A citizen effort to challenge the language of the ballot measure on whether to include Littleton in the boundaries of South Metro Fire Rescue has hit snags, but its author is pressing ahead — and …
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A citizen effort to challenge the language of the ballot measure on whether to include Littleton in the boundaries of South Metro Fire Rescue has hit snags, but its author is pressing ahead — and still has a chance to have her concerns heard.
Carol Brzeczek, who has long been active in city politics, would like to change the wording of the ballot measure that will be sent to voters this fall that could allow South Metro — a large, regional firefighting district — to absorb Littleton within its borders.
If the measure fails, Littleton will begin contracting with South Metro for fire coverage beginning in 2019 anyway, and South Metro would hold repeated votes in an attempt to achieve full inclusion. If the measure is approved, property taxes would increase by roughly $10 a month on a home valued at $370,000, according to city figures. Proponents say the move would bring higher-quality fire service, and that Littleton cannot operate a standalone fire department after the departure of its two partner districts at the end of 2018.
Brzeczek detailed her concerns over the language of the proposed ballot measure in a June 11 interview in her south Littleton home. Councilmember Carol Fey, whose tenure on council has been largely defined by her skepticism of the inclusion proposal, was also present for the interview but declined to be quoted on the record.
The proposed ballot language asks if voters wish to become a part of South Metro if a set of conditions are met. The first condition in the draft is that the City of Littleton must first reduce its property tax mill levy from 6.662 to 2.0 for taxes collected for fiscal year 2020.
The second condition reads, in part, that “the maximum mill levy that may be imposed by South Metro … is 9.25 mills.”
“There's no 'may' about it,” Brzeczek said. “I want it to say 'shall' be imposed.”
Further, Brzeczek wants to rearrange the conditions, so that the clause spelling out the tax increase precedes the one detailing the tax decrease, feeling that voters should understand that the measure results in a tax increase.
Brzeczek said she is also concerned that the measure contains a flaw because South Metro cannot compel Littleton to lower its mill levy if a future council declined to do so before the budget is set for fiscal year 2020.
However, Littleton already passed an ordinance that it will lower its mill levy rate to 2.0 if the inclusion vote passes, said City Manager Mark Relph.
Ordinance 14-2018, passed by the city council on April 17, automatically triggers the mill levy reduction if the measure succeeds, and also redirects funds normally spent on fire service to road repair.
The final condition in Brzeczek's proposed language concretely spells out that Littleton's fire service property, assets and equipment will be “irreversibly conveyed” to South Metro.
“I think the voter will better know what they're voting on with my language than theirs,” Brzeczek said. “That's the whole point of this: to give the voter good information so when they cast the vote they know exactly what they're voting for.”
Brzeczek attempted to file a formal petition to change the ballot language in court following a special meeting of the South Metro Fire Rescue Board of Directors on May 2, in which she said board members indicated they were formally setting ballot language.
She was rebuffed, however, as the action the board took that night was adoption of a resolution initiating the inclusion election.
Court documents further indicate that the final ballot language may not be set until September 7. State law only allows formal petitions of ballot language after certification of the language by a judge, and the petition process can take upwards of 20 days — which Brzeczek asserted was too little time, because the process could carry on past the time ballots are printed.
Indeed, finalized ballot language will be sent to the printer within a week of Sept. 7, said Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder Matt Crane.
Brzeczek can also seek to have her concerns included in a “TABOR notice,” like a voter's blue book, that compiles arguments for and against ballot measures, which will be sent to voters a month before the election.
However, court documents obtained from South Metro indicate that Brzeczek will have a chance to informally challenge proposed ballot language in a “ballot content meeting” to be held between July 17 and July 28, at which any member of the public will have up to 20 minutes to present comments and proposed ballot language.
South Metro is backed up by a pair of court orders affirming the validity of the ballot setting process thus far, said Mike Dell'Orfano, South Metro's assistant chief of governmental affairs.
“We certainly welcome community input so that we can continue to partner and work together within our communities to address any concerns and/or matters, and the public will continue to have the ability to provide input within the court-approved process moving forward,” Dell'Orfano said in a statement.
Brzeczek's concerns are more smoke than fire, Relph said.
“I think the ballot language was straightforward the way it is, the way it was proposed,” Relph said. “I have no problem with it. In my opinion, (her concerns) miss the overall point. They're details that in the end, if you change the language, don't take away from the main issue itself: how do our residents want to pay for fire service?”
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