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Second effort to recall Gov. Jared Polis in as many years fails after group doesn’t turn in signatures

The long-shot bid to recall Gov. Jared Polis, the second in as many years, has fizzled after organizers didn’t turn in signatures that were due Friday to force a special election to oust the Democrat.

Recall Polis 2020 needed to collect 631,266 signatures in 60 days to force a recall election. The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office says it received no signatures by 5 p.m. on Friday, the deadline.

The group raised little money and its efforts received no backing from big-name political leaders in Colorado, making its unlikely bid even more so. No group in Colorado has ever amassed the number of signatures that were needed to recall Polis.

In a message on a private Facebook page, the organizers behind the Polis recall said they were asking for an extension to gather more signatures because of the coronavirus crisis, but didn’t say who was being asked for an extension.

Read more via The Colorado Sun.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported news organization dedicated to covering the people, places and policies that matter in Colorado. Read more, sign up for free newsletters and subscribe at coloradosun.com.

It’s official: Voters decide to reintroduce wolves in Colorado

Unleash the hounds. 

Proposition 114 was decided Thursday as votes from heavily populated Front Range counties pushed the wolf reintroduction plan to victory. 

The measure, which tasks Colorado Parks and Wildlife with crafting a plan by the end of 2023 to reintroduce wolves into the Western Slope, was too close to call on Tuesday night and all day Wednesday. The tightest statewide ballot issue in Colorado’s 2020 election, Proposition 114 was ahead by a narrow margin that veered close to triggering an automatic recount. 

Opponents of the measure conceded the race on Thursday. Even though there were more than 300,000 votes yet to be counted, a lead of more than 20,000 votes out of 2.97 million cast appeared insurmountable. 

Coloradans Protecting Wildlife, the group opposing Proposition 114, said in a statement that it believed “forced wolf reintroduction” into Colorado is bad policy that should not have been decided by voters. 

Read more via The Colorado Sun.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported news organization dedicated to covering the people, places and policies that matter in Colorado. Read more, sign up for free newsletters and subscribe at coloradosun.com.

UPDATED: Colorado River District tax hike passes easily

Western Slope voters have overwhelmingly passed a proposal by the Colorado River Water Conservation District to raise property taxes across its 15-county region.

According to preliminary results as of 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, encompassing about 240,000 ballots, about 72% of voters said yes to the measure. Saguache County was the lone county to vote against the measure. 

Pitkin County voters passed ballot question 7A with more than 80% in favor, despite three of five county commissioners and Pitkin County’s representative to the River District board John Ely opposing the measure. Nearly 70% of voters in Mesa County, which has the largest population base in the district, supported the measure.

The River District announced that the measure had received voter approval in a news release at 7:55 p.m. Tuesday, saying the organization is ready to get to work implementing water projects across the district.

River District general manager Andy Mueller said the results prove that water is the one issue that can unite voters in western Colorado.

“It was the one issue that’s not partisan, that was about uniting a very politically diverse region,” he said. “Everybody is so sick of the nasty, divisive, partisan politics. People with (Donald) Trump signs and (Joe) Biden signs voted for the same thing.”

Ballot measure 7A raises property taxes by a half-mill, or an extra $1.90 per year for every $100,000 of residential home value. The measure will raise nearly an additional $5 million annually for the River District, which says it will use the money for fighting to keep water on the Western Slope, protecting water supplies for Western Slope farmers and ranchers, protecting drinking water for Western Slope communities, and protecting fish, wildlife and recreation.

According to numbers provided by the River District, the mill levy will increase to $40.28 from $18.93 annually for Pitkin County’s median home value, which at $1.13 million is the highest in the district. In Garfield County,  where the median home value is $362,797, the mill levy will increase to $12.97 from $6.10 annually.

Property owners can expect to see the mill-levy increase on their 2021 tax bill.

The proposal received wide support among county commissioners, agricultural organizations and environmental groups.

Eagle County Commissioner and River District board member Kathy Chandler-Henry, who also served as vice-chair of the political action committee Yes on 7A, said it would have been nearly impossible for the River District to protect Western Slope water without the tax increase. 

