Sen. Schwartz, Pitkin County commissioners talk shop
June 22, 2010
ASPEN – Renewable energy efforts, property tax relief for senior citizens and a statewide zoning exemption all garnered attention Tuesday when Pitkin County commissioners sat down with state Sen. Gail Schwartz.
The Democrat and Snowmass Village resident is busy touring her sprawling legislative district, and was headed to Gunnison after the morning session in Aspen.
With Patti Kay-Clapper absent, the four remaining commissioners all offered issues they’d like to see the Legislature address.
Commissioner Jack Hatfield urged Schwartz and the state, in their zeal to champion renewable energy, to ensure local governments retain some regulatory teeth. In particular, Hatfield voiced concern about the potential for glare with solar panel installations – an issue that impacts neighbors when panels are added to an existing home.
“There has to be an ability to draw the line,” he said. “You want to be able to have some say.”
Schwartz urged the county to provide incentives for investment in solar collectives – installations in which citizens can invest rather than installing their own panels.
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Overall, though, Schwartz said the state is at the forefront in its push for renewable energy to stimulate jobs and reduce dependence on energy derived from fossil fuels.
Commissioner Rachel Richards asked Schwartz to use her influence to remove a federal-level stumbling block to the county’s Energy Smart Loan Program. The initiative is on hold because mortage underwriters are refusing to underwrite loans that have an Energy Smart assessment for an energy project attached to their property taxes.
Legislators are aware of the issue, Schwartz said, predicting a resolution to the impasse.
Commissioner Michael Owsley pressed for property tax relief for senior citizens living on fixed incomes, noting taxes for land-rich, but cash-poor Pitkin County residents threatens to drive the community’s “wise elders” away.
“I just hate to see people who’ve invested their entire lives in a community to be forced out by escalating property taxes,” Owsley said.
Eligible senior citizens can defer their property taxes, passing the cost on to their estate when they die, Schwartz noted. The cash-strapped state dropped the Homestead Exemption for seniors, which allowed for a reduction in the actual value of property, because it was costing roughly $90 million a year, the senator said.
She also questioned whether local taxing districts were prepared to lose tax revenue.
For a second year, Commissioner George Newman took issue with the state’s 35-acre exemption, which allows development of 35-acre lots by right, without further, local zoning approval. Front Range sprawl and loss of agricultural lands are a result of the rule, he said, and Schwartz did not disagree.
There are a whole spectrum of issues tied up in the 35-acre exemption, she said.
Richards also took the opportunity to praise Schwartz for “standing tall” when the state beefed up its oil and gas regulations to bolster environmental protections. The county is currently trying to do the same.
“I can’t thank you enough for that,” Richards said, noting the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We do have some of the more thoughtful rules in the nation,” Schwartz said, crediting the Ritter administration for the regulations. “I have nothing to apologize for for supporting them.”