Barbara Koelzer, Regional Government Affairs Director
In this issue…
Special Election Set: The City Council chose February 27 for the special election fill the Ward 1 seat created when Brian Bagley became mayor, the earliest available date that meets statutory requirements. So far, two candidates have declared but the deadline to gather signatures is December 18 so more candidates could emerge.
Tim Waters is a retired educator who served as the superintendent of the Greeley-Evans School District in the 1980s through early 1990s. According to the Times-Call, Waters mentioned two important local issues in announcing his candidacy: the effects of gas and oil production and affordable housing. Josh Goldberg works for a local brewery and serves on the Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. The Longmont Association of Realtors® will interview candidates in January.
New Council Revises Windy Gap Commitment: By a 4-2 vote, the City Council dialed back the amount of water storage Longmont will finance in the Windy Gap Firming Project at its regular meeting on November 28. Voters approved bonding up to $32 million in the November election.
Councilmember Joan Peck, who made the motion to finance 8,000 acre-feet of storage (versus 10,000 acre-feet), explained that the change in direction honored the voters’ decision because the ballot question asked voters to approve “up to 10,000 acre-feet.” Evidently, this rationalization made sense to Polly Christensen, Marcia Martin and Aren Rodriguez who voted with Peck.
Mayor Brian Bagley and Councilmember Bonnie Finley disagreed and voted against the motion. Now, staff will revise the financial calculations; it is unclear whether any bonding will be required to finance the reduced amount of water storage. Updated financing scenarios will be brought back for Council consideration in early 2018.
Christensen Calls For Affordable Housing Requirements: The implications of the November general election became clear during council member comments at the November 28 regular City Council meeting. Knowing she had the votes to succeed, Polly Christensen called for a new commitment to inclusionary zoning. She said the Council voted to support for Boulder County’s affordable housing goals and that the Council needed to keep “its word.”
Christensen suggested that all new residential developments should be required to dedicate 12 percent of all units to the City’s deed-restricted affordable housing program or pay cash-in-lieu. Furthermore, Christensen argued that projects currently under construction should be subject to the requirement provided they are less than 50 percent completed.
This prompted a discussion in which Councilmember Martin offered to provide literature proving that cash-in-lieu drives development in “the wrong direction.” Councilmember Peck asked for historical comparative data about Longmont’s previous inclusionary zoning program so the Council can make “correct decisions.” Councilmember Finley said she would reserve her comments for the moment but that she is not a fan of inclusionary zoning and reminded the Council that Boulder, which implemented inclusionary zoning over two decades ago has a median home price of roughly $1 million. City Manager Harold Dominguez will schedule this topic for a future agenda but explained he is not sure about the exact date.
Council Changes Direction on Short-Term Rental Requirements: The City Council added more restrictions on property owners interested in renting their homes during the first reading of an ordinance to legalize short-term rentals in Longmont. At a previous study session, the “old” Council had directed staff to draft legislation that would allow short-term rentals (STRs) in any residential zone, basically following the recommendations of Visit Longmont. However, the new Council, at Councilmember Christensen’s direction, voted unanimously to revise the ordinance to prohibit rentals of income properties, restrict licensing to one STR per block and require safety inspections prior to licensure. According to Councilmember Peck, these requirements will prevent investors from profiting from STRs and keep housing affordable.
Now, staff will have to figure out how to implement the additional restrictions and administer the program, which will require a difference ordinance. The new ordinance will be brought back for Council review in 2018.
Broadband Governance Discussion Prompts Questions: On November 28, the Fort Collins City Council had its first broadband discussion in the wake of the November election, in which voters gave permission for the City to move forward with its plan to possibly operate a broadband utility. Staff hoped to get feedback and determine what type of governance model the Council would support but it became clear the Council was not prepared to make a decision.
Most members of Council would be willing to give the City Manager and staff the authority for day-to-day decisions such as setting prices and making operational decisions. But some, like Ross Cunniff, want to see a different model in which the City Council would have more control with “minimal delegation” to staff.
