available information to help local governments with their preparedness actions, including through a single clearinghouse on climate change, climate impacts, and best practices. 

In these and other ways, the state government and local governments can work together to be much more cost-effective than if everybody tries to tackle these issues alone. 

Local governments, of course, have a unique and crucial role in addressing climate-related risks, just as with any other risks to the safety and prosperity of their communities and residents. The type of local risks posed by climate change may be new. But local government action to reduce local risks has been important for as long as we have had local government. 

Contact me to learn how your city or town might become involved in these efforts or to share the story of what you are already doing.

Municipalities Matter ... In All Areas of Colorado

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Municipalities Matter

In All Areas of Colorado

Colorado MapRemember a few years ago, there was a lot of talk here about various counties across the state seceding to create a 51st state. It died with a thud, but the emotional part of this resonated with me and I blogged about it at the time

I was reminded of this Colorado urban-rural divide debate once again as I was listening to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s State of the State speech last week. I thought it was an excellent speech, which touched upon several important themes. One that he mentioned is “rural” - 15 times. 

I am in the middle of a terrific book premised upon what growing up in rural American means: Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance. It is a riveting story about one young man’s life in Appalachia culminating in his graduation from Yale Law School. This book is helping me to understand many complex things going on in our society right now. It is well written, expressed in a very respectful tone. 

As I have discovered, rural means many things to many people. Demographers will have one way of describing rural, economists another. There is not one single legal definition, and Washington alone has at least 15 different definitions of the word either in statue or regulation. 

As I have said before, rural for me is wrapped up in a sense of community and an attitude of “we just need a hand-up and not a hand out.” There is a strong adherence to individualism, as well as a recognition among the municipal leaders I know so well in rural Colorado that they will reach out and work with other neighboring cities and towns to solve a problem. It is also an attitude of getting things done without fanfare. All these good folks really want in return is to be listened to and have a sense that their voices are heard. 

The Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank branch in Denver recently released an employment trends analysis for Colorado and other states in the Rocky Mountain region. It found that half of our state’s counties still have not recovered the jobs lost when the financial crisis hit us hard in 2008. These rural counties have nearly 3 percent fewer jobs today, while the state’s more urban counties have nearly 12 percent more jobs since 2008. 

We have more deaths attributed to opioid and prescription drug abuse than we do from homicides in Colorado. The most acute problems of abuse have been tracked to more than a dozen rural counties in Colorado. 

There is an information highway divide that exists in this state, most of which involves adequate access to broadband. This is a necessary utility and not a luxury from an economic development standpoint in so many rural areas of the state. 

Our natural resource declines in the state have a had a dramatic impact in places such as the North Fork Valley in Delta County as well as Craig and Moffat County. 

Gov. Hickenlooper laid out several proposals that are worth highlighting as evidence of a strong partnership between the state and municipalities: 

  • He has called for an “on the ground” rural economic development specialist to be located somewhere other than Denver to be the eyes and ears of rural Colorado. The League stands ready to assist this individual. Additionally, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs has in a budget request for an individual to specifically focus on communities impacted by serious natural resource declines. 
  • The governor made an impassioned plea for more financial assistance to communities in need of broadband. He is calling for the creation of a broadband point person in his office to coordinate the many efforts throughout state government. This is a terrific idea. 
  • We need a statewide solution to solve statewide transportation and transit issues; he has called upon the General Assembly to work with him this session to accomplish this. 
  • Finally, Gov. Hickenlooper correctly identified the “fiscal thicket” of tax policy and its negative impact upon both school financing and the state’s general fund. The hospital provider fee gets us there, but more profound changes to tax policy, starting with TABOR, would be even better. 

These are the challenges we face heading into the new year. I think we are up to the task, and I am interested in what you think.

Municipalities Matter: Life Is Better

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Municipalities Matter

Life Is Better

 

Again and again, Colorado cities and towns earn national recognition as “best places to live” and “best places to start a business.” There are many factors behind the popularity of our cities and towns - Colorado’s natural beauty, our educated workforce, and the economic development efforts of our municipalities working with the business community to create jobs. There is another element that is a major factor in the success of our cities and towns: the quality of life features created by municipal governments. 

CML takes a look at this factor in our 2017 State of Our Cities & Towns report, which is based on a survey that measured the depth and variety of “livability” amenities provided by municipal governments. Municipal government has become so much more than providing basic services such as public safety and utilities. The public has demanded and supported the delivery of a long list of amenities that have created the quality of life we enjoy in our cities and towns. 

