Town Board Work Session and Meeting: October 8, 201825 min read
TL;DR: The Board heard a presentation from the Rocky Mountain Fire Department on ballot initiative 6A, and issued a resolution that the Board urges citizens to vote no on this initiative. The Board also heard a presentation on the FY19 goals and budget, and approved the budget.
Hi neighbors! I hope you’ve had a lovely weekend. It was great to see so many people at Oktoberfest, where we got to enjoy the amazing Colorado sunshine once more before last night’s early season snowstorm. (Hopefully you already had your sprinklers blown out!) I also enjoyed meeting many more of you at the MOD Moms Annual Charity Fundraiser Saturday night, and of course at my happy hour event Friday night at Fairways at the Sports Stable. While this campaign has been both busy and occasionally stressful, I have loved the opportunity to make so many new friends! If you haven’t yet met me, check out my events page or drop me a line to set up a coffee chat – I’d love to hear your feedback on these recaps, and more broadly, the Town and your ideas for how we can make it even better.
As an election reminder, ballots are mailed out tomorrow to all registered voters; you can also register free for Ballot Track to get notifications when your ballot is sent / received. You can drop off your ballot at Town Hall, or at one of several drop boxes throughout Boulder County. You can also mail in your ballot, but it will need to be received by Election Day in order to be counted. And if you aren’t registered to vote yet, you can still register right up through Election Day – click here to register. Once you get your ballot, please remember that I am last in the list of candidates running for Superior Trustee. So check the last box first, then go back and review the rest of the names to choose your other two 😉 Last on the ballot, your first choice!
Enough election / campaign talk. Onto the recap!
This word cloud is a sneak preview from a new portal I’ve been collaborating with a resident to design – where you can get instant transcripts of meetings, search meeting videos by keyword, and even get notification emails when your street comes up in discussion. Stay tuned for more details!
Board Work Session
Emily Powell, RMFD’s attorney from Ireland Stapleton, kicked off the night with an introduction of ballot initiative 6A. This has been a hot topic from several previous meetings; see my coverage of the September 10th meeting (where the Board initially discussed whether to take a stand on ballot initiatives, and the RMFD’s attorneys initially presented the language; in this post I have also provided my spreadsheet comparing local fire districts’ revenues compared to RMFD) and of the September 24th meeting (where several residents spoke out against 6A in public comment, and the Board considered going into Executive Session to discuss how best to come out against 6A).
As a reminder, ballot initiative 6A says:
SHALL ROCKY MOUNTAIN FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT BE AUTHORIZED TO INCREASE OR DECREASE ITS CURRENT AND ALL FUTURE MILL LEVIES ONLY IF, ON OR AFTER NOVEMBER 6, 2018, THERE ARE CHANGES IN THE METHOD OF CALCULATING ASSESSED VALUATION, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO A CHANGE IN THE PERCENTAGE OF ACTUAL VALUATION USED TO DETERMINE RESIDENTIAL ASSESSED VALUATION DUE TO ARTICLE X SECTION 3 OF THE COLORADO CONSTITUTION (COMMONLY KNOWN AS THE GALLAGHER AMENDMENT), SO THAT, TO THE EXTENT POSSIBLE, THE ACTUAL TAX REVENUES GENERATED BY SUCH MILL LEVIES ARE THE SAME AS THE ACTUAL TAX REVENUES THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN GENERATED HAD SUCH CHANGES NOT OCCURRED?
In simpler English: if the state of Colorado votes to overturn the Gallagher Amendment, should we as a town increase / decrease our property taxes to try to match the revenue the fire department would have taken in with Gallagher still in place? (Yes, that’s about as simple as I can make it – the language isn’t ideal, as the initiative is somewhat vague.)
RMFD Secretary and Treasurer Suzanne DeVenny gave an overview of the special district, which covers 65 square miles and includes Superior, Eldorado Springs, Marshall, Flagstaff, and unincorporated Boulder County. Director DeVenny noted that RMFD provides service throughout the district regardless of where the revenue was collected – so essentially, some areas (like Superior) subsidize other parts of the district.
