Granby voters to decide whether to pursue home rule status
April 1, 2010
Granby voters are deciding whether the town should explore the possibility of becoming a home rule town.
The April mail ballot election has citizens considering setting up a charter committee of nine individuals who would research home rule allowances and create a charter for the town accordingly.
Voters would then either deny or adopt the charter in the Nov. 2 general election.
This election does not mean Granby will automatically become home rule, according to Granby Town Manager Wally Baird, but it will give the town the consent to spend budgeted funds for the home rule process of two elections, publications, expenses of the charter commission, secretarial services for the commission, consultation fees and attorney fees.
In the 2010 budget, Granby set aside $24,000 for two elections, as well as $80,000 in attorney fees. The attorney fees budget reflects $12,000 more than in the 2009 budget. The added $12,000, said Granby Finance Manager Sharon Spurlin, is earmarked for home rule attorney and consultant costs.
Backers of the home rule ballot question say home rule will allow the town greater leverage on local issues, that the state does not always know what’s best for Granby.
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But opponents say the town is setting itself up to create more and increased taxes.
Baird refutes this latter perception, saying any increase on a tax or a new tax can only be ushered in by a vote of the people under Colorado TABOR laws, so it’s up to the citizenry whether more taxes become a result of home rule. “Home rule could actually mean fewer taxes,” he said. “The real advantage to local government is that there is more flexibility in how taxes are assessed.”
For example, added sales tax within Grand County’s only home rule town, Winter Park, is found in automobile rentals, ski equipment rentals, bike rentals and mini golf. Under state control, Winter Park would not be able to apply such taxes.
Granby citizens should not assume, however, that if Granby becomes home rule it could generate revenue on a par with what Winter Park enjoys, Baird said, because Granby attracts about a quarter of the tourism Winter Park has.
In its study of becoming a home rule town, another Grand County town, the Town of Grand Lake, explored whether it could tax such items as ski rentals, snowmobiles, boats, horse rides, boat tours, mini golf, admissions, nightly lodging rentals and a town occupation income tax.
A study conducted by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments concluded that Grand Lake would be able to have these taxes upon voter approval. It could also impose an excise tax on new development, establish its own guidelines and procedures for franchises, municipal borrowing, improvement districts, and it could increase its sales tax beyond the state maximum of 7 percent.
Winter Park’s sales tax, for example, is 9 percent (which calculates as 3 percent state, 1 percent county and 5 percent town).
And, Winter Park is among more than half of Northwest Colorado home rule towns that self-collects sales taxes, something the town of Granby could consider during upcoming deliberations about its charter.
In the NWCOGG study, the upsides to self collection, according to finance directors of home rule towns, is more accurate reports, more direct dealings with town merchants, better enforcement and quicker reaction to delinquent accounts. Home rule towns also do not experience the delay of two months in receiving the town tax proceeds that statutory towns experience.
The downsides, outlined in the NWCOGG report, are that home rule towns need to spend from $5,000 to $14,000 to purchase software for tax collection, incur added personnel costs for this function, and perhaps incur the costs of performing audits on merchants.
“Many businesses may resent this and take it personally since its being performed by town people and not by the state,” said the finance director from Breckenridge. For example, the home rule town of Vail is one town that does not perform audits for “political reasons,” according to the report.
Officials of the Town of Granby are eyeing the town’s use tax, which according to Granby Mayor Jynnifer Pierro serves to “level the playing field” for Granby businesses.
Adopted in 1981, the tax – a 4 percent sales tax for building materials and vehicles purchased in town, or a 4 percent use tax for materials and vehicles purchased outside of the town – has been a target of debate in home rule discussions.
Opponents to the use tax feel its the market’s job to “level the playing field,” not the town’s.
But with home rule, according to Baird, Granby could adjust the tax to reflect a lesser percentage applied to vehicles and/or building materials. Or, with voter approval, the tax could be replaced by other taxes, such as those applied to lodging, ski rentals and lift tickets.
“It’s exporting tax liability to people who are not residents of the community,” Baird said.
Other Colorado home rule towns have increased their sales tax income with taxes on such items as groceries, cable TV, short-term rentals, rental of golf equipment, telecommunication services and everything from bowling to coin-operated machines.
Zoning matters, publication and posting requirements, bidding of public projects, transfer of funds between town departments, and operation of town hall are other areas where home rule towns are granted broader control than statutory towns.
“People who are opposed to self governance, home rule or being a charter community, they’re people who feel that they will get their way more with the state legislature than they will with the local officials,” Baird said. “In other words, they don’t want to lose control of what they perceivably have.”
With a home rule charter, he continued, “not only do you have a say in how the charter is put together, but you also have a say in who manages the charter, and that’s the board of trustees. You vote for every single one of them if you’re a voter in the community.”
On the other hand, he said, “you don’t get to vote for every single state legislator.”
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.