By John Colson and Lynn Burton

Sopris Sun Staff Writers

The April 5 town-wide election could put up to three new members on the Carbondale Board of Trustees, but residents are also being asked whether to approve a new property tax to pay for capital improvements, and whether to increase taxes on natural gas and electric bills to pay for programs to increase energy efficiency and renewable energy use.

The Carbondale Board of Trustees voted to put both questions on the April 5 ballot at its Jan. 13 meeting.

Property tax

The proposed tax would assess an additional three mills to all real property within the town limits, which would amount to roughly $119 per year on a house valued at $500,000 by the county assessor.

For commercial properties, the tax hike would amount to about $870 per year on a business valued at $1 million, according to calculations by town officials.

The tax is needed, town officials have decided, in order to create a pool of money for capital improvements, which in the past have been paid for using a combination of money from the town’s general fund and payments from the Federal Mineral Lease Fund (FMLD) maintained by Garfield County.

The FMLD is used as a disbursing platform for money that the county receives from energy companies doing business within the county’s borders, and has at times amounted to grants of hundreds of thousands of dollars for Carbondale projects.

But the FMLD money is expected to diminish in the coming years, as the energy industry continues to be hard-hit by low prices for oil and natural gas and a glut of petroleum products on the international market.

The trustees concluded last year that the town’s traditional funding sources, mostly sales tax revenues, were not sufficient to pay for improvements to streets, sidewalks, bike trails, property acquisition, parking and facility construction, which typically fall under the general description of capital improvements.

In fact, the town has a list of planned capital projects that represent about $4 million, in what is known as the Five Year Capital Improvement Summary and Plan.

According to town officials, the new tax would generate perhaps $425,000 a year or so, which could be used to leverage grants and other sources of income to multiply the ability of the tax to pay for costly improvements.

The property tax ballot question is written to set the tax to expire on Dec. 1, 2026, after a decade of collection.

Energy tax

The ballot question that would hike taxes on natural gas and electric bills (residential and non-residential) is titled the “Climate Action Excise Tax” and reads: Shall town of Carbondale taxes be increased by $352,000 annual beginning in 2016, and by whatever additional amounts are raised annually thereafter, by authorizing the town to levy and collect a climate action excise tax upon customers of electric and natural gas utilities at rates of $0.008 per kilowatt hour (kWh) for residential electric utility customers, $0.035 per therm for residential natural gas utility customers, $0.0029 per kilowatt hour (kWh) for non-residential electric utility customers, and $0.02 per therm for non-residential natural gas utility customers, with these taxes taking effect on July 1, 2016 and expiring on June 30, 2022, for the purpose of funding programs to increase energy efficiency and renewable energy use, to reduce emissions from motor vehicles, and to take other steps toward the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with the resulting tax revenues to be collected, retained and spent by the town as a voter-appproved revenue change notwithstanding any applicable revenue or spending limitation imposed by Article X Section 20 of the Colorado Constitution or any other law?

TABOR comments Amendment One (1992) to the Colorado Constitution requires a notice of the election to be mailed to all registered voters with certain information about the election and financial implications of the ballot questions (TABOR notice), according to a Town of Carbondale notice. Part of the TABOR notice to be sent to electors must include summaries of written comments, up to 500 words each, one for and one against the proposal, filed with the election officer by 45 days before the election.

The Town of Carbondale hereby solicits written comments for and against the questions. Please address your comments to the Town Clerk, Town of Carbondale, 511 Colorado Avenue, Carbondale, CO  81623.

Only comments filed by persons eligible to vote in the Town of Carbondale will be summarized in the ballot notice. To be summarized in the ballot issue notice, the comments must address these specific ballot issues and must include a signature and the address where the signer is registered to vote. Written comments must be received no later than Friday, Feb. 19, 2016 at 5 p.m.

(Editor’s note: The Sopris Sun will explore the ballot questions and trustee campaigns in greater detail in the upcoming weeks).

Published in The Sopris Sun on January 21, 2016.