Director DeVenny then talked about the types of services RMFD provides, and noted that seniors aged 65 and older are twice as likely to die in a fire, and seniors 85 and older are four times as likely to die in a fire. Also, most calls to RMFD are for emergency medical services, not fires – services range from pets up trees and bitten by rattlesnakes, to residents with chest pains, to car crashes. Up until August of this year, most EMS calls were routed to Louisville Fire. Now, thanks to a new ambulance at Station 5 (Indiana and Coalton), RMFD can respond and decrease emergency response times.
Diving into the numbers, Director DeVenny presented an overview of the 2017 revenue sources (85.2% from property taxes, 8.9% charges for services, and 4.9% from specific ownership) and the 2018 budget – shown in the chart at right.
Director DeVenny told some great stories about the services that RMFD provides, and how they respond with caring and compassion to emergencies. I can attest to this, as I once called the fire department for an oven fire that went out within a minute or two, and was mortified when they arrived at my door to help. But they told me they were so glad I had called, even if it was no longer an emergency – better safe than sorry.
Going back to the numbers, Director DeVenny noted that the state is required to backfill school budgets, so schools aren’t as impacted by Gallagher as the RMFD. Furthermore, the Residential Assessment Rate (RAR) is only adjusted every two years, but the Boulder County Assessor’s Office adjusts the assessed value every year – so in 2018, when so many of us residents appealed the new property assessments we were given (and were granted those abatements), the total assessment value for RMFD-zoned property was reduced by $14.45 million, which meant that RMFD was suddenly $279 thousand short of the revenue they had projected.
RMFD Administrator Pamela Owens presented a deeper dive into RMFD’s financials, including a graph showing RMFD’s forecasted revenues. Administrator Owens forecast three scenarios: one where the RAR drops to 6.11%, one where the RAR remains fixed at 7.2% (the rate it currently is), and one where it goes back up to 7.96%. If the RAR goes all the way down to 6.11%, RMFD would need to cut $950,000 from their current budget – this is why RMFD believes this ballot initiative needs to move forward now, rather than next year.
Director DeVenny talked about the ballot language and how hard it is to write a clear initiative that fulfills the legal requirements. She also noted that it takes four $1M houses to generate the same property tax revenue as one $1M commercial property. Finally, Director DeVenny said that the RMFD is looking to work with the Lafayette district to combine resources / services; she says that Lafayette’s commercial base is much stronger, implying that might offer other opportunities to avoid having Superior residents subsidize all the Open Space in the district.
During Q&A, Trustee Chris Hanson asked for a breakdown of the calls by community. Administrator Owens said that she would try to get that information to the Board, and Trustee Sandy Pennington pointed out that she had already explicitly asked for this information prior to this presentation.
Trustee Hanson then asked why the increase is being requested now, when the mill levy already increased a few years ago; he believes it is poor planning that the RMFD didn’t figure this out three years ago. Attorney Powell replied that with 38 special districts putting similar initiatives on the ballot, RMFD is not alone in not foreseeing the potential revenue shortage; she believes that everyone is trying to plan at this time. Trustee Pennington disagreed, noting that as Gallagher has been in place since 1982, the formula has been set and this impact should have been foreseen. Attorney Powell says that while Gallagher has been functioning as planned, the RMFD believes that the impact of Gallagher negatively impacts services because the RAR cannot be predicted for adequate planning.
Trustee Kevin Ryan notes that this initiative is specifically a scheme to get around the 20.445 mill levy cap imposed by the Gallagher Amendment. Furthermore, he believes the ballot language is too vague. Attorney Powell defended the language, saying that RMFD is just trying to maintain the same revenue it has today regardless of how the legislature adjusts the RAR.
To defend the ballot language, Attorney Powell clarified that the general operating mill levy is 19.35 mills, and it will stay as such. The bond mill levy is only collected to repay the debt; therefore, it would not go up by more than the amount needed by RMFD. However, this completely ignores the fact that RMFD themselves determine what’s “needed” and what debt they take on – so essentially, voting yes for 6A gives RMFD carte blanche to spend as much as they want and then have it covered by the taxpayers. While I appreciate the fire department and the services they provide, this ambiguity in the initiative and the lack of checks / balances for oversight are why I will be voting “no” to initiative 6A when my ballot arrives this week – and I would urge others to do the same.