You can hike city trails during the day (the Golden trail system comes to mind) and attend a performance at the municipal theater that evening. Take your kids to the zoo (perhaps the historic Pueblo Zoo). Take your animals to the dog park. Turn some dirt at a community garden. Sell your crop at the farmer’s market. Learn and socialize at the Wray Public Library. Watch the For Peetz Sake Day parade on Main Street, ooh and aah at the Fourth of July fireworks, or enjoy any number of community events (Alamosa hosts many throughout the year). Fish at the Lamar ponds. Treat your out of town visitors to our rich history in a historic downtown such as Silverton or a local museum like Limon's. Visit parks and recreation centers to swim laps, romp through the splash pad, sign up for softball, or practice yoga. Smell the sage brush in the wide expanse of municipal open space. Ride through Loveland’s North Lake Park on the Buckhorn Railroad or just stand in awe of the beauty of the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. 

Can there be anywhere else in the world where a city program offers ice climbing at one end of town and a soak in the municipal hot springs pool at the other? That’s life in Ouray. 

Municipal facilities, activities, and events create the quality of life that makes our cities and towns the best places to live, work, and raise a family. 

I cannot state it better than Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation Director Karen Palus did in her interview: “Quality of life issues are important to families when you’re making decisions about which community you want to live in and where you want to raise your children.”

Still wondering why you should plan for quality of life? In less than five minutes, one more video will explain it all. I would like to know your thoughts on this matter.

 

Municipalities Matter: Planning for the Future

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Municipalities Matter

Planning for the Future

There was a pop song from the early 1970s by folk singer Melanie that is apropos for what I have to say in this year-end blog. Maybe you remember some of the lyrics: 

I got a brand new pair of roller skates
You got a brand new key
I think we should get together and try them out you see 

Well, we have new desk chairs for the CML staff, and we have two new colleagues sitting in those new chairs. 

Morgan Cullen is the newest member of our lobbying team, joining Kevin Bommer (who expertly directs our statehouse activity), Dianne Criswell, and Meghan Dollar. Morgan has a very strong background in municipal economic development out of Aurora, and also worked for my old pal and fellow Capitol denizen, former Gov. Bill Owens. 

Tami Yellico is our newest chief justice over Colorado municipal law, as our municipal legal services manager. This is a new position I created to provide an even sharper focus on the needs of our esteemed and valued municipal law community in the state. She has a 25-year background in the practice of local government law. As they say, she has the “chops.” 

We are lucky to have them join our family, and I am excited to have you meet them. 

Here at the League, we join your cities and towns in honoring the past while planning for the future. (Look at what Leadville Mayor Greg Labbe and his great city recently did by buying the iconic Tabor Opera House. Leadville wants to preserve its past by investing in its future. This is what I’m talking about.) 

Since 1923, CML has provided advocacy, information, and training for the betterment of Colorado cities and towns. In support of that legacy, we have a strategic plan that guides CML for the future. I am proud of the effort that my staff colleagues and board members have put into it. Honoring our past, we are planning for the future. 

I recently shared my 2017 vision with the CML Executive Board, so very capably guided by our president, Montrose City Manager Bill Bell. Not to be presumptuous, I thought you might be interested: 

  • I am excited to help Tami continue to build a solid foundation for the League within the municipal law area. She has unbounded energy and is brimming with ideas in her efforts to reach out to municipal lawyers statewide, and she will help recommit CML to serve in new and interesting ways the needs of these men and women who we all rely upon for sage advice and direction. 
  • We plan a remodel of the library area, and are calling the project “building for the future.” This is a high priority for me. We plan to construct additional meeting and office space, as well as a recording studio, where we can record our webinars, produce our videos, and expand into other areas, such as podcasts. The architects are lined up and I expect the project to get underway in June. 
  • Our strategic plan will continue to be refined and implemented. We are in its fourth year, and have implemented many changes. It has a focus on advocacy, member engagement, training, research, information, and leadership. Our municipal research revamp with Mark Radtke at the helm is but one tangible result of the plan. I remain totally focused on it. Kudos to Kevin in overseeing it all. 
  • Our municipal research functions should always have a focus on best practices, and I will be searching for new ways to enhance that with our Research Committee, chaired by Buena Vista Town Administrator Brandy Reiter, who is a municipal administrator rock star. 
  • We have a new federal administration, and I am looking forward to forging new partnerships and seeking new opportunities with President-elect Donald Trump on behalf of our great Colorado cities and towns. I personally wish him all the very best of success in his endeavors. And, I hope over time he gets to meet and know the true problem solvers in public service, all of you! 

As we approach the new year of 2017, these are things within the friendly confines of CML that I am looking forward to, and I would love your feedback. As you know, I always enjoy my visits to your communities so let’s plan some in the coming months. 

One final thing, I want to remind you about our Municipal Hero awards program. Be sure to make your nominations by March 3. 

Enjoy a wonderful holiday season, and the very best to each of you in the new year ahead. I value your leadership and support of CML.

Municipalities Matter: Mayors, Broadband, Soda Pop, and Chickens

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Municipalities Matter

Mayors, Broadband, Soda Pop, and Chickens

By Sam Mamet, CML executive director, and Mark Radtke, CML municipal research analyst

We are truly a government “of the people” - and the best examples of the people deciding their future can be found in Colorado’s municipal elections. 

