Impact fee vote push continues

Petition signature gatherers baffled by city arithmetic

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— The petitioners committee attempting to force impact fees to a vote fell some 700 signatures short of the city's requirement, the city clerk said. Although the petitioners were able to gather 1,392 signatures from city residents, a total of 503 were deemed invalid by the city. That left the group with 889 signatures, well short of the 1,596 mandated by the city charter.

The petitioners committee legally has 10 more days after it receives notification of the final count from the city to collect more signatures, but the group has decided not to go that route. Instead, the petitioners are building a case against the clerk's ruling that may pit a stipulation in the city's charter against conflicting language in the state constitution.

On Monday, 11 days after they had handed City Clerk Julie Jordan-Struble their petitions, Jordan-Struble sent the petitioners a letter informing them of the shortfall in the number of signatures. The city requires that 20 percent of the number of registered electors in the last municipal election, which occurred in 1999, must sign the petition. That raises the petitioners' first concern: The number of registered voters in Steamboat Springs does not seem to corroborate with the number of people in the city. By County Clerk Kay Weinland's records, there were 7,980 registered voters in the city of Steamboat Springs in 1999, a number the petitioners' committee sees as unreasonable based on the fact that there were only 9,815 people in Steamboat at the last census count in 2000. That 9,815 number includes people under the age of 18 who cannot vote.

Then there's the matter of the potential conflict with the state constitution.

The petitioners may be challenging their alleged defeat by pointing to a conflict between the Colorado Constitution and the city's home rule charter, established in 1973. Based on the Colorado Constitution, only 10 percent of the electors a total of 835 people needed to sign the petition, a far cry from the 1,596 mandated by the charter.

"The state constitution, which calls for 10 percent of registered voters, should be paramount," said Norbert Turek, a member of the petitioners' committee. "Anything more than that is abridging a right under the state constitution. The right to petition for an election is a pretty sacred right."

Attorney Bob Weiss, who is representing the petitioners, sent a letter to the city asking the City Council to nullify the city clerk's statement on the matter. Weiss claims that because the Colorado Constitution would require only 835 signatures, the petitioners' committee actually succeeded in its quest.

City Attorney Tony Lettunich, however, said the city's home rule charter takes precedence over the state constitution on this matter. Lettunich said he did not know of any Colorado case law regarding conflicting requirements for the number of petitions needed to force a vote on a referendum.

City Councilman Bud Romberg agreed with Lettunich's opinion on the charter's import. Romberg said that because the city charter takes precedence, the petitioners' request should be dismissed by the council.

Turek was not sure if the group would be taking legal action on the matter.

Impact fees were approved by the Steamboat Springs City Council on June 19 by a unanimous vote after hearing from a consultant and researching the practices of other communities. The impact fees are assessed on new development and pay for the city's capital needs generated by growth, funding everything from parks and open space to new city buildings. The fees, which do not need to go to a general vote, are charged on both commercial and residential development and would cost the builder of a single-family detached home $4,454 regardless of the home size.

A petitioners committee made up of five local residents formed on June 29 to gather enough signatures to force the fees to a city-wide vote, enlisting the help of about 60 concerned residents.

Romberg did say the petitioners had played an important part in an exercise of "local democracy," though he emphasized the importance of relying on a representative democracy on issues that face the community.

"The council did what its job is," Romberg said. "This is a representative democracy. If every issue had to go to the voters to vote on, you would only do that once a year, and the ballot would be so cluttered with issues it would make people very unhappy."

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