Town Board Work Session and Meeting: September 10, 201826 min read
TLDR: In the Board Work Session, the Board provided feedback on the Northwest Superior design plans, and interviewed candidates for appointment to OSAC. During the Board Meeting, the Board interviewed / approved new members of the Superior Youth Leadership Council, heard presentations from stakeholders in several ballot initiatives, and had a heated discussion around the Rocky Mountain Fire Protection District ballot issue. The Rocky Mountain Fire District Chief and his legal counsel will be back on October 8th for a formal presentation.
Hi neighbors! I’m back with another update on last week’s Town Board Work Session, which ran from 6pm-7pm, and Town Board Meeting, which ran from 7pm-10pm. Once again, I’ve divided this into sections by topic, so you can ctrl-F to find your favorite parts if you don’t have time for the whole thing.
Before we get started, with my election campaign in full swing, I need to ask a favor. If you like these recaps and my thought processes, please help me get elected as your Town Trustee! “Like” my Facebook page, share this post with your friends, and/or make a donation to help me get the word out. Each of those things is hugely important to ensuring that other Superior voters know who I am, learn my name, and know to look for me where I’m listed last on the ballot (“bottom of the ballot, your top choice!”). Thank you in advance for any help you can provide – I sincerely appreciate it.
Board Work Session
The Work Session opened with a status update from the Planning Commission on the Northwest Superior Planning Project (northwest Superior meaning the area encompassing Original Town, Coal Creek Crossing, Sagamore, and the Marketplace). Consultant Darcie White from Clarion presented the guiding principles for Northwest Superior:
- Leverage our access to transit
- Promote a thriving Marketplace district
- Improve multimodal access and manage congestion
- Proactively plan for growth that complements NW Superior
- Protect the character of Original Town
As I know both from my travels and from my career helping consumer markets companies solve their business challenges, many communities are wrestling with empty shopping centers that were supposed to have thriving retail shops; Superior is hardly alone in dealing with this challenge. So, we are looking to other towns to see how they’re handling this, and incorporating it into our own plans.
Consultant White addressed the three major options that are being considered for traffic connectivity, which I’ve shown on the left – redesign Marshall Road to be multimodal; reroute Marshall Road (behind the big box stores) and connect 4th Ave; or reroute Marshall Road, connect 4th Ave, and also create a new East-West Connection.
Slide 15 of the full presentation details the differences between the three options, as well as which characteristics would be quick wins vs long term changes. It’s a great slide, and I’m copying it here for you to check out.
In looking at these options, I noticed that the Marshall Road underpass was only listed as a potential characteristic for Option 3, which is concerning to me. After spending some time with group of Original Town residents walking to Louisville via the Marketplace, they all told me that one of the biggest changes they’d like to see in the Marketplace is the addition of an overpass (though they agreed that an underpass would be fine too) to make it easier to cross Marshall Road. Coming back from Louisville, I got to see exactly what they meant as it took us several minutes of waiting on the median before finding the opportunity to hustle across to 2nd Ave! Coming from the east, the diverging diamond on McCaslin generates a steady flow of traffic, and coming from the west, the traffic is not only continuous but also coming around a blind curve. Town Manager Matt Magley told me separately that the intersection of 2nd Ave on Marshall isn’t an ideal place to cross, but a sidewalk was built into the south side and the median, so it certainly seems like a reasonable expectation.
Another consultant from Clarion went into more detail on the three options for traffic flow / connectivity, and Trustee Mark Lacis asked about how the Urban Land Institute (ULI) study was incorporated into these plans. She replied that the re-route around Marshall Road and placemaking around the BRT station were the two biggest takeaways from the ULI study, and those had been incorporated. Doing my own research, page 3 of the ULI study has the full list of recommendations, and one noteworthy item is not included in this plan: the development of structured parking to free up space… which could be used for the “plazification” and placemaking activities that will be critical to making the Marketplace a vibrant center for the community. I’d like to see this option addressed, so the Marketplace isn’t just a wasteland of parking.
