"(1) (a) Persons proposing the organization of a special district, except for a special district that is contained entirely within the boundaries of a municipality and subject to the provisions of section 32-1-204.5, shall submit a service plan to the board of county commissioners..."
— Colorado Revised Statutes, section 32-1-202
County attorney Todd Starr was addressing the three gentlemen who pay his salary — the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners — at a regular public meeting on the afternoon of September 4. The subject of the discussion was a service plan being proposed by certain residents of Timber Ridge, one of the wealthier subdivisions in Archuleta County.
Apparently, these certain residents were proposing to form a metro district.
"You're aware that Timber Ridge has filed to form a Metropolitan District, and we've previously discussed the statutes, specifically 32-1-202, allows for the Board of County Commissioners to have adopted a 'policy' — my word — that would automatically forward such service plans to the [County] Planning Commission for their review, if consistent with such adopted policy.
"Archuleta County does not, at this time, have such a policy; my office will be bringing that forward in the near to immediate future. In the meantime, the statute does allow the BoCC — actually, it mandates that the [County] Clerk & Recorder, upon receiving the service plan, provide it to the Planning Commission so you can receive their recommendations. The statute is very general... it just says, 'their recommendations.' What their recommendations would be, who knows?"
I had never read section 32-1-202 of the Colorado Revised Statutes, the section that addresses the formation of special districts — such as metropolitan districts, more commonly know as a "metro districts". A good deal of discussion on the topic of metro districts had taken place at BoCC meetings last year, when County administrator Greg Schulte was proposing a tax increase to help the County Road & Bridge Department fund County road maintenance during a period of falling tax revenues. The Daily Post had published a couple of investigative pieces concerning the superior road maintenance coming from certain metro districts operating in Archuleta County — subdivisions like Alpha Rock Ridge (another of our wealthier subdivisions) and Aspen Springs (one of our least wealthy subdivisions.) From what I discovered, metro districts seemed able to provide — in those two subdivisions, at least — better road maintenance than what the County Road & Bridge Department was currently providing in other areas of the community.
That superior road maintenance, however, came with a cost: a special metro district mill levy, paid by those subdivision property owners. That mill levy was on top of the regular mill levy that every property owner in the community pays to Archuleta County.
Ballot Measure 1A, under discussion last August, was originally written to ask voters approve a 7 mill tax increase for a period of 5 years. The commissioners would later reduce that to 4 years; nevertheless, the measure would be soundly defeated at the polls. But on August 31, 2011, we didn't yet know how badly it would be defeated — when local activist Gene Cortright had addressed the BoCC in this manner:
"“Mr. Chairman, this board and staff are to be commended for its dedication, and its commitment, for taking on one of the County’s most intractable problems, specifically, to improve County roads while being as fair as possible to every community in the county. We’re proud of you and we really appreciate your hard work.
“Regarding Resolution 20-11 [setting the ballot language for the mill levy tax increase proposal] ... I’m afraid, to me, it does not translate into sound policy. While I cannot support the resolution, I am definitely supportive of your efforts. Unfortunately, no one of us has the elusive silver bullet to resolve this issue at hand, but I’d like to share with you a couple of ideas. They are not terribly original, but they might be helpful.
“Why not consider a resolution that would require every subdivision in the county to form a special taxing district for roads? And to do so within a specified time frame? Or, why not resolve that — at a certain date — the County would discontinue maintaining secondary roads altogether? I think this would stimulate an awful lot of subdivisions in the county into starting to take some action to form special taxing districts for roads.
“It seems to me, by doing that, you go a lot farther toward leveling the playing field than your current resolution does.”
We'd heard that term quite a bit, during 2011. "Leveling the playing field." A fair tax burden, based on value received; that's what we wanted in Archuleta County. And nearly everyone agreed, we didn't have that, in 2011.
It has become evident that the County Road & Bridge Department might not be the most economical choice in terms of efficiently maintaining certain subdivision roads. According to figures released by County administrator Greg Schulte last year, County Road & Bridge expends about $8,000 per mile of road maintained. In the Aspen Springs Metro District, meanwhile, local residents were paying their own metro district only about $3,900 per mile of road maintained, according to Mr. Schulte. And by many accounts, the Aspen Springs roads are some of the best-maintained gravel roads in the county.
Ideas similar to the ones put forth by Mr. Cortright that afternoon had been proposed numerous times over the past 10 years. A few minutes later, local activist Glenn Walsh echoed some similar ideas.
"I also do want to complement, first, the positives — actually, the outreach, to try and incorporate even your critics.
"I would like to speak in favor of a two-year recommendation, because I think weaning the subdivisions — you know, to be considerate and give people some time to organize — is certainly very prudent. But we are not a third-world country where kids breastfeed until they’re five years old.”
Mr. Walsh was here referring to the resolution language that would increase the mill levy for five years. But why not increase it for only two years — and give the subdivisions more incentive to form special taxing districts in a timely fashion?
"A two-year time line would project some urgency — ‘Tend to this now’ — because we know that, otherwise, it will just be deferred. And the other thing is, two years makes you [the current commissioners] the leaders. If you push it out five years, it really pushes it out to the end of your terms, even if you get re-elected. Whereas, two years makes it your proposal. You’re the leaders; you’re going to advocate for it.
"And that’s why I would recommend two years."
To judge by the comments offered that afternoon, it appeared that the formation of a PID (Public Improvement District) or Metro District would — even under ideal conditions — take at least two years. It also appeared that no one in the BoCC meeting room had any actual experience in successfully forming a special taxing district, nor even a clear idea of what was involved.
At the end of the meeting, the two commissioners present — Clifford Lucero and Steve Wadley — approved a resolution that appeared to be based on a commitment by the two commissioners to help subdivisions get their special taxing districts formed before the year 2015.
If the voters would first approve the Ballot Measure 1A tax increase, that is.
The voters didn't approve 1A. Commissioners Lucero and Wadley didn't become "the leaders" in the formation of community taxing districts.
Now it's September — one year later. And apparently, we have a metro district proposed for Timber Ridge? Without any help from the BoCC?
A somewhat controversial metro district proposal, perhaps?
Read Part Two...