“I’m glad people throughout the district saw the value in that, even though it’s a tough time to be asking for a tax increase,” she said. “I think that’s a huge win and a huge vote of confidence in the work the River District’s been doing.”

The River District, based in Glenwood Springs and created by the state legislature in 1937 to develop and protect water supplies in western Colorado, spans Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Gunnison, Garfield, Rio Blanco, Routt, Moffat, Mesa, Delta, Montrose, Ouray, Hinsdale and Saguache counties.

The River District’s fiscal implementation plan for the revenue that would be raised by the tax hike says 86% would go toward funding water projects backed by roundtables and local communities. Those projects would fall into five categories: productive agriculture; infrastructure; healthy rivers; watershed health and water quality; and conservation and efficiency.

This is a developing story. Check back later for more updates.

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. For more, go to aspenjournalism.org.

Glenwood, Carbondale fire district ballot issues heading toward passage

Three local fire district issues were heading toward passage in unofficial results as of 9:29 p.m. Tuesday, though with the apparent repeal of the Gallagher Amendment statewide they become moot.

Glenwood Springs 2A is for emergency medical services within city limits, while 6A is for the Glenwood Springs Rural Fire Protection District, outside of city limits. Issue 7B is for the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District.

Carbondale fire chief Rob Goodwin was happy with the apparent passage of 7B, which was passing 4,500-1,556, showing that residents would have supported the fire district even under Gallagher restrictions.

“We’re very happy with that. It looks like it’s going to pass by a great margin. We’re grateful for the support from people in our district. We’ll be able to have a stable funding source,” he said.

Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes acknowledged that the issues will not be necessary with the repeal of Gallagher but was pleased that voters supported fire and emergency services.

“I’m grateful to the voters, and I’m grateful to [Glenwood fire chief] Gary [Tillotson],” he said.

The three issues were about de-Gallagherizing and had similar ballot language. All were designed to give residents the chance to establish a minimum level of funding for fire and emergency services.

When Glenwood’s City Council voted to put its EMS issue on the ballot, city attorney Karl Hanlon gave an overview of the effect the Gallagher Amendment has on property tax. 

Revenues from residential properties cannot exceed 45% of the total collected revenues, leaving the remaining 55% to come from non-residential property. 

The nonresidential rate is fixed at 29% of assessed value, meaning that as residential property values rise, the residential assessment rate must drop to accommodate the 45/55 split required by Gallagher. It is currently about 7%, Hanlon said.

This becomes a problem locally because the ratio is calculated statewide. When home values increase more rapidly in the Front Range, the residential assessment rate drops statewide. When local property values increase less than the state average, less property tax revenues are collected locally, according to a Colorado Sun article.

The ballot issues would de-Gallagherize the communities’ mill levies for fire and emergency services, meaning the revenue stream can be maintained at current levels despite falling tax revenues otherwise caused by the Gallagher Amendment. 

“It guarantees that minimum revenue,” Hanlon said. Collections will not go below the amount they are currently, but they will rise if the residential assessment rate rises, he said. 

The Gallagher Amendment itself is on the ballot. If Amendment B passes and repeals Gallagher, it would for the most part make these local issues unnecessary. Early results show the Gallagher Amendment heading for repeal 57.6% to 42.4%.

“If the Gallagher Amendment is repealed it still leaves open the possibility that the Legislature could lower the residential assessment rate resulting in lowered revenues that 2A and 6A are designed to stabilize.  More than likely that won’t occur, which effectively renders them moot,” Hanlon said Tuesday in an email.

cwertheim@postindependent.com

WATCH: Every Issues and Answers debate, broken out by race and issue

The 2020 Issues and Answers forum was organized through a partnership with the Glenwood Springs Chamber, KMTS and the Post Independent.

Moderated by KMTS News Director Ron Milhorn, the forum took place in Garfield County Commission Chambers on Oct. 15.

