Home rule in Hayden's hands

Town invited to work session about change in government

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Hayden leaders want the town to write its own rules, and they want residents to help.

Town officials have set a community work session Thursday to discuss switching to home rule. Hayden is a statutory town, which means it is governed by state statutes. Becoming a home-rule municipality would allow the town more flexibility in taxing and holding elections, for example.

If the town goes to home rule, it must create a charter for voter approval. That document could be amended only through an election, Town Manager Russ Martin said. Voters will decide in March whether to elect a nine-person charter commission to create the document. A vote on the charter probably would come in summer.

Steamboat Springs and Craig are home-rule municipalities.

"To me, this has been long overdue for the town of Hayden," Town Trustee Richard "Festus" Hagins said.

Switching to home rule could allow the town to tax lodging, rental cars and taxi services, for example, Hagins said. That would mean increased revenue from visitors to Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

"We can gain more revenues from the tourists that come into town, and we can earmark some stuff if we do changes in our taxes," he said.

Adding taxes would create variety in Hayden's revenue streams, Martin said. He urged residents to come hear details at Thursday's meeting. The nine-person Charter Commission is open to the community, and he said he would like to hear as many voices as possible. The panel would dissolve after creating the charter.

Martin said some residents are afraid the town would err and wind up with unintended consequences. There's nothing to fear, he said.

"We still have the Taxpayer Bill of Rights that applies here," he said. "Any increased taxes will be required to go to the people for a vote. The difference here is that many taxes available to us as a home rule don't have a direct impact on our citizens, therefore obviously have a better chance of passing."

The charter doesn't have to be complex, Martin said. He gave a seven-page sample to the Town Board. The charter could address how and whether the mayor is elected, term limits and the town manager's duties, Martin said. Anything not addressed would remain governed by state statutes, he said.

"The charter basically allows us to make statutory changes that apply to our community only," he said. "If we wanted to change that now, we'd have to go to (state Sen.) Al White and say, 'We want you to change the way communities of our size are governed.'"

Steamboat underwent the transition to home rule in 1973. Steamboat's incoming city manager, however, saw the process more recently. Jon Roberts helped guide Victorville, Calif., from general law to charter status. In California, charter is similar to home rule, Roberts said.

"As California began to pass more and more rules, we felt it was to our benefit to switch over to a charter city," he said. "So we drafted up our own charter, which is pretty simple, pretty comparable to a home-rule charter, and took it to voters, and it was approved by nearly 70 percent."

Hagins said he was passionate about moving Hayden to home rule.

"For me personally, I don't see any negatives, and I'd like to know what they are, if any," he said.

Martin said he understood that the change could appear intimidating.

"There are a lot of options there, and that's why I say it's a little bit scary. : Once you say you're going to do it that way, the only way to change it is to go back to the voters," he said.

- To reach Blythe Terrell, call 871-4234

or e-mail bterrell@steamboatpilot.com

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