Trustee Sandy Pennington pointed out that we need to pay more attention to the sidewalks, rather than focusing on vehicular traffic. Consultant White responded that in the Original Town roundtable sessions, one thing that they heard from residents was that they would prefer informal sidewalks rather than having cookie cutter curbs and paved walkways. She pointed out that Original Town residents care a lot about preserving the “eclectic character” of the neighborhood, which is something I have heard a lot about from residents as well. With regard to preserving this, page 24 of the presentation shows that residents expressed a preference for design standards combined with regulatory incentives, so that there is some element of flexibility in designs.
Trustee Rita Dozal pointed out that the Planning Commission and Clarion need to engage with Brixmor (who owns most of the Marketplace) to make all this happen, and that she doesn’t believe they are involved enough. This came up at the last Board Retreat, where Brixmor West Region President Matthew Berger came in for a lengthy discussion. Trustee Kevin Ryan agrees that Brixmor needs to be a part of the planning – but added we also need to get Target and Costco involved too, since they aren’t owned by Brixmor.
Trustee Lacis pointed out that right now, there are a lot of big rigs that deliver to Target and Costco, and that with options 2 and 3, we would be trying to send those trucks through roundabouts… or down Sycamore Street. The Board agreed that this would not really be an option, and that making business easy for the big box stores is a priority.
The work session concluded with three interviews for candidates for OSAC (the Open Space Advisory Committee): Sean Garry, Marcy Stras, and Peter Ruprecht. The Board would come back to this later in the night to vote on an appointment.
Superior Youth Leadership Council
Kicking off the Board Meeting, right after the approval of the agenda, the Board conducted interviews for the Superior Youth Leadership Council. Nine residents who are in 8th through 12th grades were in attendance to interview, and each introduced themselves and explained why they wanted to be on the SYLC. I was really excited to see so many youth wanting to take an active role in the community!
Part of why I write these recaps is to demonstrate the viability of one of my first campaign ideas to increase transparency. I’d like to see us create an internship for a local high school or college student (or several) to write similar recaps of our Town Meetings. It would be a great opportunity for the student to learn more about municipal government and get valuable experience and coaching in note taking and communications, while offering a strong and unique experience for their resume. This could be a great extra activity for some of the older members of the SYLC!
Ballot Initiative #2G: Alternative Sentencing and Jail Modernization
Next, Sheriff Joe Pelle was moved up on the agenda to cover item #2G – an overview of the alternative sentencing facility and jail modernization ballot initiative. In 2014, Boulder County approved a 0.185% sales tax increase to fund flood recovery; this tax expires in 2019. Sheriff Pelle is proposing replacing it with a five-year 0.185% sales tax (the same percent) that is dedicated to modernizing the jail and building an alternative sentencing facility. This tax would generate ~$10 million / year, and is the only new county tax proposed on the ballot this year. Sheriff Pelle went on to discuss many of the current challenges with the jail space – namely, that it is overcrowded and inadequate to house the inmate population. The space also inhibits rehabilitation – meaning the ability for inmates to successfully return to society and make productive contributions upon release, without regressing to the behavior that landed them in jail to begin with.
I have to confess that even a few weeks ago, I would been firmly against this tax. However, I recently began volunteering with Defy Ventures, an organization that pairs top corporate executives, investors, and entrepreneurs with incarcerated people to redirect them to the creation of legal business ventures and careers. In August, I was privileged to serve alongside Governor Hickenlooper as a judge on Shark Tank-style panels to evaluate and provide feedback on the program participants’ business ideas. Admittedly, I went into the prison with a lot of preconceived ideas about who I was going to meet, and unsure whether I really ought to be helping people who had committed terrible crimes. But I left the day thoroughly impressed by the “entrepreneurs-in-training” – their smart ideas, their appreciation for the volunteers, and how much they wanted to give back to society in spite of being removed from it. I’m well aware that a little bit of volunteering is not enough for me to truly assess the men I met, but it did open my eyes to the possibility that better facilities / programs can help people grow and change, and I think we should at least explore what options exist for rehabilitation.
