As anticipated, Chaffee County commissioners unanimously approved two resolutions during their Tuesday, Oct. 9 meeting, supporting both the state proposition 110, focused on funding to support transportation infrastructure projects, and 1B, a county ballot question that would return authority to Chaffee County to seek out and negotiate high-speed internet, telecommunication and cable television service on behalf of the county.
Proposition 110 is a state statutory ballot question, otherwise known as the “Let’s Go, Colorado.” It would put a twenty-year, .062 percent sales tax before Colorado voters to fund statewide and local transportation needs. The tax translates to six cents on a ten-dollar purchase, worthwhile say commissioners because fund distribution includes all 64 Colorado counties as well as municipal funding for transportation needs.
“The prop 110 draft will allocate funds not just at state level, but at county level and to each of our three municipalities,” said Commissioner Keith Baker. “Our share for Chaffee County will be $1.8 million, just to the county, and Salida, Buena Vista and Poncha Springs will get transportation funding too if this passes.”
Proposition 110 would raise $767 million in its first year and allow for the bonding of $6 billion for state transportation projects; a significant portion of which would come from tourists and travelers to the state. An important feature of Proposition 110 is that although 80 percent of the funds raised are projected to come from the Front Range and metro areas, the fund-sharing agreement would deliver 40 percent of all money raised to rural counties, under county and municipal jurisdiction.
Baker pointed out that over the past two years, the county has already participated, along with all 64 Colorado counties, in identifying needed projects that can’t be funded with the current Colorado Department of Transportation budget. Some $9 billion in unfunded, state-wide transportation projects have been identified across the state.
While the ballot includes two transportation bills (Prop. 110 and Prop. 109), Baker explained that Proposition 110 is the far superior proposition, because it stipulates a funding mechanism and includes a requirement that the money be allocated at state, county and municipal levels. The new funding would be on top of the current SB67, which funds state road improvements already in process.
“At the state level, this would help us fund CDOT projects like the passing lanes down Trout Creek Pass, the northern intersection of U.S. 285 and U.S.50, the intersection of U.S. 291 and U.S. 50,” added Baker. “Right now the only project in the CDOT budget (affecting Chaffee County) is the passing lanes on U.S. 50 down toward Howard. This is on top of what would come to the county and the municipalities if it gets voter approval. And we’d also get some of the 15 percent of the sales tax that is slated to go to multi-modal transportation projects.”
Commissioners also unanimously approved a resolution supporting Chaffee County Ballot issue 1B, which frames their decision to refer the question of whether to restore the county’s authority to provide high speed internet, to the voters. The ballot question only grants authority; there are no high-speed internet, telecommunication and cable television service projects associated with the ballot question, nor is there any funding mechanism.
The county lost that authority in 2005 when the Colorado General Assembly passed Senate Bill 152. It provided that before a local government can provide Telecom or cable services, it has to call an election to get voter approval to opt out. While large providers are supposed to be providing access, reliable coverage or redundancy in rural areas has not materialized.
The net result of SB 152 has been to severely limit rural connectivity, which directly impacts the ability of rural areas to compete economically with metro areas. Rural counties don’t have the population to make the business case to large providers to offer a better communications backbone. SB 152 has severely limited the county’s ability to find solutions to the frequent communications outage over the past few years, often for days at a time.
Some 23 of Colorado’s 64 counties have already opted out of the bill, as well as many municipalities. Buena Vista opted out a few years ago, and Salida just approved an opt-out in the Sept. 25 Special Election.
Baker pointed out that when the town of Buena Vista made a similar move, “Our problem was (the town) couldn’t access the internet to check valves or fire systems, so the authority was part of developing the network in town. We made free wireless available in old town. Counties do different things. Park County has used their opt-out to work on middle-mile connections – to get from the neighborhood network up onto the backbone and get down to Denver. We might be able to do something like that here.”
“Right now, even if we get a grant to fix our communications, we can’t do that because we have no authority,” said Commissioner Dave Potts. “By opting out of 152 we can go ahead and do things like this.