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Trustees discussing tax hikes, lighting ordinance

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By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

The Carbondale Board of Trustees on Jan. 13 will be debating a couple of revenue-raising proposals, in the form of an energy fee that would be attached to local utility bills, and a property tax increase meant to pay for capital improvements projects and take some fiscal pressure off the town’s general operating fund.

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The meeting — which is a formal, regular meeting — is being held on Wednesday in keeping with the trustees’ decision late last year to change their meeting day from its historical schedule of the second and fourth Tuesday of the month, to the second and fourth Wednesday.

Town staff told The Sopris Sun that packet information for the Jan. 13 meeting was not available for inspection by the newspaper’s deadline, because the information typically is not sent to the clerk’s office until Thursday for the following week’s meeting.

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But according to interviews with two trustees, it is likely that at least the energy fee will be placed on the municipal election ballot in April.

The ballot question is in keeping with the town’s 2020 climate action plan, which calls for reductions in Carbondale’s “carbon footprint,” or amount of energy used by local residences and businesses, by the year 2020.

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A memo to the trustees for a meeting on Dec. 15, 2015 contained the text of a similar “climate action plan” tax hike put before the voters in Boulder, Colorado, in 2006, the same year that Carbondale adopted its 2020 energy efficiency goals.

The Carbondale ballot question, according to discussions at the Dec. 15 meeting and at earlier meetings, would be loosely patterned after the Boulder initiative.

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In Carbondale’s case, said Trustee Allyn Harvey on Wednesday, the energy fee would amount to approximately $7 on residential utility bills (with a higher amount assessed against local businesses), and could raise perhaps $200,000 per year or more in revenues to be used on programs created by the town and its energy-efficiency consultants, Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER) and Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) to help local residents and businesses retrofit their properties to achieve more efficient use of energy.

“I think there’s a lot of support for that,” Harvey said, referring to the trustees as well as to the electorate.

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The need for the energy fee, according to statements from town staffers and the trustees, is in response to the expected loss of energy impact fees that come from energy companies doing business in Garfield County. Those fees are predicted to be reduced in the coming years as the energy industry scales back its work in the county.

Asked about the fee proposal, Trustee John Hoffmann told The Sopris Sun on Wednesday, “My own personal thoughts are that … we need to fund these kinds of projects, and this is one way to fund it.”

Hoffmann noted that local residents, who would be paying into a special fund fueled by the fee, would be eligible to get benefits from that fund in the form of energy-efficiency retrofits to their homes and businesses that would be partly subsidized by the new fund.

The other proposed ballot question would ask voters to approve a property tax dedicated to capital improvements.

Property tax proposal

That proposal, Harvey said, “is more up in the air right now” than the energy fee.

Harvey said the fee has been under discussion, in one form or another, for some time, where the capital-improvement tax only came up late last year as a specific proposal.

The property tax, Harvey indicated, might need more discussion and community input before being put to the voters, and might not make it on this spring’s municipal ballot.

In general, Harvey and Hoffmann both said the tax would be limited to use for such things as repairing and maintaining streets and sidewalks, creating more parking in the center of town and other “infrastructure” improvements that the town has been delaying due to a lack of funds.

Capital improvements have for years been paid out of the general operating fund, which normally goes toward the town’s operating expenses rather than capital projects.

A property tax, Harvey said, “gives us more flexibility in the general fund budget,” by freeing up money that otherwise might have gone toward capital projects and can instead be put to use in operational needs.

The trustees also will be discussing, at the Jan. 13 meeting, proposed changes to the town’s lighting code.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at Town Hall, 511 Colorado Ave.

Published in The Sopris Sun on January 7, 2016.

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