Garfield County commission races

District 3 candidates Leslie Robinson (Democratic challenger) and Mike Samson (Republican incumbent):

District 2 candidates John Martin (Republican incumbent) and Beatriz Soto (Democratic challenger):

Colorado House, Senate and Board of Education races

House District 57 candidates Colin Wilhelm (Democratic challenger) and Perry Will (Republican incumbent):

Senate District 8 candidates Karl Hanlon (Democratic challenger) and Bob Rankin (Republican incumbent):

Colorado State Board of Education District 3 candidates Joyce Rankin (Republican incumbent) and Mayling Simpson (Democratic challenger):

Local and statewide ballot measures

Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson speaks in support of Ballot Measure 6A:

Colorado River District ballot issue 7A proponents Zane Kessler and Russ George:

Amendment B proponent Bernie Busher and opponent Lindsey Singer:

Proposition 114 advocate Rob Edward and opponent Bonnie Brown:

Proposition 118 supporter Hunter Railey with Colorado Families First and Proposition 118 opponent Diane Schwenke with Not Now Colorado:

Colorado voters weigh whether to bring back the endangered gray wolf

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — While other Colorado residents spent their stay-at-home days binge-watching Netflix shows or trying to bake Instagram-worthy loaves of bread amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Larry Desjardin developed an obsession with wolves.

More specifically, Desjardin, a conservationist in Routt County, wanted to know how bringing wolves back to Colorado would impact the environment and what would be required to ensure a balance in the ecosystem.

Those are among the top questions posed by Proposition 114, a ballot initiative to reintroduce wolves, specifically the gray wolf, to Western Colorado. It marks the first time voters get to decide whether or not to bring back an endangered species, a decision that usually falls to wildlife managers. This has become a major point of contention for naysayers to the proposition, who claim it turns what should be a science-based approach into a political campaign.

The debate over wolf reintroduction has become one of the most controversial issues facing Coloradans, on par with polarizing opinions over climate change or gun laws.

“Even among the conservation community, people are split,” Desjardin said.

Proponents say wolves could improve the environment by restoring natural order and help to bring back an endangered species that once roamed freely across the West.

Opponents, particularly ranchers and hunters, worry about the threats to livestock and wildlife. Some also point to the natural migration of wolves into Colorado, contending that human intervention is unnecessary. Earlier this year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirmed the presence of a group of wolves in Moffat County near the Wyoming border.

People’s perception of wolves, either positive or negative, is often shrouded in some degree of myth. Those in favor of wolf reintroduction tend to see them as symbols of unadulterated wildness and their return to the landscape a way to reclaim a world tarnished by human intervention.

Opponents, on the other hand, believe wolves prey ruthlessly on livestock and pets.

At the same time, both sides claim their arguments are rooted in science and hard facts. All of this makes for a complicated, contentious debate that, ultimately, will be decided at the ballot box.

A brief history of wolves in the West

Before the arrival of Europeans, wolves lived in abundance across North America. As settlers moved across the continent in the 1800s and 1900s, looking to carve out farmland and build communities, they decimated wolf populations.

The wolf emerged as a barrier to creating a civilized society. Even President Theodore Roosevelt, a man heralded for his conservationism, called the wolf a “beast of waste and desolation.”

By the 1940s, with the help of government-subsidized wolf extermination programs, the animals were almost extinct, disappearing entirely in Colorado.

With the birth of the modern conservation movement, public perception of the animals warmed. Wolves were one of the first species protected with the passage of the 1973 Endangered Species Act. At the time, most packs lived in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

When U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials started reintroducing wolves back to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, it marked the first deliberate effort to return a top-level carnivore to such a large habitat. It has been largely successful, with wolf populations thriving and once again spreading across the West.

Understanding Proposition 114

This year, Coloradans garnered enough support for wolves to put the matter to a public vote in November. Proposition 114, if approved, would task the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, a governor-appointed citizen board that sets regulations and policies for state parks and wildlife programs, with devising a plan to reintroduce gray wolves on land west of the Continental Divide by the end of 2023.