I have taken a lot of heat for not publicly stating my position on 6A sooner. Over the last month, I proactively scheduled time to sit down and talk with people on both sides, and began to formulate my opinion. However, because I knew that the RMFD was on the agenda tonight, I wanted to wait to hear their formal presentation before taking a firm stand against 6A. I think a big part of a Trustee is being fair, and in my opinion, that includes listening to both sides of an argument before deciding on a conclusion.
Being far over on time, Mayor Folsom suggested that the work session be adjourned, and the Advisory Committee interview be moved to after approval of the agenda.
Board Meeting – Advisory Interview
First, an interview with Howard Fisher, a candidate for ACES.
Trustee Ryan spoke up about the Land Rover property on the corner of Coalton and Rock Creek Circle. Trustee Ryan noted that the original agreement with Land Rover (back in 1998) stated that if Land Rover were to vacate, the land would revert to Community Activity Center (CAC) zoning – precluding another auto dealership from coming in. Somehow, this was not proactively brought to the Board’s attention when the new tenant, a used car dealership, came in, and Trustee Ryan notes that he regrets that we didn’t uncover this before the tenant came in. So, Trustee Ryan is requesting a public hearing to consider rezoning this back to CAC – which would essentially kick the car dealership out. While I agree with Trustee Ryan that it’s unfortunate to uncover this after the new dealership has already set up shop, I also wholeheartedly support his motion to rezone this per the initial agreement.
Trustee Sandie Hammerly noted that the last set of Board minutes was published in June; she stated that this is unacceptable and that if we don’t have enough Staff to publish the notes in a timely manner, we need to do something about that. I was thrilled to hear her bring this up publicly, as I have been rallying around this for months, and it’s part of the reason that I have been publishing these notes. Our Board needs to be transparent and our residents need to be informed!
Resident Colleen Callin spoke up against 6A and urged the Board to take a stand on this initiative; she was unaware this was coming later in the program.
Resident Susan Bauer and wildlife professional Steve Jones presented the 2017-2018 breeding bird studies on the wildlife of the Hodgson-Harris Reservoir. The area has 132 different species, including several very rare species that don’t exist elsewhere in Boulder County. Mr. Jones suggested that if the Zaharias property is altered in any way, the Town should create a grass buffer on the north side of the reservoir to protect the duck nesting habitat there. And second, the Town should follow the recommendation of Boulder County Park & Wildlife staff to stage the raising of the water levels in the reservoir to allow the native shorebirds to nest on the mud flaps, rather than filling it too quickly. Finally, Ms. Bauer invited the community to join a personal tour of the reservoir, and said that she will send out an invite. If you are interested in reading the study yourself, resident and co-author Kathy Carty-Mullen sent it to me and you can download it here.
Open Space Chair Ken Lish reported on the results of the National Weekend of Service, which I had a fabulous time participating in along with Rock Creek School. Chair Lish said that 362 people participated, with over 259 pounds of garbage collected. Feedback from residents was that people would like to see this done more than one a year, and also that at least one event should be more structured with a specific time and place. I was one of the residents who provided this latter piece of feedback – I think we ought to use opportunities to build community wherever we can, rather than sending people out on their own 🙂 I’m excited for the next clean up day!
Chamber of Commerce Status Report
Heather Cracraft from the Superior Chamber of Commerce invited local businesses to join for the Chamber’s Casino Night, and also declared plans to move forward with the Skate and Shop with Santa event in December.
Public Hearing and Final Approval of FY19 Town Budget
Town Finance Director Paul Nilles presented the proposed FY19 budget for the Town, which totals $45 million, and related it to the FY19 Town Goals.
Enhance financial stability and business retention
From 2006-2015, the Town was transferring an average of $1.5M annually from the Town’s general fund to Superior Metro District #1, which provides water, sewer, and storm water service to the Town. In 2019, for the first time, the general fund will not need to subsidize SMD #1, and this will go to zero.
