In a decisive move, Chaffee County Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution rejecting Colorado Ballot Measure 74, which asks voters to decide if they want to “require the government to award just compensation to owners of private property when a government law or regulation reduces the fair market value of the property.”
If it passed, say commissioners, the amendment holds the potential to severely impact the actions of local and county governments. It could, almost immediately, tying up already cash-strapped local governments into millions of dollars of law suits on everything from road projects to other infrastructure projects.
“This seems like a way to instill gridlock in state and local government,” said Commissioner Keith Baker. “The thing is, I don’t think anyone wants to see people deprived of just compensation when purchased under things like eminent domain, but this has been described as a permanent employment contract for land use attorneys. There is case law that says governments established by the people can regulate property and what is built on property and how it is used – this (amendment proposal) opens the gate for almost any regulation to be challenged. It would be fiscally irresponsible for us not to take a position on this. We don’t think this is a good idea.”
“It’s a complex ballot this year, and this was brought to my attention by Commissioner Tim Payne down in Fremont County,” said Commissioner Greg Felt, who added that Fremont County, along with many Colorado counties, has come out against Amendment 74. “It’s come from to oil, gas, and mineral rights, but it seems to make state or local governments responsible for any loss of property value that an individual sustains due to a government decision. I’ve been thinking about this since the Holman gravel pit topic. I wasn’t clear on what our responsibility was regarding property values – at that time we heard it was related to the tax base, but not necessarily liability to any individual tax payer. We live in an environment where we constantly have to react to changes and proposals — at times there are winners and losers. (Rejecting) this doesn’t remove the responsibility that is already there to reimburse property owners.”
“Current state law already allows due compensation to that property owner,” said County Attorney Jenny Davis. “What is concerning about this is it takes that so much further. Any land use action could result in a law suit. Take for example the solar farm; if a neighbor were to claim it damaged his property, you’d have competing experts on whether it increased or decreased the neighbor’s value. It would be a huge mess. The drafters just didn’t think through the ramifications.”
“The state of Oregon tried something like this a few years ago and racked up $4 billion in law suits before it could be appealed,” said Felt who made the motion for the county to come out against Amendment 74. “ It goes both ways – the proposed amendment doesn’t provide for property owners to immediately make any payment to state and local government for appreciation in their property values due to government decisions. This is just a bad idea.”