On Nov. 8, nearly 70 cities and towns placed issues or candidates on the ballot. Municipal ballot issues reflect local concerns. Boulder voters approved a two-cents per ounce tax on sweetened beverages, backyard chickens were given the green light in Lochbuie, and voters in Walsenburg decided to disband the police department and contract with the sheriff for law enforcement. 

City council and town board elections were held in 16 municipalities. Among incumbents re-elected were Mayor Mike Waid of Parker, Mayor Jim Haskins of Hayden, and Mayor Markey Butler of Snowmass Village. Voters in Rocky Ford decided to remove three out of five city councilmembers in a recall election. 

One of the biggest issues facing municipalities across the state is the demand for better broadband Internet service. Colorado statutes require an affirmative vote of the people before municipalities can provide or partner with the private sector to provide broadband, a vital service to both commercial and residential consumers. To underscore the importance of this issue to the public - 65 municipalities have now approved broadband ballot issues - 19 of them in this election. Every city and town that has proposed municipal broadband has been given overwhelming support from voters. 

Passage of tax measures was a 50-50 proposition this fall. Among the questions before voters: Boulder approved a two-cent per ounce tax on sugar sweetened beverages; Dacono said yes to a lodging tax to support economic development program; Glenwood Springs extended an existing one cent sales tax; Grand Lake approved a one-cent sales tax increase for streets and sidewalks; Lafayette rejected a property tax increase to finance free ride RTD bus passes for residents; Pueblo rejected a sales tax for public safety and streets, but approved a sales tax for crime prevention and youth programs; Sterling said no to a lodging tax to finance a convention center; and Telluride gave the green light for a sales tax to support San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation. 

Public improvements will be built following the approval of bond issues. Louisville will build a $28.6 million recreation/senior center, while Glenwood Springs approved $54 million for streets and bridges, and Telluride approved $4.2 million for parking improvements and a parking garage. 

Marijuana issues continue to appear on many ballots. In the latest round, sales were approved in Englewood and Palisade and rejected in Del Norte, Federal Heights, Florence, Lochbuie, Palmer Lake, and Simla. Nine municipalities passed marijuana tax issues while four such measures failed.

Municipalities Matter: Colorado’s Affordable Housing Crisis

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Municipalities Matter

Colorado’s Affordable Housing Crisis

By Meghan Dollar, CML legislative & policy advocate, and Sam Mamet, CML executive director

House Sold

For the past five years Colorado has steadily grown in population. Many individuals move themselves or their families to our beautiful state for the weather and outdoor amenities. Who can blame them when Colorado is filled with so many terrific communities? As a result of this population increase, quality affordable housing is becoming harder and harder to find. 

According to the most recent vacancy and rent survey found through the Division of Housing, the average rent in Colorado is nearly $1,300 per month. That is substantial when compared to the average rent in 2011, which was under $800. The average vacancy rate in Colorado is currently 5 percent, which leaves little on the market when it comes to affordability. 

While some may attribute the lack of affordable housing as just a metro area issue, it is clear that housing is an issue statewide. Resort towns have long worked for more workforce housing in their communities, and rural areas face similar issues when they lack viable housing stock.  

CML has long worked at the state level to ensure the budget line item for affordable housing projects within the Division of Housing remains funded. Currently, in the governor’s proposed budget, the state has allocated $2 million to that line item. That will account for roughly 250 new affordable housing units in Colorado in 2017-2018. 

To create even more units, Colorado has reinvested in the state low-income housing tax credit. This program is operated through the Colorado Housing & Finance Authority (CHFA) and has, between 2014 and 2016, contributed to the development of nearly 2,000 units. 

We know this is a top priority for many of our members, so CML is hosting an affordable housing summit on Wednesday, Nov. 9. The all-day seminar will give municipal elected officials an overview of the affordable housing issue and opportunities to fund new affordable housing with speakers from the federal and state level, as well as from communities that have devised their own programs to pursue funding. We look forward to utilizing this opportunity to engage with municipal official on this extremely important topic. 

As we all know, housing is key to a thriving community. We know that municipal leaders across the state are very committed to this issue. We would love to hear from you on how you are addressing affordable housing.

Municipalities Matter - All Politics Remain Local

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Municipalities Matter

All Politics Remain Local

Solving problems is what municipal leaders do best, and that takes vision. On Nov. 8, voters in nearly 70 cities and towns across Colorado will decide the future of their own communities in municipal elections. They will be voting for candidates, as well as deciding the fate of dozens of ballot questions. 

City council and town board of trustee elections are scheduled in 16 Colorado cities and towns, and a recall election for five city councilmembers is slated in Rocky Ford. An additional 52 municipalities have scheduled a wide variety of ballot questions to be decided by voters. 

