Utility debt-limit ballot item proposed

BOULDER – City of Boulder staff on Friday presented an alternative ballot measure to the citizen initiative on debt limits for a municipal electric utility filed last month.

The city’s proposed ballot measure, according to documents released by the city, would set a limit on the amount of debt allowed to acquire Xcel Energy Inc.’s distribution system and on capital costs during the first six months of the municipal utility’s operations.

The dollar amount of the debt limit was not stated in the paperwork released Friday, but it would have to be stated before city council could give the measure final approval in August to be included on the November ballot. The city’s measure would not require any other votes down the line before the utility would be allowed to issue debt.

On June 28, the group Voter Approval of Debt Limits turned in a petition asking that a debt-limit measure be placed on the November ballot. That measure proposes a change to the city’s charter that would require voters to approve the amount of any utility debt issued as well as the total cost of debt repayment.

The citizens measure would also require that the utility’s service area not extend beyond city limits unless registered voters outside the city served by the utility were permitted to vote in the debt-limit elections.

City staff’s alternative measure would not allow nonresident customers who would be served by the municipal utility to vote on the debt-limit question. However the measure does propose an amendment to the city charter that would allow out-of-city customers to serve on the utility advisory board. And the measure clarifies that nonresidents’ rates would be the same as those for city customers.

On Friday afternoon, city clerk Alisa D. Lewis certified the citizen petition, confirming that enough signatures were valid for the item to be placed on the November ballot. City council will set the ballot title in a special meeting after its Tuesday study session, and then formalize its placement on the ballot on Aug. 20.

If city council formally decides in August to put the alternative ballot measure submitted by staff on the November ballot as well, both could pass. In that instance, Boulder spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said, whichever measure passed with more votes would prevail.

City council will hear a first reading of the ordinance regarding the alternative ballot measure at its special meeting on Wednesday.

At a study session Tuesday, the council will hear from third-party evaluator PowerServices Inc. as to whether that company believes the city’s proposals for a municipal utility demonstrate that the city could run such a utility while meeting conditions of the city charter.

Assuming PowerServices Inc.’s findings confirm that a city utility could meet charter conditions, council will vote on an ordinance that formalizes the findings.

Council, on Wednesday, will also vote on a condemnation ordinance that would set in motion the acquisition of Xcel’s distribution system. The first steps of that process, carried out over the next few months, would be to begin good-faith negotiations with Xcel and to identify all assets to be acquired and get appraisals of their value. The ordinance states that, if negotiations fail, condemnation action likely would be filed no earlier than January 2014.

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