The plan must include a system to pay fair compensation to livestock owners for any losses due to wolves, according to the proposal.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission opposes intentional wolf reintroduction to the state. In a 2016 resolution, the commission said it recommends allowing the animals to return naturally.

Parks and Wildlife, the agency that carries out the commission’s regulations, has decided to restrict its role in the matter to providing scientific information about wolves without expressing an opinion on the ballot initiative.

Many questions remain about how the program will look or operate, which will not be answered until, and if, the proposition passes.

State wildlife officials estimate the reintroduction and compensation programs would cost about $5.7 million during the next eight years, but it is not clear where Colorado would get the money. It also is not clear exactly where in Colorado the wolves would be introduced.

For now, wolf management is under the jurisdiction of Fish and Wildlife. This will continue to be the case until the species is delisted from the Endangered Species Act.

In the Northern Rockies, reintroduction programs have fostered sustainable populations to the point that wolves already have been delisted as an endangered species. Idaho, Wyoming and Montana have since allowed wolf hunting to keep the predators in check.

President Donald Trump has announced plans to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species List by the end of the year and return authority to the states, but the move has faced strong opposition. It is uncertain how long the process could take, and implementation of any final decisions could face lengthy lawsuits.

Nonetheless, Coloradans have a choice before them, so it is important to understand the potential effects of Proposition 114.

Effects on wildlife and hunting

How wolves could impact Colorado ecosystems is top of mind for both proponents and adversaries of wolf reintroduction.

During his days of pandemic-caused isolation, Desjardin devised a mathematical-based simulation to measure some of these effects.

“Newton invented calculus while he was in lockdown for the plague. I only built this wolf simulator,” joked Desjardin, who also serves as president of Keep Routt Wild.

In a presentation recently to the Routt Board of County Commissioners, he claimed it is the only quantitative evaluation on the impact of wolves in Colorado.

Dr. Matt Holloran, a biologist who grew up in Routt County and now works on the Front Range, worked with Desjardin to develop the simulator. Both said they are taking a neutral position on Proposition 114.

What their simulator essentially shows is that Colorado could accommodate wolves, but it would require a reduction in hunting for the animal’s primary prey, namely elk, deer and moose. If 100 wolves were introduced, the state would need to decrease the number of hunting licenses for elk by about 5% to offset the number killed by wolves, according to their data. Bringing more wolves would require a proportional decrease in hunting, Desjardin said.

Less hunting would mean less revenue from hunters. Using data on the value of the hunting industry in Colorado, Desjardin estimated wolf introduction could cost $24 million in lost economic output.

This data is speculative, but Desjardin said his simulation was able to predict elk population and hunting rates in Montana. From 1995 to 2018, elk populations in the state increased by about 50%, while the number of elk killed by hunters rose just 20%.

It is important to note that, when it comes to economics, states that allow wolf hunting generate additional revenue through those licenses. In the 2016-17 hunting season alone, Montana raised $393,000 from wolf licenses, according to an annual report.

There also could be money generated from wolf-centric tourism. One study from 2008 estimated that wolf-watching activities in Yellowstone National Park generated a combined $35 million annually for Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

In a report, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks said wolf impacts on big game are variable from year to year and from one habitat to another. In some areas, elk herds have decreased since wolf reintroduction, while in others they have grown or stayed about the same.

“Wolf predation by itself does not initiate declines in prey populations, but it can exacerbate declines or lengthen periods of prey population rebounds,” according to the report.

Eric Washburn, a local hunter and proponent of wolf reintroduction, claims the animals can improve game herds. A couple years ago, he had to dispose of a mule deer buck he shot after it tested positive for chronic wasting disease. The contagious neurological disease has been documented in at least 27 Colorado counties.

Because wolves tend to target sick or dying prey, some experts believe they could help reduce the number of infected big game. Others are more skeptical, arguing that adding more predators would cause further stress to ailing herds.

Wolves’ benefits to the land are far-reaching, Washburn claims. By changing big game herd behavior, other species, from willow trees to songbirds to beavers, have better chances to thrive.

