EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- Voters this fall will decide whether the county can keep an expected $15 million budget surplus and spend it on road and park improvements, or refund the money to voters, as part of a proposed reset of the county's TABOR limit.
The ballot question is required under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, also known as the TABOR amendment.
The Board of Commissioners approved the question in a 3-2 vote Tuesday, after a second public hearing to consider citizen comments.
Compared to only one citizen comment in the previous hearing, four citizens spoke Tuesday opposing the ballot question; the only two speaking in support were a county parks official and the director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition.
The strongest words against the ballot question came from Commissioner Carrie Geitner, who implied that the decision to approve it had already been made regardless of the public hearings and previous board discussions.
"I'm very disappointed in this board," she said.
That brought an emotional response from Commissioner Cami Bremer, who voted for the question.
"I'm disappointed, too, with the insinuation that we're not doing our jobs or meeting our responsibilities," she said.
Commissioner Chairman Stan VanderWerf explained that he voted in favor of the question because roads are the most common complaint from residents.
"We're facing a big problem with our roads and we have an opportunity to do something about it," he said.
Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez voted against the ballot question, saying that other funding options for roads hadn't been considered and road projects funded by past TABOR retentions still haven't begun.
However, Commissioner Holly Williams emphasized that the vote was only to allow voters to decide the issue, and doesn't imply that a majority of the board supports voters allowing the county to keep the surplus.
"I think that voting yes on this, does imply approval of keeping the money," she said. "And the ballot language states the first $15 million -- meaning that we could end up asking for more. We don't know yet how much a reset of the TABOR limit would provide."
The ballot question also doesn't please a group of six area state lawmakers; House Rep. Tim Geitner, R-District 19 (and husband of Commissioner Carrie Geitner) presented commissioners with a letter asking them to oppose any effort to retain surplus revenue or reset the TABOR limit to a higher level that would provide more revenue in future years without voter approval.
"We renew our ardent opposition to additional revenue being sought by the government," the letter reads. "We urge you to reject any consideration of a TABOR reset and allow the taxpayers of El Paso County to focus on their own financial recovery from the impacts of COVID-19, free from any imposition of additional financial burdens."
Before the hearing, commissioners heard from county elected leaders such as Sheriff Bill Elder and District Attorney Michael Allen, about millions of dollars in future needs because of growth and unfunded requirements from the state.
"We just wanted to give the board background information to consider if the ballot question passes," Elder said. "We're not asking for or expecting any of that money. But this is all coming down the line. We'll keep doing the best job we can, even with fewer resources than the Denver-area counties have. But there are financial concerns we'll have to address eventually."
Further emphasis on that point came from County Assessor Steve Schleiker, who said that according to the latest census data, El Paso County is now the most populous county in the state.