City of Aspen says Amendment 74 would cripple local government

City Manager Steve Barwick on Monday warned council members of the impacts Amendment 74 would have on their ability to legislate and the potential hit to taxpayers if voters approve the ballot measure this fall.

The ballot question asks Colorado voters to amend the state Constitution that requires local governments to compensate a property owner if a law or regulation reduces the fair-market value of his or her land.

“If approved, it would give compensation to any property owner on virtually anything due to any government action or inaction … any ordinance, any zoning change you make, any paving or failure to pave a street, any changes in bus routes, any setback variances you give to a next-door neighbor,” Barwick told council. “Anything under the sun is eligible for a lawsuit for any amount they can demonstrate to the courts that government action has changed the value of their property.”

Douglas Bruce, the registered agent for the committee that supports Amendment 74, said the measure simply protects private-property owners from overzealous government officials and does not address public property such as roads and bus routes.

“This is designed to restrain the berserk tendency of government to regulate private property,” he said Tuesday in a phone interview. “One of the principles of society, certainly in America, is you have to be responsible for your actions and government must feel the consequences of its actions.”

Bruce is the author of Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), which is a spending limitation measure approved by voters in 1992.

Aspen City Council has been briefed about Amendment 74 in a packet of information distributed by the Colorado Municipal League, which is opposing the measure.

“Litigation costs will be significant, and definitely affect city and town budgets in a manner that existing programs and services may well be constricted or eliminated,” reads the CML’s website about Amendment 74, which notes that it’s a reaction to the setback proposal for energy companies included in Proposition 112. “Impacts upon municipal decision-making will be extensive and damaging. … This is all about specific oil and gas producers protecting their bottom line at the expense of Colorado’s citizens.”

Barwick told council that he will prepare more information and give it to council for its consideration in passing a formal resolution opposing the ballot question.

Councilman Adam Frisch said sometimes that can backfire. For instance, the public may rally around an issue if the government is against it. But he said he agrees that Amendment 74 is bad for local governments and towns.

“This would obviously be devastating for a lot of different things,” he said. “This is probably the most anti-establishment piece of legislation anyone can come up with.”