He also attributes a rise in hunting revenue for Idaho, Montana and Wyoming at least in part to the existence of wolves.

“The story is really only good,” Washburn said.

Effects on ranching

The story does not sound so good to rancher Jeff Meyers, a member of the Routt County Cattlemen’s Association. He argues Proposition 114 poses “unacceptable levels of risk” for local ranching families.

As Meyers told the commissioners, losing livestock to wolves is not a likelihood — it is a certainty.

“The question is will the compensation be fair,” he said.

Though Proposition 114 would establish funding to compensate ranchers, Meyers is skeptical it will actually offset the cost of losing his Angus cattle. As he explained, raising the animals in a high-altitude climate is no cheap task, and a statewide compensation program might not offer payments commensurate with all of the work he puts into the meticulous breeding and rearing of his livestock.

Particularly as ranchers already are struggling with rising taxes and water shortages, Meyers worries what an added stressor would do to local agriculture.

Even a reintroduction proponent like Washburn concedes wolves will kill some livestock, but he argues the losses are comparatively small.

In 2015, for example, wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho killed 148 cattle, 208 sheep, three dogs and three horses, according to a report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a tiny fraction of the millions of livestock lost each year due to non-predator causes, such as illness or weather.

As some agricultural leaders argue, the number of livestock lost to wolves likely is underreported because it can be difficult to prove.

What bothers Meyers is that, in his view, the majority of people supporting Proposition 114, namely people in urban areas or on the Front Range, would not be directly affected by it.

“It’s not your calves that are going to be killed. It’s not your lambs. It’s not your colts. It’s not your border collie,” Meyers said. “You will be voting to be killing someone else’s lambs, someone else’s calves, someone else’s best friend.”

Only time will tell

In the end, it is impossible to know exactly how Proposition 114 will affect the state.

While Idaho, Montana and Wyoming provide a certain degree of similarity to Colorado, each state manages wolves differently. The success of reintroduction in one state does not guarantee its success in another. Wildlife management does not exist in a vacuum, and a multitude of environmental, social and political forces could sway outcomes.

The public seems to be in wide support of the measure. An online survey last year conducted by Colorado State University showed 84% of residents would vote in favor of wolf reintroduction, while 16% would vote against.

Groups supporting Proposition 114 have deep pockets, with the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund raising more than $1.7 million in the past two years, mostly from out-of-state donors.

On the opposing side, two groups, Coloradans Protecting Wildlife and the Stop the Wolf PAC, have raised about $700,000 collectively.

November will show whether the numbers speak for themselves.

Ballots hit the mail in Garfield County on Friday for jam-packed Nov. 3 election

Ballots hit the mail Friday headed to all active registered voters in Garfield County and across the state for the Nov. 3 presidential, statewide and local elections.

In addition to the presidential election between Republican President Donald Trump, Democrat Joe Biden and a slew of third-party candidates, Colorado voters will be deciding a U.S. Senate seat, Congressional District seats, state House, Senate and Board of Education seats, county elected offices and a long list of state and local ballot questions.

Local races for Garfield County commissioner include incumbent Republican Mike Samson and Democrat Leslie Robinson for the District 3 seat, and incumbent Republican John Martin, Democrat Beatriz Soto and unaffiliated candidate Brian Bark for the District 2 seat.

Regionally, Republican Lauren Boebert and Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush are seeking the Third Congressional District seat; Republican incumbent state Sen. Bob Rankin is seeking reelection against Democrat Karl Hanlon in Senate District 8; Republican incumbent state Rep. Perry Will is seeking reelection against Democrat Colin Wilhelm in House District 57; and Republican incumbent state Board of Education member Joyce Rankin seeks reelection against Democrat Mayling Simpson.

Statewide, voters will also decide between incumbent U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, and former Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, for U.S. Senate.

A whole host of ballot issues cover everything from repeal of the state’s Gallagher Amendment and a tax question for the Colorado River District to Colorado’s National Popular vote question, an abortion ban question, paid family and medical leave and wolf reintroduction.