Next up, reports from the Board. Of note, Trustee Pennington reported on the First Friday event (which I blogged about here), and encouraged all sitting Trustees and new Trustees to attend regularly. Also, Trustee Dozal announced that the next meeting will be her last on the Board, as she will be resigning on September 30th to move to Arizona. With regard to that, Town Manager Matt Magley announced that the Town Work Session on September 24th will include a farewell event for Trustees Pennington, Dozal, and Hanson, to say thank you for their time on the Board. If you’re interested in learning more / attending, event details are here.
During public comments, several neighbors from the Weldona area stepped up to either thank the Board for making the decision to close Weldona, or express their disappointment with the decision. Resident Jenny Lane thanked the Board, but in her comment, teared up as she noted how the debate has torn the community apart. While I wasn’t shocked by what she said, as I’ve heard about this harassment from a few neighbors in the area, I am still horrified that our community members would yell, make threats, and intimidate each other – which is never acceptable. Although I had planned only to listen at this meeting, I ended up standing up to make a public comment myself. You can see this at 1:15:24 in the meeting video, but I will also transcribe my remarks here for full transparency:
“Hello, my name is Laura Skladzinski and I’m a candidate for Town Trustee. I have been extremely active in listening to residents on both sides of the Weldona closure, having toured Weldona with multiple residents to see firsthand the numerous signs as well as the volume and speed of traffic. I’ve also talked for hours with residents on both sides to discuss concerns and potential options, and want to thank them for taking the time to explain their rationale to me, when I am not even on the Board.
I’m commenting tonight to echo some of the comments made via email by Planning Commission Vice Chair Lisa Ritchie: that I don’t believe this decision was made in an effective manner. Public hearings are not an ideal forum to collaboratively develop compromise between differing opinions, simply because of the lack of back and forth. It’s frustrating for residents to speak their opinions without being able to engage in dialogue, or even have much acknowledgement of their time in coming here with well-researched comments and significant emotion. I believe this forum contributed to the animosity between neighbors – as it was a very different discussion at the August First Friday event hosted by Trustees Pennington, Dozal, and Hammerly, where there was significant back and forth dialogue.
In contrast to the last Board Meeting’s public comment, I was very impressed by the engagement around Original Town with the walking tour and workshop last month – where residents had the opportunity to come together in roundtable discussions to truly listen to each other and respond to concerns with compassion. Perhaps it’s not too late for similar meetings to be held with residents in the Weldona area, particularly as it’s clear from tonight’s Board Meeting that there will continue to be debate up until the closure is made permanent.
I understand that some of the residents in the area have been reaching out to try to mend the relationships between the two groups, and I applaud these efforts. I would encourage the Board not to take action based on comments heard tonight, which I believe will set a dangerous precedent for the Board to immediately reverse decisions. However, now that the temporary closure is up, I think it’s a good idea to see how it goes and what impacts there are on the traffic volume, so we are working from data rather than predictions, as we were at the last meeting. However, I would like to see the Town foster collaborative engagement sessions for the residents – to potentially identify compromise solutions, and most importantly, to rebuild community and ensure that residents on both sides feel that they are being heard.”
Since my comment, I’ve continued to discuss this with several members of the Board, as well as many residents. In the Candidates Forum on Tuesday (which you can watch here – apologies for the low volume on my responses, as I understand my mic was malfunctioning), I reiterated that I think it’s important to stand behind the Board’s decision, and that I also believe the Town should work to help repair relations between the two opposing sides so that we can come back together as a neighborhood community. I also emphasized that it’s completely unacceptable for anyone to be harassed about this or any other decision. We are a small town of neighbors, and we need to treat each other with respect.
