Our View: Council should decide on 700
April 12, 2009
Steamboat Springs — It no longer appears as if the Steamboat Springs City Council is considering putting the annexation of Steamboat 700 to a vote of the people, and that’s a good thing. We elect and expect our city councilors to make decisions on complex issues, including annexations, and we believe they’re uniquely qualified to take on that significant responsibility.
City Council President Pro-tem Cari Hermacinski raised the possibility of a public vote last week when she revealed her plans to discuss the issue with her fellow council members. Hermacinski said she was concerned with the potential for a lengthy and costly legal battle if the annexation of Steamboat 700 was put on the ballot through a referendum petition.
The state of Colorado allows voters to petition referendum questions onto the ballot, and the state constitution stipulates that only 10 percent of registered voters need sign the petition for it to appear at the polls. But the city of Steamboat Springs operates under a home-rule charter that states: “Referendum petitions must be signed by qualified electors of the city equal in number to at least 20 percent of the total number of electors registered to vote at the last regular municipal election.”
The discrepancy in requirements between the state Constitution and the city’s charter alarmed Hermacinski. She surmised that voluntarily putting the annexation of Steamboat 700 onto the ballot could eliminate the likelihood of litigation. Fortunately, it looks as if Steamboat 700 has no interest in pursuing such litigation.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Steamboat 700 attorney Bob Weiss said his clients would not contest a referendum petition – even if it was the result of meeting the lesser petition requirements of the Constitution. The city should formalize that concession and return to the business of slugging through complex annexation negotiations, where we expect the council and city officials to take a tough negotiating stand with Steamboat 700 developers and continue to work solely with the best long-term interests of the community in mind.
When staff and council have hammered out an annexation agreement they believe worthy of a City Council vote, our seven elected representatives should make that up or down decision. Indeed, it is the council members, not the vast majority of Steamboat Springs voters, who will have put in the time, study and effort to vote with the requisite insight on a complex annexation agreement. It’s a tremendous responsibility that we expect them to carry out.
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None of this is to say voters can’t or shouldn’t have the chance to vote on the annexation of Steamboat 700 themselves. There is a mechanism in place to accomplish that – the referendum petition – and if there really is sufficient interest for a public vote, then there should be no problem securing the required signatures.
In the meantime, there remain plenty of opportunities for citizens to get involved in the process, from attending meetings to writing or calling their elected representatives. Interested citizens also should take the time to read the detailed West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan – which after years of work was adopted in 1999 and revised in 2006 – and the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan. Together, they provide a roadmap for how and where our community wanted development like Steamboat 700 to occur.
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