A $71-million plan to pave and maintain roads in Teller County -- much of which was yanked off the Nov. 5 ballot at a county commissioners meeting last week -- has been promoted illegally by the county, according to a complaint filed with the Colorado secretary of state.
But the reason why part of the proposal was pulled last week had nothing to do with the complaint, according to one of the commissioners.
The three-member Board of Teller County Commissioners on Thursday decided to eliminate one of two proposals that it had earlier decided to place on the ballot, both of which would raise taxes to pave and maintain county roads.
The eliminated proposal would have increased taxes to borrow $19.1 million for road upgrades, which would be repaid over 20 years at a total cost of $39 million. The proposal still on the ballot would increase the county's annual road-maintenance budget by $2.2 million over a 15-year period.
The ballot issues have been championed by an issue committee called Citizens for Better Roads, which has been holding neighborhood meetings to promote the proposals since at least Sept. 4.
However, a complaint filed with the secretary of state on Sept. 5 points out that Citizens for Better Roads wasn't registered with the Teller County Clerk's Office, as required by state campaign-finance laws, at the time.
The committee has since registered, filing papers on Sept. 13.
Moreover, the complaint notes that information about Citizens for Better Roads' activities, including a schedule of its meetings, was posted on the county's official Web site. State law prohibits governmental entities from using resources to campaign for political candidates or ballot initiatives.
The complaint was filed by Richard Bowles, who is running for county commissioner as an unaffiliated candidate and has criticized the road referendums.
"Citizens for Better Roads is a handmaiden and a creation of Teller County," he charged.
Just the facts
A spokesman for the citizens group, Garry Cote, did not respond to calls from the Independent by press time.
However, County Commissioner Lucile Fehn denied that the county had been part of violating any campaign laws by promoting the issue committee on its Web site.
"We are allowed to give the facts, and that's what we're doing," she said.
Either way, the allegations had nothing to do with why the ballot proposal on road upgrades was nixed, Fehn said. In fact, she said she hadn't even seen the complaint. "It had nothing to do with Richard Bowles."
According to Fehn, the proposal was eliminated because county staff believed it might violate a state law that caps the total amount of debt the county can incur.
County Attorney Chris Brandt said he and the commissioners believe the law in question is overridden by the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, an amendment to the state Constitution that allows voters to exceed tax and debt limitations through referendums. However, they weren't able to find any case law supporting their belief, so they canceled the referendum rather than risk a legal challenge.
"It's kind of one of those gray TABOR issues," Fehn said.
The cold shoulder
Bowles, meanwhile, called the county's explanation a "dog and pony show," saying the real reason the issue was axed is that it was proving unpopular with voters showing up at the town meetings sponsored by Citizens for Better Roads.
"The response has just been real cold shoulder," Bowles said. "I think they just realized it wasn't gonna fly, so they pulled it."
Bowles said he wasn't sure whether he would continue pushing his complaint, now that only the road maintenance proposal remains on the ballot. He is considering supporting the remaining proposal if some changes are made to the administration of the county's Department of Transportation, he said.
-- Terje Langeland
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