After public comments closed at the meeting, several members of the Board spoke up to address what they heard. Trustee Ryan said he was very concerned that people commented that they weren’t aware that there was going to be a vote on Weldona, given how hard the Board tried to push that word out (via email, street signs, etc) and worked to revise the agendas so they are more clear than they were this spring, when the Tesla decision was made. In response to the harassment of neighbors on both sides, Trustee Lacis emphasized that if people are upset about the decision, they ought to be taking it out on the Board, on Election Day – not on their neighbors.
With public comment over, we now moved to the rest of the presentations. (Sheriff Pelle had been moved up in the agenda so that he could leave before a longer-than-planned public comment.)
Fair Maps Colorado
Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl came in to talk about Fair Maps Colorado, which has proposed ballot Amendments Y and Z to limit gerrymandering by creating balanced independent commissions to draw district maps. Fair Maps Colorado needs 55% of the vote in the fall, and very few initiatives have been able to achieve this, so Regent Ganahl noted that it’s important to educate our community members, friends, and family to vote “yes” on this.
Heather Cracraft, Executive Director of the Superior Chamber of Commerce, reported on the great success of Chili Fest on Saturday – which attracted over 10,000 regional visitors! I know I’ve said this repeatedly, but Chili Fest is one of my favorite days of the year in Superior, and it was great to see so many families enjoying the event. (Click here to read more about my photo booth at Chili Fest.)
After approving various meeting minutes, the Board voted on the candidates applying to join OSAC. The vote came down to Marcy and Peter, and was a 3/3 tie (since Trustee Chris Hanson was not present for the vote). The Board decided to push this to the next meeting, and will decide between the two top candidates at that time. However, Trustee Pennington pointed out that the idea behind this application process was to create a queue of potential candidates, and whoever is not selected should still come back and be top of the list for next time. Trustee Dozal said that she would also encourage any applicants to still participate in the meetings even if they are not selected for the committee.
Board Support For / Against Ballot Measures
Finally, the last item on the agenda was the Rocky Mountain Fire Protection District (RMFD) Ballot Measure. The ballot language has been finalized (and in fact, you can preview the entire ballot here), with the language for this issue reading:
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 we vote as a state to overturn the Gallagher Amendment this election, 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.)
Before we got into the actual discussion of the RMFD, though, the Board discussed a broader question: should they as a Board support / oppose specific ballot initiatives? This was a very thorny question to answer, and made even trickier because Trustee Lacis works for a law firm that represents RMFD – so he needed to recuse himself for any discussions of RMFD / this ballot initiative. Instead, the Board (mostly successfully) tiptoed around whether to support / oppose ballot initiatives generally, without discussing RMFD specifically.
Trustee Ryan was concerned about the prospect of having individual Board members disagree with a ballot measure, but still needing to support it because that was what they agreed to do. Trustee Lacis proposed deciding whether to support ballot initiatives as a Board on a case-by-case basis, since he believes some initiatives are “no brainers”. He suggested that if any Board member were to have strong opinions on a matter, they could have absolute veto power around the Board as a whole endorsing something. Trustee Ryan seconded this idea, suggesting that the Board could run through all the initiatives at the next Work Session, and if support for an initiative were unanimous, the Board could make a resolution to support / oppose it; if not, the Board will not take a stand. But Trustee Sandie Hammerly believes it’s the Board’s job to ensure that voters have the information they need; rather than have the Board come down on one side or the other, she believes that the Board should simply pass along the relevant information for initiatives impacting Superior residents. Because of her interpretation of the Board’s duties, she said she would always oppose any attempt to have the Board as a whole endorse something – rendering the veto idea moot.
Trustee Pennington said that this (implying the RMFD ballot initiative) is an extremely different issue than she’s faced in her entire eight year term, and she believes the Board should commit to educating residents and getting the facts out. Mayor Clint Folsom pointed out that either the whole Board needs to direct Staff to provide information to the voters, or the Board as a whole needs to not be involved. Trustee Pennington clarified that she only wants to provide facts and not opinions. She noted that she was elected to make sure that data and information is accurate, and believes the Board should take every opportunity to correct misinformation.
