April City Ballot will be Interesting

Jan 22, 2019 | Uncategorized

*Original column published in January 20, 2019 edition of the Coloradoan 

The next regularly scheduled City election will be April 2. It could be an eventful one for the community.

First of all, instead of voting on four city council seats, five are up for election. This is due to a vacancy in District 1 (northeast Fort Collins) created by the resignation of Council Member Bob Overbeck, who was elected in November as Larimer County Assessor.

Mr. Overbeck’s former seat will be filled in the interim by Susan Gutowsky, who was appointed by the City Council on January 15. An election to fill the 2-year balance of Overbeck’s term will be held for this district in April.

Other Council elections include mayor (citywide), District 2 (east-central Fort Collins), District 4 (southwest Fort Collins), and District 6 (northwest Fort Collins). Respectively, Mayor Troxell, District 2 Council Member Ray Martinez, and District 4 Council Member Kristin Stephens are all eligible to run again. District 6 will be an open seat due to incumbent Gerry Horak being term-limited.

There will be at least one ballot measure, maybe two.

Citizens have petitioned a City Charter amendment onto the ballot to make service on City Council a full-time paid job. It’s a fundamental change from the longstanding citizen-servant model. The petition drive was led by someone who is running for City Council.

A foundational argument for making this change, according to the proponent’s flyer, is that service on City Council is a 40-hour per week job. No, not really. It’s a demanding community service, but not a full-time job. While Fort Collins is a bustling place, which keeps city government busy, there is nothing going on in our fair burg that requires nearly 15,000 hours per year from a full-time elected body.

I’m interested in learning more about the issue but, as presented, it feels more like self-service than community-service.

Finally, there may be a local tax issue on the ballot. In a little less than two years from now, the 2010 Keep Fort Collins Great tax – KFCG – will sunset. Passed in the shadow of the so-called Great Recession, the tax was sold on the basis of keeping city government services intact through the crisis. So far, over the first 8 years of this tax, $188M has been spent.

The Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce has studied the issue extensively and published a report last week. A few observations:

  • Data show that the City of Fort Collins is in a strong financial position compared to peer cities relative to overall revenues, per capita revenues, and per capita expenditures.
  • Over the past 15 years, revenue to city government has grown by 35 percent, while population growth was a comparable 33 percent.
  • Some ongoing basic city services like police, fire, and streets are in part being paid for by this temporary tax. A permanent increase in the base sales tax rate by .60 percent would be justified for these services.
  • Additionally, a case can be made for an additional temporary quarter-cent tax for non-basic ‘extras.’ There are special one-time transportation projects and other programs that could use funding but are not long-term needs.
  • The City Council and City Manager have continued the longstanding tradition of honoring voter wishes by spending these tax revenues as promised.

Strap in. It will be an interesting election season.