Broadband
Colorado statutes require an election to allow a municipality to provide broadband service or partner with the private sector to provide that service, and voters in 46 cities and towns already have approved municipal broadband. This fall, 18 municipalities have put the issue on the ballot: Arvada, Aspen, Basalt, Black Hawk, Breckenridge, Carbondale, Cripple Creek, Dolores, Golden, Green Mountain Falls, Hudson, Lafayette, New Castle, Palisade, Parachute, Silt, Superior, and Woodland Park. 

Marijuana
Del Norte, Englewood, Federal Heights, Florence, Lochbuie, Palisade, Palmer Lake, Pueblo, and Simla voters will decide whether to allow marijuana sales.

Marijuana taxes are being considered in Central City, Del Norte, Englewood, Florence, Palisade, Palmer Lake, Parachute, Pueblo, Sheridan, Silt, Thornton, and Yuma. 

Denver voters will decide whether to allow marijuana use in designated consumption areas. 

Term Limits
Two municipalities are exploring term limits: Boulder is asking whether to permit only three terms in a lifetime, while Parachute is asking whether to limit councilmembers to three consecutive terms. 

Tax and Bond Issues
Bond proposals for public improvements are on the ballot in several municipalities: 

 

  • Basalt - $3.1 million for park project 
  • Englewood - $27 million for police building 
  • Firestone - $10.5 million for police building 
  • Glenwood Springs - $54 million for streets and bridges 
  • Hayden - $4 million for streets 
  • Louisville - $28.6 million for recreation/senior center 
  • Telluride - $4.2 million for parking improvements/parking garage 

 

TABOR override ballot questions face voters in Castle Rock, Crested Butte, Fort Collins, Georgetown, Palmer Lake, and Williamsburg. 

Non-marijuana tax proposals will be considered in 33 cities and towns. A sampling: 

 

  • Boulder - a two-cent per ounce tax on sugar sweetened beverages 
  • Dacono - lodging tax to support economic development program 
  • Glenwood Springs - extend existing one cent sales tax 
  • Grand Lake - one cent sales tax increase for streets and sidewalks  
  • Louisville - mill levy increase to construct recreation/senior center and sales tax increase to fund center operation 
  • Lafayette - property tax to finance free ride RTD bus passes for Lafayette residents 
  • Pueblo - sales tax for crime prevention and youth programs 
  • Sterling - lodging tax to finance a convention center 
  • Telluride - sales tax to support San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation 

 

Other Issues
Other issues to be decided include: 

 

  • Edgewater - use of existing park land for the site of a new civic center complex  
  • Lochbuie - allow backyard chickens, ducks, pigeons, and doves 
  • Morrison - ban fuature rooftop patios in the Commercial Transition District 
  • Palmer Lake - allow publication of ordinances by title only 
  • Thornton - police officer collective bargaining 
  • Westminster - firefighter collective bargaining 

 

As ballots are being mailed out statewide this week, voting is not only important at the top of the ticket, but down ballot as well, especially as it relates to cities and towns.

Municipalities Matter: Especially in Leadership

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Municipalities Matter

Especially in Leadership

2016 Mayora

We just concluded our annual mayors leadership summit, a two-day event planned by mayors for mayors. This was its fourth year, and every time it just gets better. 

More than 50 mayors from across Colorado attended and heard from thought leader former Gov. Richard Lamm, political analyst and commentator Floyd Ciruli, and one of the state’s top municipal attorneys, Bob Widner, Centennial city attorney and CML Executive Board member. 

We had a terrific gathering at the Boettcher Mansion, the official residence for the governor, that was co-hosted by various members of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Cabinet. As you know, our incredible governor was Denver mayor. “Once a mayor, always a mayor,” as he has told me a time or two ... or three! 

I want to especially thank the mayors who presented at the summit: 

 

  • John Suthers, Colorado Springs 
  • Joyce Jay, Wheat Ridge 
  • Chuck Hitchcock, Fowler 
  • Ron Rakowsky, Greenwood Village 
  • Wade Troxell, Fort Collins 
  • Cecil Gutierrez, Loveland 
  • Ronn Akey, Wray 
  • Phyllis Norris, Grand Junction 

 

The summit covered topics such as opioid and drug abuse, meetings management, leadership tips, working with city managers (a discussion led by CML President and Montrose City Manager Bill Bell), success stories, and hidden community gems. 

What did I take away from the event? In this rancorous national election for president, it is refreshing to hear from local leaders. These are men and women who serve without partisan favor (holding municipal office under Colorado state law is strictly nonpartisan, and I for one hope it always stays that way). They simply want to solve problems, make their communities better, and work as a team with their councils and staffs. They have vision and passion, and they want to collaborate. Many of them believe in solving local problems regionally. And, they look to CML for guidance and assistance. 

There are more than 1,800 men and women who serve our 272 cities and towns as municipal elected officials in Colorado. Mayors and other municipal office holders help to guide our beloved Centennial State with a steady hand on a daily basis. Their leadership and dedication to public service are both inspirational, and give me continued great hope for the future.

