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During its July 19 regular meeting the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) considered ballot questions, with the decision before them whether to proceed with ballot language that could place questions on the ballot for the Nov. 8 coordinated election.

The first, to be developed by the Chaffee Housing Authority (CHA), requires the approval of the county, the City of Salida, the Town of Buena Vista and will be presented to the Town of Poncha Springs. That discussion was covered yesterday in this news story.

There was extensive discussion over two additional ballot options; reallocating the lodging tax which funds the county’s Visitor’s Bureau and tourism industry efforts, and a ballot question related to allowing county elected positions to run for a third term. Final ballot language is due to the Chaffee County Clerk and Recorders Office on August 30.

Reallocating Visitors’ Bureau Tax

The Chaffee County Visitor’s Bureau tax, is expected to total around 1.2 to 1.3 million in lodging tax this year. Up until this spring, state statute directed that all lodging tax collected must be devoted to tourism initiatives.

This spring, the legislature adjusted the language in HB2022-1117, allowing in broad language up to 90 percent of lodging tax collected in a fiscal year to be shifted to support childcare, workforce and seasonal worker housing, improving trails and other recreation purposes, if voters approve. The new statute specified that only ten percent must remain in tourism industry support and the rest could be directed by the counties. However, the counties have no authority to reallocate a penny of lodging tax until they get voter approval.

The BoCC discussed whether to develop a potential ballot measure reallocating some portion of the collected lodging taxes to support other needed county efforts in line with the new legislative parameters. The BoCC showed sensitivity regarding the possibility of upstaging the CHA’s own mill levy ballot initiative.

Commissioner Greg Felt said he was concerned about the legislature’s vague language saying, “How you go about preserving flexibility for needs, and not writing a blank check… over the last six to seven years tourism is really kicking off in our area, and the demographics of people coming here are willing and able to spend a lot more money. They’re paying a LOT more for lodging, recreation, meals … with that, there has been a push by the community to say ‘why are we promoting this when we’re being overrun?’ It’s a fair question. But we should keep in mind that things were depressed here in the past. Tourism is what helped the community transition out of the mining industry.”

He went on to add, “I don’t want to defund the Visitor’s Bureau … I feel that it would be prudent to hold off a year on this decision to see how other counties that we know are going to run a measured approach this. I’d be in favor of giving the Visitor’s Bureau another year of full revenue and direct them to stockpile some — so they are well-positioned for crisis.” He reminded the BoCC of the 2002 Hayman Fire when tourism ground to a halt.

Commissioner Keith Baker took a different viewpoint. “No one wants to raid the Visitor’s Bureau … I was chair of it when we had at most $300,000 after the Hayman Fire. But now we have far greater visitor revenues and the impact that visitation is having is on the community and the people of the community. It isn’t a carved in stone amount of money. It’s an authority.”

“I look at [the needs] as childcare – that is the one area the housing authority isn’t going to ask about. It is a significant impact on our working families and our workforce. If they can’t get dependable, reliable childcare, they aren’t’ providing that enhanced visitor experience,” added Baker. “I’ve had people say to me if we aren’t willing to take care of the workforce, they aren’t willing to support the other ballot questions.”

Notification of intent to place a ballot question on the coordinated election ballot must be given to the County Clerk and Recorder’s Office by July 29. But that doesn’t mean the final wording must be done by then. Commissioners discussed some percentages, noting that even if they create ballot language saying they might reallocate up to 90 percent of the lodging tax, that does not mean they or future BoCCs would be required to do so. They reiterated the need for flexibility.

A security cart that holds boxes of ballots when they have yet to be counted. Courtesy of Maddie Porter

Comments were raised regarding the range of actions being taken by the other 63 Colorado counties;  about a third of Colorado counties are considering some reallocation of their lodging tax, and some counties had no lodging tax authority set up because tourism isn’t a significant part of their economy. Some are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach.

“I think we should reserve a spot – it will come down to the guide rails between those who don’t want any more visitors to those who rely on the visitors for their livelihood. We need more flexible use of that money,” said Commissioner Rusty Granzella. “That’s why I’d like to see this now, not later. I want to stay away from the 2024 election, or we could put it on next years if we need it. I agree with Keith about childcare … I like getting voters involved and having it be their decision. My thought is to reserve a spot and try to hash out a voter measure for the fall.”

County Attorney Daniel Tom said Gunnison County is planning to do a reallocation ballot question, and he would discuss coordinating language. “Any monies allocated to additional uses would have to go through a formal process to be developed and approved by the BoCC to use those funds,” he added.

“How do we keep from undermining the housing authority effort?” asked Felt. “I’m willing to meet the devil in the details as long as you are committed to the conversations.”

“Most members of the public understand that the CHA measure and this would be complimentary measures. No one ever envisioned this to be the solution to the housing crisis – there’s not that kind of money in this.,” said Baker, who made the motion to inform the Clerk and Recorder’s Office of the board’s intent and necessary contracts to develop a ballot measure to allocate lodging tax funds under the provisions of  HB2022-1117.

After a unanimous vote, the BoCC agreed to devote time the afternoon of Aug. 2 to work on the parameters for the ballot language.

County Elected Term limits

Felt raised the prospect of Chaffee County reviewing its two-term limit rule for elected county positions, which would need to be presented as a ballot question to county voters to be adjusted.

Several years ago during Democrat Governor Bill Ritter’s term, the idea of term limits for all county elected offices (commissioners, sheriff, coroner, assessor) was introduced, under the idea that allowing officials to remain in office for too long led to government corruption and stalemate. A two-term limit was introduced, with the ability for counties to refer positions to be exempt from the two-term limit, or the authority to extend the term limits.

“The majority of counties moved to eliminate or extend terms for other county offices, except commissioners, some retained a sheriff limit. We saw quite a spectrum of approaches,” said Felt. “On the eastern plains and in the San Luis Valley, where they had such small populations they removed the commissioners from the limits… some moved to like four terms, in many of our neighboring counties.

County         Allowed Terms

24 counties    eliminated term limits

6 counties      have a three-term limit, including these neighboring counties:

  • Fremont       3 terms
  • Gunnison     3 terms
  • Eagle             3 terms

“I researched this because people are asking – would you run again? It’s not a question, because we can’t,” said Felt. “Most all are running unopposed except for the BoCC. There’s still not enough concern about any of them that a party wants to run a candidate against them. There’s only the county assessor, and that’s the deputy assessor running for the spot.”

He expressed the concern that if the term limits remain as they are now, that the person coming in to replace the District 3 seat being vacated by Granzella would become the senior county official after only two years; a nearly complete turnover of experience. “Do we allow the statute from 15-20 years ago to be in place, or ask the voters what they want?” he asked.

Both Baker and Granzella said they might support a third term, but not an unlimited option. Baker used the occasion to remind his fellow commissioners (and the public) that regardless of this ballot question, he would not seek a third term.

All three commissioners indicated a willingness to reserve a spot on the ballot for a ballot question on term limits. County legal staff confirmed that if voters were to approve it in the Nov. 8 Coordinated Election that current commissioners would be able to seek a third term.  Granzella made the motion, Baker seconded it, and it passed unanimously.