Thanks to the 2018 payoff of bonds, Superior Metro Districts #2 and #3 (which cover Rock Creek north and south of Coalton) will eliminate a 5.025 and 5.080 mill levy, respectively, resulting in about a 5% property tax decrease for those residents. Overall, the Superior property tax rate has dropped 10% from 2007 (8.81 mills) to 2019 (7.93 mills). While our sewer fees are currently set at 5% (which means about $1.40 per month for residential customers), Director Nilles is projecting no utility fee rate increases over the next five years.
Provide excellent public services and public infrastructure
Superior is continuing to support the Call-n-Ride program until 2020, when RTD will assume 100% of the program funding. As for capital programs, the budget allocates more than $3 million for improvements to 88th Street, and $6.7 million for utility system maintenance.
On the topic of new programs, the budget will fund a new park along Riverbend, new parking for Autrey Park (where a skate park is being put in), trail work connecting RTD’s bus stop with Davidson Mesa, a traffic signal at Rock Creek Parkway / Coal Creek Drive, the Windy Gap Firming project design, and funding for cultural arts and events. I’ve been attending the twice-monthly meetings for the Cultural Arts in Public Spaces (CAPS) committee, and am really excited about the projects they have on their 2019 agenda: a CAPS Master Plan and and development of an Arts District, several block party events at the Superior Marketplace, and a few pop-up events in the parks – including one with participatory dance (e.g., Zumba, line dancing). Events like these are what will help us continue to maintain a small town atmosphere / feel, even as we grow.
Finally, five new staff members are being added between 2020 and 2023 (three for utilities or Parks and Open Space, and two new deputy sheriffs).
Engage residents through outreach and engagement
While the budget includes support to continue current initiatives (like the Town website), and also to expand some events (as I mentioned above), no new communications channels are planned. This is disappointing to me, and is one of the biggest things I’d like to champion if elected.
Today, while there is a lot of information out there, we don’t do a great job synthesizing it and making it easy for residents to understand what’s going on. I spend hours writing these recaps because I know that most people don’t have the time to watch Town meetings, even if they are on video; it’s my hope that we can create a student internship program to continue them if I am elected.
I’d also like to figure out how we can make information more digitally accessible. Our website is a great start, but we could improve search functionality to make it easier to find key documents, and also consider adding a summary on the homepage of the key topics and hot issues being discussed (my twist on Trustee Candidate Dalton Valette’s suggestion to add a legislation tracker). While any resident can go through the multi-day process of requesting copies of Town Board emails from the Town Clerk, why not follow Louisville’s lead in proactively publishing emails to / from the Town Board emails on the Town website? That way even if residents don’t know a topic is being discussed by email, they can learn about it and stay informed.
Finally, I’d like to figure out how we can meet residents where they are rather than making them come to us. I’ve been using social media as my main communication channel for my campaign, not because I’m a Millennial and that’s the only way I can communicate (ha! My friends will tell you that I used to never be on Facebook), but because I know it’s where people already are. The short videos I post on my campaign page get upwards of 1,500 views each; it wouldn’t be hard for our Town to do something similar in pushing out quick, digestible updates, like the town of Thornton does in their “Thornton 360” series (example here). Trustee Mark Lacis has committed to writing a Town update on his own Facebook page once a month; I think our Town itself ought to be taking the initiative to do the same.
On a similar topic, I love the monthly First Fridays as a discussion forum, and look forward to becoming a host of this myself if elected. But many residents can’t break from their busy morning routine to come out for coffee from 7:45am-9:30am. (There has been talk of alternating morning coffee with evening happy hours, but that also requires people making room in their schedules to break their routine and attend.) What if we experimented with adding a conference call dial in to First Fridays, so commuters could call in to listen / discuss on their way to work? Or, for all the parents, what if we made Trustees available at school dropoff once a month for quick comments / questions, or even to provide a short five minute Town update? There are flaws with both of those ideas, but I’d like to see us explore some creative solutions to citizen outreach.
Whew! Can you tell I’m passionate about engagement and outreach? Moving on…
The FY19 budget includes Coal Creek corridor enhancements in downtown Superior, a new parking lot at Shan Shan trail head, and work on future Open Space acquisitions.