Municipalities Matter: Stop Taxing Water Efficiency Rebates

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By Sam Mamet, CML executive director, and Cynthia Koehler, WaterNow Alliance executive director 

Water Efficiency

The National League of Cities (NLC) and WaterNow Alliance (WNA) are teaming up to ask the White House to clarify that water efficiency rebates offered by our communities to promote resilience and water security should not be considered “income” for federal tax purposes. If you would like to help with this effort, please take a look at the draft letter to the White House that these organizations are circulating online for sign-on by the governing boards and executive staff of public utilities. 

Water conservation and efficiency rebates are a critical tool for municipal leaders and water utilities in encouraging their ratepayers to adopt water saving technology. From “cash for grass” to toilet rebates to support for low water irrigation systems, consumer subsidies have helped local water utilities save millions of gallons of water across Colorado and the nation. However, as conservation rebate programs have grown, the IRS has indicated that it views rebate checks (more than $600) as taxable income, requiring water utilities to issue 1099s to all participating consumers. Taxing water rebates as income is a clear disincentive to people who would otherwise be willing and able to adopt efficiency technology for their homes and businesses. 

NLC and WNA both participated earlier this year in the White House Water Innovation Roundtable, where the administration laid out its commitment to support communities in advancing water saving programs. For this reason, a direct appeal from water leaders – those who bear the greatest burden for ensuring cities and towns have secure and resilient water supplies – may make a difference. A large number of water industry organizations have also weighed in asking the IRS to reconsider its policy. But the administration has yet to hear directly from the leaders of cities and towns most directly impacted. 

To date, more than 65 local leaders from across the West have signed on to the White House Letter. You can view the current list of signatories here. WNA has prepared a policy brief about this issue that you can read here. For more information, contact Cynthia Koehler, WaterNow Alliance executive director, at ck@waternow.org.

Municipalities Matter: Citizens' Academies

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Municipalities Matter

Citizens' Academies

By CML Executive Director Sam Mamet and CML Research Analyst Interns Isabelle Boes and Cassidy Francies

Citizens AcademyIn the CML’s latest Knowledge Now, a publication that explores increasingly relevant municipal trends, CML Research Analyst Interns Isabelle Boes and Cassidy Francies examine the qualities of successful citizens’ academies. 

Citizens’ academies are local education programs that teach residents about the issues faced by their community and how the government and various public safety departments approach these issues. Some academies are about the general mechanisms of local government while others are specific to police or fire department, and there are often youth versions of each type of course. 

While some programs are more than 20 years old, many municipalities in Colorado have recently enacted a citizens’ academy or two and have already seen success in educating residents their communities and improving relationships between citizens and public departments. 

To determine what factors of these citizens’ academies make them so popular, CML surveyed seven in-state cities and towns and two out-of-state municipalities to create a guide for other municipalities looking to enact a program. Survey questions related to funding sources, promotion techniques, accessibility of classes, hands on experiences offered, and challenges that each academy faced and overcame. 

Although each program was unique, CML found that most citizens’ academies built funding into the municipal or departmental budget so that the program was free for residents, with classes offered in the evenings to fit the schedules of working adults with hands-on experience such as a police car or fire truck ride along to spark interest. Many accredit promotional success to social media and its broad range of platforms. 

These approaches can be tailored depending on the size, budget, and type of program and most of the cities and towns surveyed expressed the importance of constantly reevaluating and modernizing the course. 

For more information on the goals and themes of each type of academy, details on how exactly the successful programs became so accessible and popular, and advice on overcoming some of biggest challenges to this project, check out the newest issue of CML’s Knowledge Now. You can also contact me with your thoughts and questions – I would love to hear from you!

Municipalities Matter: Learning Leadership

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Municipalities Matter

Learning Leadership

By Sam Mamet, CML executive director, and Angelica Wedell, National Research Center Inc. marketing and business development coordinator 

Conference Opening Session

Local government employees and public servants work hard to make their cities and towns better places in which to live. So for the last 94 years, the Colorado Municipal League has brought together hundreds of city and town staff and elected officials from all over Colorado to network, learn, and celebrate municipal accomplishments. This year, more than 1,000 attendees gathered in Vail, where the CML annual conference has been hosted many times before. 

This event is a yearly highlight for many attendees, including sponsor National Research Center Inc., who asked a few municipal staff and elected officials what inspires them to serve in the public sector and what they appreciated most about the conference. 

“Coming from the private sector previously, one thing that I really love and appreciate is the passion local government employees have for what they do. It is not just about a paycheck.”
– Julia Holland, Loveland human resources director “Local government is where the rubber hits the road. It’s where we can have a huge impact on a daily basis. When we all work together with elected officials, city staff and the community, great things happen.”