Sample ballots are available by town and precinct to view ahead of time at the Garfield County Clerk and Recorder’s Elections web page.

Eligible electors who have not yet registered can do so online at govotecolorado.gov. Those already registered but who need to change their voter information, including mailing address updates, can also do that there. The post office cannot forward mail ballots.

Here are a few dates and other key information to keep in mind for this fall’s election, per the County Clerk’s Office:

Sept. 18: Ballots were mailed or transmitted to overseas and military voters.

Oct. 9: Ballots mailed to all active registered voters.

Oct. 12 – Nov. 3: 24/7 ballot drop boxes open at the following locations:

  • Carbondale Town Hall – near front entrance – 511 Colorado Ave., Carbondale
  • Garfield County Courthouse – on Eighth St. – 109 8th St., Glenwood Springs
  • New Castle Town Hall – near front entrance – 450 W. Main St., New Castle
  • Silt Town Hall – near front entrance – 231 N. 7th St., Silt
  • Garfield County Admin Bldg. #D – at front entrance – 195 W. 14th St., Rifle
  • Parachute Town Hall – near front entrance – 222 Grand Valley Way, Parachute

Oct. 12 – Nov. 3: Ballot drop-off available just inside the east entrance of the Garfield County Courthouse in Glenwood Springs, Monday through Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Open on Election day, Nov. 3, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 – Nov. 3: Early voting begins at two Voter Service and Polling Centers (VSPCs). Voted ballots can also be dropped off at these VSPCs:

  • Rifle Fairgrounds – South Hall
  • Glenwood Springs Community Center – use west entrance

These are open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 31, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.; and on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Oct. 26: Last day for County Clerks to mail a ballot to a voter submitting a voter registration application or change of address. Applications or address changes received after this date will be processed, but the voter must appear in person at a Voter Service and Polling Center (VSPC) to obtain a ballot in person.

Oct. 26: Last day a voter should consider mailing back a voted ballot. Ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Postmarks do not count. Use a county drop box after this date to deliver a voted ballot.

Nov. 3: General Election Day Voter Centers open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

  • Carbondale Town Hall – Open Election Day only
  • Rifle Fairgrounds – South Hall
  • Glenwood Springs Community Center – use west entrance

Nov. 12: Last day for voters who were sent letters for missing or discrepant signatures to return the cure affidavit and a copy of acceptable ID. New this year: “Text to Cure” mobile application to simplify the cure return process.

Garfield County ballot drop-off locations

Glenwood Springs
• Garfield County Courthouse, inside east entrance, 109 Eighth Street
Oct. 12 – Nov. 3, Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.

• Outside ballot box, Eighth Street/south side of the Courthouse; 24/7 until Nov. 3

Carbondale

• Carbondale Town Hall, outside main (southeast) entrance, 511 Colorado Ave.; 24/7 until Nov. 3

New Castle

• New Castle Town Hall, outside near front entrance, 450 W. Main St.; 24/7 until Nov. 3

Silt

• Silt Town Hall, near front entrance, 231 N. Seventh St.; 24/7 until Nov. 3

Rifle

• Garfield County Admin Building, 195 W. 14th St., Building D, near entrance; 24/7 until Nov. 3

Parachute

• Parachute Town Hall, near front entrance, 222 Grand Valley Way; 24/7 until Nov. 3

Voter Service & Polling Centers

Voter Service & Polling Centers are places where eligible voters can register, drop off ballots, change an address and obtain a replacement ballot.

Glenwood Springs Community Center, 100 Wulfsohn Road — Oct. 19 to Nov. 3; 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m. M-F; 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31; 7 a.m.–7 p.m. Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3

Garfield County Fairgrounds, South Hall, 1001 Railroad Ave., Rifle — Oct. 19 to Nov. 3; 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m. M-F; 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31; 7 a.m.–7 p.m. Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3

Repealing Gallagher could help government budget shortfalls at cost to homeowners

For Colorado’s local governments to continue providing similar levels of service, the Gallagher Amendment will need to be repealed, the Garfield County assessor said at Tuesday’s Garfield County Board of County Commissioners meeting. 