Promote / manage development opportunities
The budget includes money for revitalization of the Superior Marketplace, with the Economic Development Program line item increased to $150,000. However, I am concerned this line item is still not enough – while $150,000 could help fund one-off events, it’s not enough to offer traditional incentives or subsidies to attract the businesses we want. Trustee Candidate Ken Lish echoed my thoughts in his public comment.
“The most significant risk to Superior’s long-term financial viability is the town’s reliance on just five businesses for 85% of our sales tax revenue. A robust economic development program is the best tool available to the town to address this risk… the real question in my mind is if $150k for this program is enough. This program represents an investment in our community and the long-term financial viability of our town. The improvements to this program need to be closely monitored and tracked over the coming year. I encourage the Town Board to be ready to invest more in this program and pilot new approaches if we aren’t seeing the desired improvements in business retention and attraction.”
I completely agree with Ken – the growth of eCommerce presents a huge challenge to traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, and their drops in sales become our Town’s drop in sales taxes. We need to figure out how we can help these businesses be successful, for both the financial stability of Superior’s revenue and for the products/services they provide for our residents.
Encourage environmental sustainability
Some town-sponsored water conservation efforts are included here, like the rebate program for residents who replace high-water flow devices and sprinkler controls.
Finally, Director Nilles looked at revenue assumptions and a debt summary. As noted before, our debt for Superior Metro Districts #2 and #3 are now paid off, and by the end of 2019, our total outstanding debt will be $23.7 million – about a third of our high of $71 million in 2006. (See graph at right.)
Trustee Lacis made a motion to approve the budget for the Town, and it was seconded by Trustee Hanson; the Board voted unanimously to approve. The Board then went through resolutions to approve fee schedules and also adopt budgets for the Superior/McCaslin Interchange Metropolitan District (SMID), the Superior Urban Renewal Authority (SURA), and the Superior Metropolitan District No. 1 (SMD No. 1), all of which also passed unanimously.
Rocky Mountain Fire District – Proposed Resolution
Trustees Hammerly and Ryan drafted a proposed resolution urging Superior residents to vote “no” on ballot initiative 6A (the increase in property taxes for the fire department that was discussed earlier in the work session). The full resolution can be viewed here; the gist is that the Board feels it is important for homeowners to know the amounts of a property tax increase, the justification for the increase, and be able to vote on any such increase. Because these criteria are not met in ballot initiative 6A, the proposed resolution states that the Board of Trustees opposes the initiative and urges voters to vote “no” on Election Day.
Trustee Ryan kicked off the discussion by first noting that he’s very supportive of RMFD, but that he believes we need to take a hard look at the budget because the Town of Superior pays a disproportionate share of the finances. He said he would welcome a conversation with RMFD to discuss merging with Lafayette, Metro North, or other districts. Trustee Ryan said he sponsored this resolution because the ballot language is “tragically flawed”. Specifically, he doesn’t like the language “not limited to”, which adds a lot of ambiguity. Just as the Board protected the community from Rocky Flats, Trustee Ryan said we need to protect the community from entering into a relationship with RMFD that the community may not understand.
Trustee Hammerly said she does not consider this resolution to be political in nature, but that she is proposing it as part of her fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers as a Trustee. She also wants any initiative to contain simple, concise, and clear language that clarifies what the impact will be on our wallets and RMFD’s services – which initiative 6A does not do. Trustee Hammerly believes we should come up with creative solutions to address budget shortages rather than simply increasing the budget.
Trustee Pennington noted that Boulder County leads the state in increases in property tax values. Furthermore, she added that the Gallagher Amendment is working exactly as intended – and that while some unfortunate towns are beleaguered by flat real estate prices, we do not have that situation in Boulder so the RMFD cannot claim it’s a problem with Gallagher.
Trustee Pennington also said that while the stated intent of this initiative is to stabilize revenues, in fact, Gallagher is what stabilizes revenues; this proposal is intended to maximize revenues for RMFD. While some Trustees are against the ballot initiative because of the language, Trustee Pennington said she is against the initiative beyond the ambiguous language. She pointed out that the measure gives RMFD unilateral authority with no justification as to need, and compared it to giving your checking account PIN code out to anyone who wants to use it. I agree with Trustee Pennington’s assessment, and the lack of checks / balances plays a big part in why I urge residents to vote no on 6A.
