Basalt officials try to spur interest in home rule government election | AspenTimes.com

Basalt officials try to spur interest in home rule government election

Basalt starts a mail ballot election this week which will determine whether the town keeps its current form of government or switches to a type that proponents say gives more local control.

The good news for proponents is the election has stirred no opposition. The bad news is it hasn’t stirred much support, either.

An earlier election in Basalt also suffered from lack of interest. The Town Council election in April was canceled because three candidates ran unopposed for three open seats.

Town and civic leaders are trying to spur interest in this latest election by noting the big implications for the town. They say changing to a home rule style of government gives the town flexibility in dealing with everything from how many positions are on the Town Council to whether special taxes can be proposed.

Basalt currently has a statutory government whose powers are defined by the state constitution. If voters approve a change in the May election, a commission would draft a charter over the next 120 days that proposes redefined powers of the new town government.

That charter is essentially a town constitution, according to town attorney Jody Edwards. It cannot overrule state law on issues of statewide interest, but it can help dictate how Basalt deals with development applications, for example.

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The proposed charter would go before voters later this year for adoption or rejection.

Aspen, Snowmass Village and Glenwood Springs already operate under a home rule charter. Carbondale, like Basalt, operates as a statutory government, though Carbondale also plans to place the change before voters.

Edwards said about 90 percent of Colorado towns and cities have switched to home rule. None have changed back, he said.

One of the biggest changes in a home rule style of government is flexibility with taxes, according to Edwards. Basalt is currently at its state maximum of 7 percent sales tax. It isn’t allowed to implement special levies like a telecommunications utility tax or a bed tax on lodging.

Under home rule authority, Basalt could ask its residents if they wanted to increase the sales tax or implement the special levies. Home rule status doesn’t automatically give the government the authority to create new taxes. It just grants the authority to propose those taxes.

Edwards noted that civic leaders have been working on a way to bring high-speed Internet access to town, but have found high costs to be a barrier. A telecommunications utility tax could help implement that service.

Town Councilwoman Anne Freedman said officials would also like to investigate a bed tax to raise revenues for purposes yet to be identified. The bed tax could be applied to a 150-room hotel proposed in the Willits subdivision, she said.

Even if it changed to home rule, the town would be unable to apply a real estate transfer tax because it has been banned by the state constitution.

Basalt’s official election date is May 21, but the mail ballots will be sent out to registered voters this week. The only way to participate in the election is through the mail ballots.

In addition to voting on whether the home rule style of government should be pursued, voters will select a commission. Eleven candidates are running for nine positions.

If voters give the concept a green light, the commission has until Sept. 18 to prepare a proposed charter. Another election would be held Nov. 5 to see if voters accept that charter.

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