– Mike Bennett, Fruita city manager 

“[In today’s communities] everyone is busy. Not everybody has time to be as involved as they might like to. I’m so happy to represent so many people in my community at the level that I’m able to. I just try to keep those folks in mind and take that responsibility seriously and make myself available and accessible to listen.”
– Stephanie Walton, Lafayette council member 

“I am especially fascinated by planning, which a lot of people find boring. But how can you find it boring when that is what you walk past every day? It’s what you drive through every day. It is what makes your community. What people love or don’t love about their community starts with planning and land use.”
– Melissa Mata, Mead management assistant and Colorado Department of Local Affairs Best and Brightest intern 

“I really like the idea that council members, city managers and local government staff can all learn a lot from different sessions. My mayor is here and he’s going to his council sessions and I’m going to the administrator sessions, and I really like that blend.”
– Brandy Reitter, Buena Vista town administrator 

“I’m still picking up on how [local government] all works. So to come here and learn from all of these people who have been doing it for years has been great. The amount of knowledge in the people here, and their friendliness, can help me in my own challenges.”
– Ken Kreie, Fruita council member 

“I’ve found the conference classes enlightening and useful for future council work. I hope to bring some of this information back to colleagues in Lafayette. I also hope that they continue to have CML conferences in these wonderful environments like Vail.”
– Tom Dowling, Lafayette council member 

“I got a lot of information out of the federal agencies update and how it affects cities and residential programs. And it’s good to network; you see people you’ve met before and you meet some new ones. I’ve really enjoyed that.”
– Duncan McArthur, Grand Junction council member 

Many municipal officials recognize the value of learning to help them in their service to their residents – not just at the conference, but year-round through CML’s workshops and webinars. And CML recognizes their dedication through the MUNIversity program, which provides awards at various levels to outstanding municipal leaders

 If you attended the conference, we thank you. If you missed it, we hope to see you next year for our 95th CML Annual Conference in Breckenridge, June 20-23, 2017.

Municipalities Matter: Keep It Simple

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Municipalities Matter

Keep It Simple

By Sam Mamet, CML executive director, and Geoff Wilson, CML general counsel 

Keep It SimpleKeep it simple, stupid! 

That approach is exactly what guides us in the League's ongoing efforts to simplify the sales tax collection system for a number of home rule cities and towns in the state.

CML’s Sales Tax Simplification Committee, which includes a representative of each of the 69 home rule municipalities that locally collect their sales tax, has completed work on a package of standardized sales and use tax definitions. 

The goal in developing these definitions was to reflect current tax practices so that the definitions could be adopted without a TABOR election. Use of standardized definitions furthers the general goal of simplifying our sales tax system by decreasing the likelihood that a given term will be given different interpretations by various municipalities. The definitions were developed in response to a 2014 request from the General Assembly. 

A subcommittee built upon the already considerable similarity between municipalities in their existing definitions to develop the updated definitions. By reflecting current tax practices, the definitions are intended to provide greater clarity to businesses without causing a revenue loss or gain to the municipality, and without resulting in a change in tax treatment of local businesses. 

Prior to finalization, the package was reviewed by a group of municipal attorneys with a tax focus, and by a group of business tax experts and attorneys. The latter group included representatives of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, Colorado Retail Council, Xcel, Century Link, Simplify Colorado Taxes, and private tax counsel. Following a series of meetings with these business community representatives, a number of changes were incorporated into the package. 

While municipal and business experts alike continued to express concern about use of this or that definition in a particular context, the overall package and its object were widely supported by both groups. 

The definitions package is available on the CML website under Issues > Taxation > Sales Tax. CML encourages adoption of these updated definitions, to the extent that they apply, in municipalities that locally collect their sales tax, provided that the city attorney and tax staff ensure that a TABOR election will not be required. The League plans to periodically update the definitions package to reflect the latest understanding of terms. 

CML wants to acknowledge the outstanding work of Rachel Allen, former CML staff attorney and now senior assistant city attorney for Commerce City. This project involved numerous five- to six-hour meetings of the main drafting group, as well as meetings of various simultaneously working subcommittees. Without her steady hand, this project would not have come to fruition. 

We acknowledge that life is not always simple, yet as municipal leaders we strive to make life a little simpler in the sales tax collection system. 

I would love to hear from you on how you have streamlined procedures and policies to make life simpler for businesses - especially small businesses, which, after all, remain a backbone of Colorado's economy.

Municipalities Matter: A Long and Winding Road

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Municipalities Matter

Long_Winding_RoadLast week, my colleague, Mark Radtke, and I drove to Chicago … and we didn’t even leave Colorado. We came close to a thousand mile journey with our leg of CML’s spring outreach meetings. We started in Limon and ended in Avon. Let me assure you it wasn’t straight across I-70.

