As a candidate for the home-rule commission, I decided to write this letter to clarify some issues I felt were not fully understood. I have spoken with a lot of members of the community and candidates as well. There are a number of misconceptions out there and I thought I could address some of them.
First and foremost, the election in January will not make Salida a home-rule city. It will not put a city charter in place. What it will do is decide whether or not a charter should be written for the people of Salida to consider. Which leads me to the second misunderstanding. There is no charter yet, nothing has been written. There is no provision to increase taxes, no provision to spend 6 million on a rec center, no easing of the requirements to raise city fees. There is nothing currently but a blank piece of paper.
If we decide to have the citizens, not the City Council or administration, write a charter, then that charter will be put up for a vote, and you will get to see what it is long before there is a vote on it. If it increases taxes or fees or spends 6 million on a rec center, you will know before you vote on it.
Can the charter increase taxes? I’m not sure. What it cannot do is take away the TABOR requirement that all taxes be approved by a popular vote. The city is subject to the Sunshine laws, and the charter can’t do away with those. The charter could enhance both of those things. Right now, TABOR requires a majority vote to raise taxes. We could all decide that the threshold has to be a 60 percent supermajority. What we can’t do is make it easier. Some people say that cities with charters have higher taxes. That may be true but they also have more freeways. One does not necessarily follow the other.
Here are some things that I would like to see the charter commission discuss. I am not saying we should include all of these in the charter, or that I would vote for a charter that includes these, but I think the discussion would be great.
I have spoken to a number of people who are angry about how Vandaveer has been handled, including some folks on the City Council. I see two issues with Vandaveer. The first is the ability of the city to buy property without the approval of the citizens. This applies to the Touber building as well. Currently, as a statutory city, the city can buy all the land it wants without asking the citizens. Under certain conditions, but not always, the city has to ask to sell or give away land. So I would like to see the charter commission discuss under what conditions the city should be able to buy and sell, or give away land.
The second issue that Vandaveer gives rise to is the 6230 corporation. The city has created a private land development company that competes with local developers. The city subsidizes it, the City Council appoints the board, and they use city resources. Right now, we have no right to know who they hire, how much money they borrow or where it goes. Is that something we want to allow again in the future? Is it something we want to allow to continue now? That would be an interesting discussion.
There are other great issues that the commission could, and in my view, should discuss. Some people think we should have at least some of the City Council elected-at-large. I’ve heard a lot of people complain that we send hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to Glenwood Springs for a city attorney. Others have brought up the city’s forays into the private sector, like the SteamPlant or pool, that they feel should be done by private business. I think those are all great topics for discussion.
What I don’t think we should do is forgo these opportunities for discussion because people fear the outcome. I think we should welcome the opportunity as a community to get these issues out in the open, let people hear all sides, let the commission draft a charter and then vote on it. I may end up voting against it. I won’t know until I see it, but whether I like it or not, I’ll let you know why.