De-Brucing water funds

Referendum 4A supporters: Protect water rights

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Protecting the water rights of Western Slope residents and making sure the area has an adequate water supply are two benefits that could come from voter approval of Referendum 4A, supporters say.

The proposal on the Nov. 4 ballot would freeze the .25-mill levy the Colorado River Water Conservation District receives, protecting the levy from cuts caused by TABOR legislation and allowing the district to seek grants from sources other than federal agencies.

The Taxpayers Bill of Rights is a state law that aims to keep governmental expenditures at a minimum. In the case of the river district, which serves the Yampa, White, Gunnison and Dolores rivers, the .5-mill levy it used to receive has been cut in half by TABOR over the past decade.

Now the district is asking voters to prevent its mill levy from falling further by freezing it at the current .25 mills. At that level, residential property owners pay less than $2.50 per $100,000 worth of property a year, said Peter Roessmann, education specialist for the district.

The district's ballot question is commonly known as "de-Brucing," from the name of TABOR author Douglas Bruce, and is a popular method used by governmental organizations that are losing their effectiveness because of a lack of funds, Roessman said.

"They've just hit bottom with their revenues and the only thing they're asking their taxpayers to do is stop this descent into a bottomless pit," he said.

Referendums 5A and 5B ask voters for a similar relaxation of TABOR restrictions for the Morrison Creek Metropolitan Water and Sanitation District and the Steamboat Lake Water and Sanitation District, respectively. Both proposals would allow those districts to collect full revenues from fees and grants, and allow the latter to collect full mill levy revenues.

Roessmann said it was important that voters didn't confuse these local and regional proposals with Referendum A. The latter is a state proposal to approve up to $2 billion in revenue bonds for projects such as dams and new reservoirs and has been opposed by many officials and organizations across the state and on the Western Slope.

"They're completely different, they're like night and day," Roessmann said.

One key difference is that while Referendum A does not list specific water projects that could be funded and so has been called a "blank check" by many people, Referendum 4A does have specific projects that the revenues would fund, Roessmann said.

Those projects include funding additional water supplies on the Western Slope for drought protection and growth, improved water efficiency, repair of substandard dams and more, said Dan Birch, project development manager for the district.

"We've got specific proposals, unlike Referendum A," Birch said. "Anybody who wants to know, we can tell them exactly what the money will be used for."

The proposal does not allow an increased tax, but eventually when property values go up, the amount of funding the district receives also could increase, Roessmann said. Perhaps most importantly, the proposal allows the district to partner with state groups and nonprofits to receive funding and work on projects, he said.

Opponents of the proposal say the action goes against TABOR and that there is not enough accountability for how the revenues could be used.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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