Foothills possible tax hike could affect May balloting

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By Matt Gunn

The Foothills Park and Recreation District will hold an election May 6 — that much is certain. Whether it will be a mail ballot or a polling-place election is yet to be decided.

Three seats are open on the district’s board of directors. A polling-place election will suffice should Foothills’ leadership decide that those positions will be the only things on the ballot. But the pending decision on whether to put a mill-levy increase on the ballot could change that.

Under state law, a mail election would be required should the district ask voters for a 3-mill increase.

Some concern was expressed at Foothills’ Jan. 22 board meeting about whether the amount budgeted for a May election will be enough for the district to conduct an all-mail vote.

“That’s what we’re looking at now,” said Mary Pat Adams, Foothills’ manager of marketing and community outreach. “We told the board at our last meeting that we didn’t think $80,000 — or the $70,000, really — would be enough for the requirements of a mail ballot election.”

Because there are no county issues before voters in May, the district is unable to coordinate the election with Jefferson County. A potential mail election — a requirement for tax issues in a May election — would mean Foothills incurs the entire cost of sending notifications and then about 65,000 ballots to district residents.

Another issue is finding a company that can process the completed ballots, an issue that is complicated by the current decertification of many Colorado voting machines.

A law passed last year requires the mail ballot election if money is at stake.

“I think it was based on a fear by certain legislators that some special districts were having polling-place votes that weren’t advertising well,” said Josh Liss, Jefferson County elections director.

Liss said the county would support Foothills in any way it can, with the exception of financial resources and voting machines.

Foothills has budgeted $80,000 for a May election, $10,000 of which is allotted for public opinion polls. But because of multiple mailings and the cost of simply counting votes, the cost could be above $100,000 if the district seeks a mill-levy boost.

“I guess my concern at this point is a dollar amount and whether or not we put a cap on that,” said Lori Hoffner, chairman of the Foohills board.

District staff indicated that earlier surveys showed a positive view of a tax increase that would help pay for rising utility costs while preventing possible service cuts. A clear advantage of holding a mill-levy election in May is that it would separate the issue from a potentially crowded November ballot during a presidential election.

The board must decide whether it will seek the tax increase by its Feb. 26 meeting. District staff are looking at the options and costs. As it stands, The Peak Community and Wellness Center is currently listed as a polling place.

Also involved is finding a company that can help administer the election. Finding a company that either has voting machines or central count scanners that are certified might be a challenge.

“There are several portions of voting systems that are certified,” Liss said.

Some have machines for a polling-place vote certified, while others have scanners for a mail ballot certified.

“It’s a mixed bag, the certification now,” Liss said. “I believe 53 counties and at least three of the four major vendors are in the process of appealing the voting machine certifications.”

Another option is for the district’s election manager to see whom he can hire to perform a physical count of ballots.

Three board members — Hoffner, Mike Whetstone and Rick Woodward — are leaving due to term limits. District residents interested in running for those positions will be able to declare candidacies in February.

“They can pick up from our office a self-nomination and acceptance form,” Adams said. “We have packets of information for them, so anyone who’s interested can start on Feb. 6.

Residents can also send a signed nomination letter witnessed by an elector living within the district. The deadline for nominations is Feb. 29.

Contact Matt Gunn at matt@evergreenco.com. For breaking news and updates, visit www.columbinecourier.com.