Trustee Pennington said that in an email, she asked Town Finance Director Paul Nilles to explain the initiative; he replied that it was “too ambiguous for him to provide a fiscal analysis” of the initiative. If our Town Finance Director can’t understand this, how can the average voter?
Mayor Clint Folsom was dismayed by the creation of this resolution. He pointed out that last month, Trustee Hammerly was against having the Board take a stand on resolutions; now, she is the co-author (along with Trustee Ryan) of the resolution. Mayor Folsom said that RMFD has been treated as an adversary in their meetings with the Board, and said that he will not be supporting the resolution tonight. Trustee Ryan questioned Mayor Folsom as to what could be changed about the resolution so that Mayor Folsom would support it, and Mayor Folsom said that the Board needs to have a formal policy around whether the Board will issue resolutions on ballot initiatives; he is not okay with the process by which this resolution came about.
Trustee Ryan brought up the idea that came up last month around the Board issuing a resolution only if all were unanimous in their sentiment. However, Mayor Folsom said that because the Board is down two members (with Trustee Rita Dozal resigning at the last meeting since she moved to Arizona, and Trustee Lacis recusing himself because his law firm represents RMFD), it’s inaccurate for the Board as a whole to say they are against the initiative.
Trustee Pennington said that she has been encouraging this on every agenda for the last month, and that this resolution was the only way to get the word out to residents to vote no. Trustee Pennington said that with Rocky Flats, the Board took action to prevent it from opening up (even though it was not unanimous) because of the danger to public health. She pointed out that the second most important duty for the Board is to ensure the financial health of the Town; she said she can only meet that by educating the community about why she thinks it’s important to vote no. Mayor Folsom said he is very upset to hear that the Board would consider pushing a resolution forward if it is not unanimous. Trustee Ryan said that although he wants this resolution, he does not think it is right to make a resolution when the Board is not unanimous.
Trustee Hammerly said she is not a supporter of either proclamations or resolutions. She is frustrated that the Town Board didn’t receive the ballot language until it was too late to work together on it. However, she feels that this is important that the Board vote on this; the lack of clarity in the ballot language is not to the benefit of the residents. If this initiative fails, Trustee Hammerly would like to work with RMFD to collaboratively solve the budget issues. She agreed that if it is not unanimous, it should not be a resolution.
In public comment, Trustee candidates Neal Shah and Ken Lish and residents Colleen Callin and Brian Hill urged the Board to pass the resolution.
Mayor Folsom asked if there was any further discussion, and there was not, so Trustee Ryan issued the motion to pass the resolution; Hammerly seconded. All supported except Folsom. However, here’s where things then “got awkward”, as Trustee Ryan stated.
Mayor Folsom asked if the Board was in agreement that the resolution would need to be unanimous to pass. Trustee Ryan unequivocally said yes… but Town Attorney Kendra Carberry pointed out that the Board had voted and the resolution passed, so it was not possible now to go back and stick to the unofficial “must be unanimous to pass” policy. Trustee Pennington said that she did not believe it should have to be unanimous to pass, and Trustee Hanson agreed. Trustee Hanson encouraged future Boards not to do this (have a policy that a resolution should be unanimous to pass) because it would set a bad precedent.
At the meeting, I sided with Mayor Folsom and Trustee Ryan that I think the Board should have only passed the resolution if it was unanimous. But after subsequent discussion with current Trustees on what it really means to issue a resolution (they can be issued for a variety of topics, without many actual implications), I am less concerned with having the Board take a position while some members are opposed. I think it would be fair and understandable for a Trustee to say “the Board’s position is X, but I voted against the resolution because I believe Y”, without compromising the integrity of the Board. Part of working in a group is learning to accept the group’s decision even when it does not match your own, and I would have concerns about the efficiency and effectiveness of a group that requires a decision to be unanimous before moving forward.
The agenda item closed with Trustee (and Mayor Pro-Tem) Pennington agreeing to sign the resolution, since Mayor Folsom was against it.
Finally, the night concluded with an executive session for Board members to discuss the performance evaluations of Town Manager Matt Magley and Town Attorney Kendra Carberry.