Trustee Lacis said that he thinks the Board should take a stand on non-political ballot initiatives. However, I think this is a slippery slope – what initiatives would be considered “non-political” vs political? Trustee Lacis used the jail as an example, but taxation is almost the definition of a political issue, so I’m not sure that makes sense.
Finally, Mayor Folsom said he thought the Board should just agree to hear a presentation, ask questions as needed, but that the Board would otherwise not pursue it any further. With that, Trustee Lacis recused himself, and the attorneys representing RMFD took the podium.
Rocky Mountain Fire Protection District Ballot Initiative
Attorneys Dino Ross and Emily Powell, from Ireland Stapleton, serve as general counsel to RMFD. Attorney Ross began by giving an overview of how the Residential Assessment Rate (RAR) has fallen over the years, because property values have risen and the Gallagher Amendment mandates a 55% / 45% split between revenues from commercial and residential property taxes. Essentially: if Gallagher mandates that revenue from residential property taxes be capped at $3.8M (for 45% of the total “pie”, where $4.7M is coming from commercial property), due to rising home values, the $3.8M now represents a smaller percent of total assessed value, so the RAR is lowered. While the RAR in 1982 was 21%, today, it is 7.96%. Check out this video for more explanation of Gallagher and how it interacts with TABOR (though please note it does not come from an unbiased source).
Attorney Ross noted that while the split / calculation is done at a state level, each county could be affected differently. This is a fair point but as Trustee Dozal replied, the Superior Board of Trustees’ roles are to talk about our town and what this means for our residents. In Superior’s case, assessment values of homes have increased, so the fire department has still received an increase in revenue year-over-year, even if it is not as much as they would have gotten had Gallagher not been in place.
Trustee Pennington said that RMFD mailed out three flyers to all residents saying that they “lost” $620,000 in revenue, and that this ballot initiative is an attempt to make up for that “loss”. She took great issue with the verbiage, pointing out that RMFD didn’t “lose” anything. With regard to the previous discussion of whether the Board should support / oppose ballot measures, a resident emailed me to note that while the RMFD is spending a lot of money to send mailers on the ballot measure, there isn’t any specific group that would spend the money on a counterpoint. So if the Board does not take a stand against this initiative, it would fall to an unfunded citizens group (which likely would not materialize), and /or the misinformation would not be corrected.
One of the biggest issues of the night, which caused a lot of back-and-forth and frustration, was that Attorney Ross continued to say that Rocky Mountain Fire District “should have” gotten more money, and that they “lost” $620,000. The word “should” is very subjective. Would the RMFD have gotten more money if Gallagher had not been in place? Yes, but the RMFD still got more money than they did in previous years, so it’s not really correct to say that they “lost” revenue. Trustee Ryan later used a great analogy for this: if you buy a suit for 50% off, you didn’t get the suit for free because you paid what you “would have” spent.
Attorney Powell eventually took the podium instead of Attorney Ross, and she eloquently avoided the misnomer of “lost” revenue, while laying out the facts as well as where both sides disagree – for which Trustee Dozal commended her. Attorney Powell’s commentary begins at 2:44:40, and it is well worth a watch – click here to view.
Trustee Dozal said that it doesn’t make sense for the RMFD to ask to raise the mill levy when it is already one of the highest mill levies for a fire district in the area. After doing my research, Trustee Dozal is correct – I built a spreadsheet of the data (linked here if you’d like to download) and found that Superior ranks 2nd highest for Boulder County fire district mill levies, and also has the highest property tax revenue by quite a bit – 513% above the mean. (All data from Boulder County Assessor’s Office.)
I should point out that there are some reasons for the higher than average property tax revenue. RMFD gets most of its revenue from property taxes, while many fire departments get significant funding from grants, charges for services, etc. 48% of RMFD’s total revenue is from Superior property taxes; Superior makes up only 9% of its square mileage, but 67% of its residential units and 43% of its commercial space.
