Court date set for lawsuit against city over short-term rental tax issue – Steamboat Pilot & Today | Vette Leader

The lawsuit between members of a petitions committee and the City of Steamboat Springs has been set for an emergency hearing on Tuesday, August 16th.

The Petitions Committee, representing the Steamboat Springs Community Preservation Alliance, filed its complaint on August 1, to which the city filed its response on Monday, August 8. The Conservation Alliance has been a staunch opponent of a proposed short-term rental tax.

The complaint was filed shortly after city clerk Julie Franklin – who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit – rejected the committee’s motion for a referendum on an ordinance that would raise the question of whether to introduce a 9% short-haul tax in November should be raised. temporary rents. The same committee also submitted petitions to remove three city council members, which the city accepted.

The town clerk rejected the petitioners’ request for a referendum on the grounds that it was insufficient. In Franklin’s decision, she explained that the Steamboat Springs Home Rule Charter exempted “local legislatures” — such as collecting taxes and calling for special elections — from the right to referendums.

“Citizens’ right to table local ordinance referendum motions is reserved under the Colorado Constitution and City Charter,” wrote Bill Kyriagis, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, in a statement to Steamboat Pilot & Today. “The First Amendment also protects the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. These rights are fundamental.”

The committee is seeking a declaratory judgment stating that the petition proposed by the Preservation Alliance is valid, which would allow petitioners to begin collecting signatures.

The city enlisted the services of Mark Grueskin as legal counsel.

The city’s response cites several legal precedents arguing that they confirm that city charters limiting the power of referendums are permitted by the Colorado constitution so long as they are “strictly construed,” meaning all types of statutes , which are exempt from referendums must be explicitly identified and narrowly limited.

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The defendants contend that the wording in the Steamboat Springs charter, which precludes the “tax collection” of referendums, was strictly interpreted and therefore consistent with the state constitution.

Plaintiffs contend that the municipal statute section on plebiscites makes no mention of “municipal legislators.”

While a section of the city statute excludes “tax collection” from the popular vote, it does not include the phrase “municipal legislature.”

Because of the Colorado Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR), all taxes must be voted through a voting question, so the committee argues that the short-term rental tax ordinance wouldn’t send the tax question directly to voters, and would not collect any taxes.

Another issue in this case may be the city’s and plaintiffs’ conflicting definitions of “special elections,” since city law precludes the powers of referendum ordinances calling for special elections.

In a written response, the city said: “When Steamboat Springs voters adopted its charter, they agreed that certain city ordinances would not be subject to referendum, including any ordinance calling for a special election. The City Charter was written to encourage timely public elections on public issues.”

The city argues that since the elections in November this year come in an even-numbered year – when there are no local offices up for election – all local voting issues would be considered special elections.

Like Steamboat, many municipalities limit referendum powers to special electoral voting ordinances because a successful referendum motion simply triggers another special election that many city officials find unnecessary and cumbersome.

Because of this, city officials have accused the petitioners of using tactics that would delay a vote on the short-term rental tax and potentially confuse voters.

Plaintiffs note in their complaint that “the ordinance did not ‘call out’ the November 8, 2022 election. It was already planned.” The plaintiffs also pointed out that the ordinance describes the election as an ordinary municipal election.

It is for a judge in the 14th Circuit to determine whether the language of the ordinance is present affects whether or not the ballot issue is defined as a special election, since the city ordinance defines regular municipal elections as “every two years, at which candidates for elective office in the city are voted on.”

The city wrote in its response that the plaintiffs did not offer their own definition of a special election.

The judge may also need to determine whether asking a tax question on a poll qualifies as “tax collection.”

Tuesday’s hearing will give both parties the first chance to present their case before a judge. Beyond the hearing, there is no estimated timeline for how long the proceedings will take.

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