Steamboat Springs Routt County voters overwhelmingly turned down a property tax increase that would have raised $3.3 million or more a year for road improvements and other capital projects.
Referendum 1A failed by a 2-to-1 margin Tuesday.
The bulk of the criticism for the proposal focused on its lack of a sunset provision - after a six-year plan to improve 60 miles of county roads, tax revenues would have continued to flow into county coffers. Only the first $2.6 million of those future funds would have been used for unspecified capital projects. The remainder of the revenue would have gone into the county's general fund.
The ballot initiative asked that county government be exempt from the state's Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR, which places a limit on the growth of government revenues.
In the wake of the referendum's defeat, Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said the commissioners would have to talk with planners to see what can be done to proceed with needed road repairs.
Mitsch Bush agreed that much of the opposition had to do with the provision's lack of a sunset - something she said she would push for if the measure goes back on the ballot next year.
"One of the obvious things that will have to happen is that we won't be able to provide a level of service that we have been providing," Mitsch Bush said.
She said the demands for service are rising dramatically, as is the cost of materials. The county has found itself falling behind on infrastructure improvements, she said.
Steamboat Springs City Councilman Paul Strong said the tax increase might have stood a better chance of passing had it been allocated only for roads.
"I think that the people of the county realize there's a funding need for roads - and not to make light of the problem, because it is a big problem - but this was like going after a gnat with a sledgehammer," Strong said.
The exemption would have set the county's property tax mill levy at 12.266 mills. That's a decrease from this year's mill levy of 12.42, but a 32.9 percent hike on the 9.229 mill levy TABOR would require for next year.
In 2008, the tax increase would have meant an additional $25 a year per $100,000 of estimated market value for residential property owners and an additional $88 a year for $100,000 of estimated market value for commercial taxpayers.
Planned projects for the increased revenue included widening the shoulders on Routt County Road 129, reconstructing parts of C.R. 14 south of Colorado Highway 131, and hard-surfacing a number of unpaved roads.
The six-year road and bridge improvement plan was projected to cost $18.9 million. Of that amount, $10.4 million would have been raised by Referendum 1A, and the remaining $8.5 million would have come from county reserves.
Brandon Gee contributed to this article.