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Colorado voters set to decide school board and city council races, contentious ballot measures

Author: Ernest Luning - November 7, 2017 - Updated: November 7, 2017

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A visitor to the Lane County Election offices in Eugene, Ore., helps herself to a “I voted” sticker after casting her ballot Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via AP)

Voters across Colorado finish casting ballots at 7 p.m. tonight, deciding city council and school board races as well as local ballot issues ranging from funding for affordable housing and limits on oil and gas drilling to road improvements and municipal high-speed internet.

For the first time in eight years, though, there isn’t a statewide measure on the November ballot, so voters in six counties — Cheyenne, Dolores, Grand, Hinsdale, Mineral and Washington — that don’t have other contested elections aren’t voting at all.

Ballots went out in the mail three weeks ago to 3.2 million Colorado voters, and by Monday afternoon 810,360, or almost exactly 25 percent, had been returned. Voters who want their ballots counted have until 7 p.m. to get them to collection facilities and the secure, 24-hour drop boxes set up in every county or to vote in person at county vote centers. Check out www.govotecolorado.com for detailed election information.

Most counties should start posting initial results — generally counting all the ballots in hand by sometime on Election Day — soon after polls close at 7 p.m. County clerks typically post updates at intervals that can vary from 30 minutes to 90 minutes, with most describing their schedule on the county website. Find links to every county’s election page here.

For results collected statewide, check the Colorado secretary of state’s election reporting site starting at 7 p.m.

Here are some contests and questions of statewide interest to watch today:

School boards

Colorado’s longstanding battle over public education continues with school board elections in three key districts — Denver, Douglas and Jefferson — although it’s the outcome of the races in Douglas County that could have the most immediate and longterm impact. A district plan to pay for private school vouchers has been wrapped up in litigation over its constitutionality for years — the U.S. Supreme court recently sent the case back to Colorado — and if a single seat swings away from a slim conservative majority, the board could decide to kill the voucher program and drop the lawsuit.

Two years after a contentious recall election drew the national spotlight to Jefferson County, the board majority isn’t in question, but there’s plenty of spending and attention on the two contested races to determine whether the district could start regaining conservative members. In Denver, it’s the same fight with more at stake, since four of the board’s seven incumbents are on the ballot and are all facing challenges from candidates backed by teachers’ unions opposed to Denver’s move toward charter schools and other reform policies.

Oil and gas

Amid fierce disputes over how much control local governments can exercise over drilling operations, voters in Broomfield are being asked whether to amend the city charters to let the city regulate oil and gas development within its borders.

Elsewhere, the same battle is playing out, in part, in proxy races for mayors and city councils, including in Loveland and Greeley.

Big spending

Denver asks voters to approve big bond measures every decade, and this year the city is proposing a $937 million package — nearly twice the size of the 2007 package — with more than 400 projects spread out over seven ballot questions. It includes everything from maintenance on city facilities to public safety spending and transportation improvements. Property taxes won’t go up if residents approve the questions, but observers wonder whether the city’s rapidly escalating property values — which do drive up property taxes — have left residents with their usual appetite for big projects.

Stormwater fee

Colorado Springs officials want voters to OK a new stormwater fee — it’d be $5 monthly for residential customers — to pay for what amounts to $20 million a year the city has been shelling out for necessary stormwater improvements. Backers say the dedicated fee will allow the city to spend more money on police and other needs, while anti-tax opponents argue the city hasn’t been tightening its belt enough.

Going green

A Denver initiative to require “green roofs” — could be plants, could be solar panels — on some portion of new construction larger than 25,000 square feet has run into major opposition, even from members of the environmental community that typically backs the concept.

In Boulder, there’s a measure to approve a tax increase to help pay for the municipal electrical utility voters approved in 2011.

Broadband

Voters in Fort Collins are deciding whether to authorize the city to borrow as much as $150 million to pay for a municipal broadband internet service and run it as a public utility. Another 16 cities are voting whether to join 67 municipalities that have already granted an OK to providing high-speed internet to residents, although few have moved past the initial stage. Cities asking voters to take the first step today include Alamosa, Avon, Dillon, Eagle, Fort Lupton, Georgetown, Greeley, Gypsum, Idaho Springs, Louisville, Manitou Springs, Minturn, Monte Vista, Silverthorne, Snowmass Village, and Vail. If approved, they’ll have to come back to voters later to get the process rolling.

Mind the gap

Voters in El Paso County and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority will be voting on two ballot measures that could raise a total of $16 million to spur construction on a pesky stretch of Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock known as “the Gap” — 17 miles of two-lane highway that clogs with traffic more often than not. The measures would reserve $10 million in sales tax revenue to help pay for widening a 2-mile length of the highway and keep another $6 million in excess county revenues for the project. So far, no one else is lining up to spend money on what could be a $500 million project, so there are provisions to reallocate the funds if the federal government doesn’t authorize construction sometime in the next 10 years.

Affordable housing

Housing is getting pricey everywhere, but officials in the high country say it’s damaging local economies because workers can’t afford to live anywhere near their jobs. Crested Butte is proposing putting a 5-percent tax on vacation rentals — generating some $300,000 a year — to help fund affordable housing programs. In Dillon, voters will decide whether to approve $5 million in bonds to pay for affordable housing for employees in the mountain town.

Recalls

All three members of the Custer County commission are facing recall elections spearheaded by local activists who claim the commissioners held secret meetings and decided policy behind closed doors. The commissioners deny the allegations.

Two trustees in the town of Mead are subject to recall based on allegations they didn’t vigorously oppose banning marijuana sales in town, among other charges. One of the trustees says their critics are misguided and misunderstand the process — the town still doesn’t allow retail marijuana shops — while the other trustee hasn’t responded to the charges.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. Since 2009, he has been the senior political reporter and occasional editor for The Colorado Statesman.


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