As far as why RMFD needs that revenue, from an information packet provided by the Town, as well as from speaking with supporters of RMFD, I learned that 65% of RMFD’s service area is Open Space. Open Space doesn’t generate much revenue, but often requires specialized firefighting equipment – like the ability to carry tons of water into places where the firefighters can’t just hook up to a hydrant. RMFD also requires significant aerial equipment to fight fires in large buildings / complexes (like the Sports Stable) from the inside out. And with regard to providing services, RMFD averages 46 bookings per month in the community room at Station 5 in Superior, while the next closest station has only 4 bookings per month.
Going back to the meeting, Trustee Dozal pointed out that the RMFD is getting more total tax revenue than they were in previous years, even if that’s less tax revenue than they would have gotten had Gallagher not been in place. Furthermore, in 2012, our community passed a (separate) 8 mill levy increase, causing total revenue for RMFD to nearly double, from $4.654M to $8.945M.
Trustee Ryan asked for Chief Mike Tombolato to take the podium instead of the attorneys, and Trustee Ryan began by noting how grateful he is to the fire department for their service – particularly in light of the fact that it is the night before 911, an anniversary where the fire department truly proved how heroic they are.
Trustee Ryan said that as the ballot language is already certified, he doesn’t want to revisit that. However, he agrees with Trustee Pennington that the issue is with the wording on the materials sent to voters – it’s misleading to call it a “reduction in revenues” rather than revenues that would have been received if not for Gallagher. He also echoed my public comment from earlier in the meeting, saying that he doesn’t believe that this is the best forum to engage in this debate.
Chief Tombolato responded that the fire department is not a marketing organization, and conceded that marketing is not what they do best. Chief Tombolato pointed out that the county reassesses property values every two years, but Gallagher rebalances every year. This creates a disconnect in the fire department’s ability to recoup revenue that is not earned because of one side moving up at a different rate than the other. Chief Tombolato also pointed out that expenses go up 8% every year, which is part of the reason why the total budget is increasing. (In my opinion, 8% sounds rather high compared to what I see at my clients – including airlines, who have similarly high equipment costs.) Chief Tombolato didn’t talk about this at the meeting, but I also understand from someone at RMFD that because many people appealed their tax assessments last year, the 2019 budget is being reduced by $280,000. In short, it sounds like there a number of factors making it tough for the RMFD to budget.
Chief Tombolato said that he would like to come back to give a full polished presentation – rather than this brief overview which was put together on short notice when it was added to the Board agenda on Friday. The Board agreed, and the date was set for the RMFD to come back on Monday October 8th.
At the end of the night, Attorney Ross closed by pointing out that the ballot initiative goes both ways: that if the RAR is ever increased, the mill levy would decrease. However, Trustee Hammerly pointed out that we haven’t seen that situation yet, which is why our town is focusing on the decrease in RAR and increase in mill levy.
Finally, Trustee Pennington requested that when Chief Tombolato and his team come back to present, they should include data on how much it costs to provide the services that we are getting – implying that there is a disconnect between the revenue that RMFD is taking in vs what they are actually spending to provide services to Superior. Trustee Pennington pointed out that Superior residents are currently paying 21.445 mills for fire department servicing, while our neighbors are paying 6 mills. As I pointed out earlier, there are a number of reasons behind this discrepancy, but I think it’s a valid question and I look forward to seeing how the RMFD addresses it in a few weeks.
In my opinion, it’s clear that RMFD’s revenues are already higher than others… but I’m open to hearing why that may need to be the case (e.g., I know our department has to be specialized in high-angle technical rescues because Eldorado Springs is included in the service area). Rather than trying to sell me on a “loss” of $620,000 that really wasn’t a loss at all, I’d rather hear about why the department wants more money. Sometimes we need to pay more than our “fair” share for community resources, but I’m much more likely to agree to that if I’m told what I’m getting and why, than if someone misleads me (intentionally or unintentionally) with false language.
Thanks so much for reading this recap of the meeting! I hope you found it helpful, and I look forward to any thoughts, questions, or corrections in the comments below.