“The complicated nature of trying to fix this problem … is that somewhere, somebody is going to have to lose,” County Assessor Jim Yellico said. “And, the people that would lose are your voters.” 

Added to Colorado’s Constitution in 1982, the Gallagher Amendment was created to ensure home owners wouldn’t be stuck with the lion’s share of funding government. To accomplish this, the amendment mandated that local and state governments couldn’t collect more than 45% of their property tax revenues from residential valuations.

Currently, that 45% cap means homeowners only pay taxes on about 7% of their home values, but assessors across the state predicted that could drop to as low as 5% in the next couple years. 

On the opposite side, non-residential properties, whose values have also increased, continue to pay taxes on 29% of their property values. 

A bi-partisan effort of both state and local officials is scheduled to add questions to the November ballot that would effectively remove the Gallagher Amendment from the state’s constitution, but there’s still questions about the long-term ramifications.

Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado Executive Director Bonnie Petersen presented the commissioners with some of the pros and cons of the repeal. 

“The formula set up by Gallagher is impacted by growth on the front range, which we all know is out of control,” Petersen said. “As that residential sector grows and those valuations go up, every time we assess property values, residential (tax) rates go down in rural communities.”

Without a repeal, residential property tax rates could continue to go down, providing less money for governments to conduct their day-to-day operations.

“The state and all of our communities are facing budget shortfalls,” Petersen said. “That has all sorts of domino effects in terms of local governments, and there’s significant concern.” 

Repealing Gallagher could cap the rate at about 7% because of language in the TABOR amendment, which could prevent an increase in the assessment rate without the people’s vote, she said.

But, some aren’t convinced TABOR is airtight.

“There is concern the word assessment is not in TABOR,” Petersen said. “So questions arose as to whether Legislature could change the assessment.”

Additionally, if voter’s repeal Gallagher, they would be voting to raise their own taxes. 

Based on predictions by Dennis Gallagher, the Gallagher Amendment’s author, Petersen said if repealed, property taxes could cost the state’s residential land owners an additional $203 million in the first year of the repeal.

Yellico said for commercial property owners to pay less and governments to continue providing the current level of services, residential property taxes would need to increase.

“That’s on the voters,” he said. “And voters don’t tend to raise their own taxes.”

County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he did not support repealing Gallagher. 

“I believe in limited government,” Jankovsky said. “And we’ve got to deal with what’s been dealt to us.”

ifredregill@postindependent.com

How removing the Gallagher Amendment could work in Glenwood Springs

Voters could decide in November whether longstanding statewide restrictions on property tax ratios should be removed.

As part of a bipartisan effort, both state and local officials are planning to add questions to the November ballot that would effectively remove the Gallagher Amendment from Colorado’s constitution.

Added in 1982, the amendment set out to ensure homeowner’s wouldn’t bear the brunt of funding government. But as the housing market boomed and home values skyrocketed, businesses were left to pick up the tab, said Karl Hanlon, Glenwood Springs city attorney.

Prior to the Gallagher amendment, when residential properties accounted for about 45 percent of the state’s total taxable property values, houses were taxed at about 30 percent of their assessed value.

The amendment mandated that local and state governments couldn’t collect more than 45 percent of their property tax revenues from residential valuations, according to information provided by Building a Better Colorado.

As residential properties’ taxable values increased, now accounting for about 80 percent of the state’s total taxable property values, the amount a local government could tax a residential property decreased to ensure the 45 percent ratio was maintained, dubbed a ratcheting effect, Hanlon said. 

To determine how to tax a property, a local government multiplies the property’s base market value by an assessment rate dictated by the state constitution and modified by the Gallagher Amendment.

Since 1982, residential property tax assessment rates have shrunk from around 30 percent to about 7 percent in 2020. Meanwhile, all non-residential properties are taxed at 29 percent of assessed value as they have been since the Gallagher Amendment was approved.

Reduction of services

Property taxes are collected locally and spent locally, Building a Better Colorado reported. Colorado has not imposed a property level tax since 1964.