City Manager Darin Atteberry said staff will come back to answer the questions posed by the Council in mid-January. The staff had hoped to finalize the governance model quickly and move forward with an authorization to appropriate $1.8 million from the General Fund (which will be repaid when the bonds are issued), hire key staff (such as a broadband executive director) and finalize a detailed financial plan for 2018-2019 but evidently this plan was optimistic.
Metro District Discussion Far From Over: The City Council completed its introductory discussion regarding metropolitan districts at the November 28 study session but it is clear that some members of Council remain unconvinced that staff’s proposed revisions to Fort Collins’ current metro district policy would be satisfactory. Josh Birks, the City’s Director of Economic Sustainability explained that metro districts could be used to achieve specific objectives that are not required of typical development proposals. For example, a metro district could meet alternative energy goals articulated in the City’s sustainability plan similar to the Geos net-zero community in Arvada.
While Mayor Troxell and Councilmembers Martinez and Summers appeared to support staff’s proposal in general, the rest of the Council remains unconvinced. Ross Cunniff said Fort Collins is developing quickly without the use of metro districts. He predicted metro districts would just impact affordability. Bob Overbeck agreed with Cunniff. His concern is losing community character. He wants any metro district proposal to focus on the social aspects of development and said he doesn’t see any of that in the staff’s ideas.
Kristin Stephens focused her comments on child care, saying the City is in a crisis and “child care must be part of the conversation for new developments whether they are metro districts or other types.” Gerry Horak said Boulder has solved the problem of affordability using deed restrictions. He wants a metro district policy that increases the stock of low-income housing.
City Manager Atteberry summarized the conversation, reminding the Council that metro districts are not the “default” development position. The proposal offered by staff would allow the City to accomplish “stretch goals.” He said the staff will return with more details and answers to questions at future study sessions.
Fire Rescue Authority Needs More Funding: The City Council was impressed with the strategic plan presented by the Loveland Fire Rescue Authority (LFRA) at a study session on November 28. The plan includes adding new fire stations, increasing staff and upgrading equipment to keep up with Loveland’s growth.
Fire Chief Mark Miller noted the Fire and Rescue Authority has collected over $1.8 million in capital expansion fees (CEFs) and said he feels there is enough “in the bank” to pay for future stations although he voiced concerns about rising costs related to building new stations and adding equipment.
It is important to note that CEFs do not pay for hiring additional staff. To implement the strategic plan, LFRA will need a budget increase from Loveland (and other towns within the LFRA boundaries such as Johnstown). That will be a discussion for another day, and force the Council to prioritize its limited budget.
New City Council Members Seated: Finally, a month after the election, the Greeley City Council has sworn in all seven members. Once the election results were certified, it was confirmed Brett Payton won the Ward II seat by two votes. On December 5 the City Council swore in the embattled winner of the At-Large seat, Eddie Mirick. Prior to that meeting, it had been unclear whether the Council would choose to determine Mirick’s fate or allow the District Court to decide if a previous felony conviction in another state made him ineligible to serve.
It is unclear when the District Court will rule on the case. If the Court rules against Mirick, the seat will be termed vacant and per the Greeley City Charter, the City Council would appoint an eligible elector to fill the seat until the next General Election.
Senate Passes Tax Reform Bill: Early Saturday morning, the U.S. Senate, by a vote of 51-49, passed legislation that would change the face of homeownership in this country for decades to come. The House passed its own version of tax reform Nov. 16.
A last-minute change to the Senate version would make up to $10,000 in property taxes deductible for the small number of homeowners who would still be itemizing. Previously, the Senate version had eliminated the property tax deduction entirely. The change aligns with the property tax cap set in the House bill. One difference between the two bills is that the Senate version retains the deductibility of mortgage interest payments on up to $1 million of indebtedness; the House version caps indebtedness at $500,000 (again, for the small minority still itemizing).
Now, members of the Senate and the House must meet to agree on a final bill. It’s not too late to make your voice heard. Join us in telling your members of Congress that incentives for homeownership and the capital gains tax exclusion on the sale of a home MUST be protected. If you haven’t already done so, take action here:
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