Public to weigh in on 7 proposed ballot items for Boulder election

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What: Public hearing on proposed ballot measures

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14. Sign-up for public comment begins at 5 p.m.

Where: Council chambers, 1777 Broadway

Boulder residents on Tuesday will get the chance to weigh in on seven proposed ballot measures for the November election, including measures aimed at elections reform, the makeup of the city’s boards and commissions, and an extension of the city’s tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

All the items will go before council again for a third reading. Council’s Sept. 4 vote will determine which ones appear on November ballots. Here’s the rundown on what will be open for public comment Tuesday:

Proposed ballot measure: Authorize the City of Boulder to keep all revenues from the 2016 voter-approved Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Product Distribution Excise Tax and continue to collect the tax at the approved rate and spend all revenue collected without refunding any amounts.

Background: Voters in November 2016 approved taxing the distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages in Boulder to the tune of two cents per fluid ounce. The city estimated the tax would bring in $3.8 million, but actual revenue is likely to be closer to $5.2 million.

Colorado’s TABOR requires that any excess revenue from the tax be returned to distributors. This ballot measure, if passed, would instead allow the city to keep the estimated $1.4 million extra and continue distributing it to programs that work to improve health and nutrition for children and low-income residents. To date, $3.2 million has been distributed.

Boards, commissions and planning department

These items will be considered as one public hearing.

Proposed ballot measure: Amend Section 84 of the Boulder City Charter to establish the housing advisory commission consisting of seven members.

Background: The Housing Advisory Board was created in March 2018. Advisory committees typically have five members, though planning board and park boards have seven, and electric utilities has nine.

Members of City Council and the community were concerned that limiting the housing board to five members would not allow for a sufficiently diverse mix of members; currently, only one member of the board is a renter, though Boulder is split nearly evenly between renters (52.3 percent) and homeowners (47.7 percent), according to census data.

Proposed ballot measure: Amend Section 130 of the Boulder City Charter to allow council to set the number (of members) of any new advisory commission as five or seven when forming the commission and change the reference of “sex” to “gender identity.”

Background: In discussions over changes to Boulder’s housing board, council also discussed changes to the city statute that requires advisory committees to have “five city residents, appointed by the city council, not all of one sex.”

Council expressed a wish not to change current boards, and recommended changing the word “sex” to “gender identity” to “allow individuals self-determination when identifying one’s personal experience of one’s own gender,” according to city documents.

Proposed ballot measure: Amend Section 78 of the Boulder City Charter to change the time for the planning department to submit its recommendations for public improvements from sixty days to thirty days before the public hearing to be consistent with the city’s budgeting process.

Background: This measure concerns capital improvements in the city. The Department of Planning, Housing and Sustainability has to make recommendations for what those projects should be by no later than Aug. 1.

Those recommendations rely on feedback from the Planning Board, which, under a 1951 Boulder law, has to submit its capital improvement program 60 days before the first public hearing on the city budget. The 60-day requirement typically means planning staff have to start budget planning in late February or early March — before last year’s financials are finalized and before projections are available.

The city council’s charter committee recommended a 30-day period because it would align the capital improvement process process with overall budget planning and allow for more accurate revenue projections for the capital project planning. Planning board did not raise any concerns or objections to the change.

All of these proposed changes stem from the recommendations of the Campaign Finance/Elections Working Group, formed in late 2017 by City Council.

Proposed ballot measure: Amend City Charter Sections 29, 38A, 38B, 39, 40, 44, 48, 54 and 56 regarding the city’s initiative, referendum and recall processes.

Background: The group is recommending a number of amendments to the city’s charter relating to a number of processes listed below.

Withdrawal of a candidate from a city council election on the 65th day before the election. The existing language around this did not specify what would happen in this instance.

Under the proposed changes, if withdrawal from nomination occurs before the ballots are finalized for printing, that nominee’s name will not appear on the ballot. If a nominee withdraws after the ballots have been finalized for printing, the ballots will not be reprinted to remove the nominee’s name, but no votes for that nominee will be counted.

Set the number of signatures required for an initiative, referendum or recall to be at least 10 percent of the average number of registered electors who voted in the previous two municipal candidate elections. Currently, requirements differ for initiatives, referendums and recall votes. The requirements are 5 percent of registered voters for an initiative, 10 percent of registered voters for a referendum, and 25 percent of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election for a recall vote.

This change would set the same requirement for all three: 10 percent of the average number of people who voted in the last two elections. Fort Collins and Longmont use the 10 percent standard for initiatives and referendums but have retained the 25 percent requirement for recalls.

Establish a fixed schedule for filing, review and consideration of an initiative petition: Signed petitions would have to be submitted 150 days before an election. Once a petition has been received, the city would have 10 days to review and suggest changes. The submitter would then have 10 days to collect more signatures or correct the petition and resubmit. Finally, the city would have another 10 days to determine if the petition is acceptable.

Provide an opportunity for input from the petition committee to the city council prior to setting the ballot title. City Council sets ballot titles. The working group is recommending that the party behind an initiative petition get to weigh in on the writing of the ballot title.

Two other recommended changes are that council be required to take action on setting a ballot title prior to 70 days before the election, and that any challenges to a ballot title be made no later than seven days after the council sets the ballot title.

Set standards for changing an ordinance passed by vote of the people to be amended (a) by two-thirds of the council members present and (b) only if the amendments are consistent with the basic intent of the ordinance or are necessary to come into compliance with state or federal law. Section 54 of the charter prohibits council from repealing an ordinance that has been approved by the voters. Amendments are allowed under limited circumstances, but guidelines for the amendment process are unclear.

The working group recommends that amendments be allowed under the aforementioned circumstances. It also recommended language changes to improve clarity.

Proposed ballot measure: Amend Section 39 of the Boulder City Charter to require the city clerk to compare signatures on a petition to signatures on file in the statewide elections database.

Background: The clerk currently verifies the name, address and date of petition signatures against local records. This recommended change would require the clerk to verify the signatures themselves against a state database. Currently, Denver is the only other municipality in the state with such a requirement.

If passed, additional staff and revenue may be needed to enforce the requirement. A handwriting expert may be needed in the event of a legal challenge, and verification would have to be done on a database not owned by the city. Denver has expressed an interest in acting as a third-party verifier for a fee. Elections officials from Denver will attend the Aug. 14 meeting to speak to this and other election issues.

The city also could pass an ordinance requiring verification, and avoid the ballot measure altogether.

Proposed ballot measure: Amend Section 38 of the Boulder City Charter to allow for electronic petitions and the use of electronic signing of initiative petitions online.

Background: Currently, petitions must be signed in person, on paper. This would allow them to be gathered in-person electronically (via an iPad or similar) or online. Denver allows electronic petition signing, and online petitions are utilized at the national, state and local levels by groups such as the Boulder County Democrats.

A second working group has been requested if electronic petition signing is allowed. Additional staffing and resources are likely; including an estimated $22,000 one-time purchase of software and ongoing costs of $3,400 for iPads. Software and set-up costs for online petitions have not been assessed; the current, paper system costs roughly $4,000 for two consecutive petitions.

Editor’s note: This article has been amended to clarify the information that is verified in the petition process.

Electronic and online petitioning being considered, along with soda tax extension


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