The funds primarily go to school districts, but also fund special districts — such as fire and library districts — cities, counties and junior colleges.

Analysts predict the ratcheting effect in 2021 could drop residential property tax rates down to about 6 percent, which would result in the city of Glenwood Springs losing about $131,000 in revenue from property tax mills and could significantly impact the city’s fire districts, Mayor Jonathan Godes said.

“We look at this as a potential cut of $131,000, which is essentially two less people available to fight fires,” Godes said.

The revenue problem is compounded by decreasing sales tax revenue as a result of the pandemic, Hanlon said. School districts rely heavily on property tax revenues, but the city’s fire districts can pull money from the general fund, which is fed — in part — by sales taxes. 

With both sources of revenue declining, Godes said maintaining the city’s current level of services would be challenging.

In addition to some state legislators’ initiative to “de-Gallagherize” Colorado’s constitution, the Glenwood Springs City Council approved a motion, July 2, to craft language for additional questions on the ballot that would further de-Gallagherize the city’s revenue in the future. 

Although the city’s ballot questions have not been released yet, Hanlon explained the intention of the questions will be to ensure the tax rate for assessed residential value does not drop below its current rate of about 7 percent.

Hanlon said property tax percentages would not increase as a result of the city’s ballot question.

Godes added, “The goal is to not have our most basic services — health and safety — see a reduction in revenue.” 

The city’s ballot question is separate from the state’s question, though both ask the voters to commit to similar changes. 

If the Legislature’s ballot question failed, Hanlon said the city’s ballot question would insulate the city’s revenues from further ratchet effects. But the question is still important if voters approve Legislatures’ de-Gallagher effort, he added.

“It allows us to maintain revenues where they’re at, which under the proposed repeal of Gallagher … there could, frankly, be a reduction (of residential property tax percentages),” Hanlon said. “Keeping in mind that with the Tax Payer’s Bill of Rights Amendment (TABOR) in place, the repeal of Gallagher does not mean a local jurisdiction could increase the taxes on your property without going to an election to make that happen.”

Opposition

While most of the City Council approved the motion for city staff to craft de-Gallagher questions for the November ballot, Councilor Tony Hershey voted against the motion.

“I think it’s duplicative to have it on a local ballot,” Hershey said. “Why not see what happens on the state ballot first.”  

In general, Hershey said he does not support either the state or the city’s movement to de-Gallagherize. The potential hike in residential property taxes — though any increase would need voter approval as per the TABOR amendment — is too much, he explained. 

“The TABOR amendment is next,” Hershey speculated. “The government will spend as much money you give them.”

Instead of additional questions to remove or hamper the Gallagher Amendment, Hershey said he’d rather see school and fire districts directly ask voters for more money by way of additional property mill increases, which would apply to businesses as well further increasing the tax burden on commercial properties while marginally increasing residential taxes.

“I’m opposed to (removing) Gallagher, because I think the government spends too much money and not in the right way,” Hershey.

ifredregill@postindependent.com

Gallagher led to $35 billion in residential property tax cuts. Now Colorado lawmakers want voters to repeal it.

In a desperate attempt to stave off further budget calamity, state lawmakers are fast-tracking a landmark ballot measure that would ask voters to repeal the Gallagher Amendment — the property tax-limiting constitutional provision that has provided an estimated $35 billion in tax relief to Colorado homeowners since 1983.

The bipartisan proposal — which requires a legislative supermajority to pass — represents the nuclear option for tackling Gallagher, a sign that the growing economic crisis is upending long-held assumptions about what is politically feasible in tax-averse Colorado.

It is also an indication of just how desperate state lawmakers have become as they face an economic abyss unlike any other in their lifetimes.

Last week, state budget writers put the finishing touches on a proposed spending plan that cuts $3 billion this year and next. And earlier in May, lawmakers learned that Gallagher could trigger an 18% residential property tax cut, which would mean an additional $491 million in cuts to schools and $204 million in cuts to county governments starting in July 2021.

Read the full story via The Colorado Sun.

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