We traveled across the Eastern Plains, around the Lower Arkansas Valley, across La Veta Pass and into the San Luis Valley, up and over Wolf Creek Pass and into the Animas Valley, then up and down Red Mountain, Molas, and Coal Bank Passes (XMAS in May, and that is another story) through to the Capitol of the Grand Valley, Grand Junction, and finally to the heart of the Vail Valley, Avon.

We listened to many great stories of cooperation and solving problems. For example, there are a number of MOUs being written between Crestone, Moffat, and work with Saguache for all sorts of public improvements. A great many new infrastructure projects are being built, including parks, trails, and even a whitewater park connected with a wastewater plant in Durango (I think my hearing aids might have been acting up).

The bottom line is leadership in the municipal family is as tall as Pikes Peak and as majestic as the Colorado Monument. It is flourishing in cities and towns large and small.

You get a real sense of the energy and the spirit when you attend these meetings as I have been doing for a few years now. It is inspiring and energizing. Yes, it was a long and winding road, but a good trip and I am proud to work for great municipal officials. I never turn down an opportunity for a visit, so let me know when.

Municipalities Matter: Getting the Facts Right

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Municipalities Matter

Getting the Facts Right

By Sam Mamet, CML executive director, and Geoff Wilson, CML general counsel 

Dragnet“Just the facts, ma’am…. just the facts,” Sgt. Joe Friday would always invoke on the 1950s TV series “Dragnet." 

In the spirit of Sgt. Joe Friday, we want to present just the facts on two very important decisions that recently came forward from the Colorado Supreme Court. They have been subject to extensive social media chatter, which is generally long on spin and not much else. 

The unanimous decisions written by newly appointed Justice Richard Gabriel held that two citizen-initiated ordinances, one banning and one imposing a lengthy moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), were preempted by state law. Fracking refers to a process utilizing high-pressure injection, generally over a mile underground, to extract crude oil from shale, and has been a source of political controversy in some quarters in recent years. The court considered a ban initiated by Longmont voters and a five-year moratorium initiated by Fort Collins voters.

In narrowly focused decisions, the court held that both ordinances were preempted because of “operational conflict” with the application of the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Act (the court treated Fort Collins’ five-year moratorium as amounting to a ban). 

The court first took the opportunity to clarify its jurisprudence concerning determination of home rule jurisdiction, on the one hand, and preemption in the event of conflict, on the other. The court then applied a fairly conventional analysis to the facts before it. 

After treating the extensive state regulations concerning fracking as indicating the state’s interest in uniformity of regulation, the court applied additional familiar criteria, such as the extraterritorial impact of the local fracking bans and the traditional locus of regulation, to conclude that the regulation of fracking by a home rule municipality is a matter of “mixed state and local concern.” As to matters so classified, the court explained that “a home-rule city is similar to a statutory county or town because in both cases, the validity of the local enactment turns on whether it conflicts with or is preempted by state law.” This has been a standard analysis for a long period of time. 

Turning to the preemption portion of its opinion, the court again applied a familiar analysis. As the General Assembly has never expressly preempted local authority in the oil and gas area, the industry and the state argued for invalidation of the municipal fracking ordinances based on “implied preemption,” a broad and categorical form of preemption. Adoption by the court of such rationale could mean elimination of existing municipal authority over a wide variety of oil and gas operations, potentially well beyond simply hydraulic fracturing. 

Needless to say, we were not happy with this argument, particularly as put forward by the state, who we view more as a partner with local government interests. This is why CML maintains such an active “friend of the court” or amicus curiae presence in our state courts. The statewide implications of a case are as equally important as decisions of a state regulatory body or the General Assembly. We maintain an amicus committee of prominent municipal attorneys to help guide the League in terms of what briefs ought to be filed on behalf of all cities and towns. 

Accordingly, the entire focus of CML’s brief was to urge the court not to invoke implied preemption in making its decision. We were thus pleased that the court soundly rejected reliance on implied preemption and declined to water down that standard to facilitate its application in this case. Additionally, in this portion of its opinion, the court specifically rejected the related (and oft-made) argument that local governments are categorically preempted from regulating “technical” matters relating to oil and gas production. Indeed, after citing legislative history provided by CML, the court declared that, rather than intending implied preemption, “the General Assembly has recognized the propriety of local land use ordinances that relate to oil and gas development.” An ordinance not expressly or impliedly preempted may still be preempted by “operational conflict” with a state interest. 

In what may be the most significant part of these opinions, the court clarified that determinations of such conflict will not involve an “on the ground” examination of the facts, but rather a facial comparison of the regulations at issue: 

[W]e will analyze an operational conflict by considering whether the effectuation of a local interest would materially impede or destroy a state interest, recognizing that a local ordinance that authorizes what state law forbids or forbids what state law authorizes will necessarily satisfy this standard ... [S]uch an analysis requires us to assess the interplay between state and regulatory schemes. In virtually all cases, this analysis will involve a facial evaluation of the respective statutory and regulatory schemes, not a factual inquiry as to the effect of these schemes “on the ground.” 

Citing the fact that the operational effect of both ordinances was to materially impede the effectuation of the evident state interest in the uniform regulation of hydraulic fracturing, as well as prevent operators that comply with all the state rules from utilizing fracking, the court held the ordinances preempted. 

The full effect of the court’s recasting of the operational conflict test remains to be seen. It is worth noting that both of the ordinances at issue in these cases involved the local government actually “forbidding” something; not addressed in this decision are regulations that do not amount to an outright prohibition of state-regulated activities. 

In this regard, the court, elsewhere in its opinion, reaffirmed an earlier holding rejecting so-called “same subject” preemption, declaring that “a legislative intent to preempt local control over certain activities cannot be inferred ... merely from the enactment of a state statute addressing certain aspects of those activities.” 

On the political front, these two court decisions now focus attention toward statewide ballot measures. Indeed, several such proposals are surfacing, and the industry is building a war chest to defeat them. How they will fare in the court of public opinion is anyone’s guess at this early juncture. Which if any of these measures will actually reach the fall ballot for a statewide vote will not be known until August when the Secretary of State certifies ballot measures. The League itself will address them after that if they indeed qualify. 

In the meantime, we think Sgt. Joe Friday would be pleased. You now know the facts as it relates to the legal aspects of these opinions. When it comes to local control, that is a matter of political discourse. When it comes to home rule, that is a matter entirely of constitutional law interpretation in Colorado.

Municipalities Matter: Cities Just Want to Have Fun

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Municipalities Matter

Cities Just Want to Have Fun

Trinidad from AboveWhen I was in grad school, I read and re-read The Death and Life of Great American Cities because I was in love with all things related to urban affairs and city management. The author, Jane Jacobs, properly questioned every basic tenet of city planning, and her fights with Robert Moses in New York City were the stuff of legend. The book was first published in 1961, and it is still very valid. 

Jacobs firmly believed that, at their core, cities are living organisms. They change and morph into new things all the time. No city or town remains static for long; if it does, it will wither away. 

One way to stay vibrant is to engage in urban planning that promotes fun - cultural places, parks, open space, areas for families to congregate. Do not build sterile buildings, streets, and public facilities. Take a look at this link about her work and impact

I thought of Jane Jacobs during my recent excursion down to Trinidad. Whenever I go to Trinidad, I feel that I am in the epicenter of Colorado history and that I am in a place where the real West still exists. This is one of our cities that has long sought to preserve its character. The people are terrific and the cultural heritage is vibrant … and the future is bright. I am amazed at what is going on there. 

Its latest efforts focus around “Space to Create,” a Boettcher Foundation-supported initiative. Plans call for artists studios and 12 to 20 residential units in three historic buildings on Main Street. Corazon de Trinidad has been a designated Creative District by Colorado since 2013. 

Noted Denver developer Dana Crawford, along with a number of committed residents, are all lending their expertise and leadership to this effort. There has been great cooperation with Las Animas County and the utilization of the Trinidad Urban Renewal Authority. 

Cindy Lauper recorded “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” in 1985. It was a smash hit on the pop charts for months. Well, I would submit municipal officials like Trinidad Mayor Phil Rico, his fellow councilmembers, City Manager Gabe Engeland, and Community Development Director Tara Marshall just want to have fun … exactly how Jane Jacobs envisioned. 

I’d like to hear from you on how you celebrate fun in your city or town.

Municipalities Matter: Elections Bring Change

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Municipalities Matter

Elections Bring Change

This past Tuesday, we had nearly 120 cities and towns across the state hold regular elections, along with numerous local ballot questions

The elected leadership of many communities will now experience change with new mayors, trustees, and councilmembers. Change is constant in the municipal world. 

Another constant appears to be the faith that local voters have in their cities and towns. Question after question focusing on public investments (whether through increasing taxes, permitting broadband, or establishing home rule), citizens said “yes” far more often than not across the state. I feel that faith and trust in municipal government is strong and unwavering in Colorado. 

This is a testament to another constant. We are blessed with strong and visionary leadership among elected officials in tandem with effective guidance from city managers and other top municipal administrators. They all have their steady hands on the wheel of good municipal governance. 

To the newly elected members of our grand and glorious municipal family, congratulations! CML is your home and you are welcome anytime. Next month, we will be meeting municipal officials on a road trip across the state and we urge your attendance.

When I was speaking to the Greenwood Village City Council recently (visits to city councils and town boards are something I love to do - let me know when I can come), the great and all-knowing Mayor Ron Rakowsky handed me two pieces of paper that each councilmember, as well as the mayor, has before them at every meeting. While these “expectations” may not be in all respects entirely applicable to your governing body, there are takeaways in these statements every city and town in the state can use. I would like you to consider that. 

Finally, one other thing is constant, and that is the League. We always have been and always will be here to serve you.