Government & Politics  April 26, 2024

FRPR: No decision yet on ballot language for 2024

Timetables change, but the board of directors for the Front Range Passenger Rail District was expected to decide this month whether to place a tax issue on the November general-election ballot to gain voter approval.

It didn’t happen.

The district board, which met for its monthly meeting Friday, can decide as late as July whether to place the issue on the ballot, although board members acknowledge that sooner is better than later because a campaign to support the issue would need to be run.

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The FRPR is a district created by the state Legislature to plan and eventually run a passenger rail service along the Front Range, from Fort Collins to Pueblo, and eventually beyond. It has determined a route — along the BNSF Railway tracks north of Denver and along the combined BNSF/Union Pacific tracks south of the city. It has also determined, generally, where stations will be located. In Northern Colorado, they would be in Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont and Boulder.

The ballot question has proved to be more difficult.

Friday, the board decided to move ahead with polling to gauge public sentiment on a sales-tax rate in the rail district. 

“It is time to make this decision that is grounded in reality, so voters know what they’re getting,” said board member Claire Levy, a former legislator and resident of Boulder County. 

The “grounded in reality” part is what occupied much of the board discussion Friday.

While recognizing the urgency of getting ballot language drafted, members were uncertain about costs, particularly capital costs, which would affect the amount that is asked of voters.

“We have good numbers around the service (six trains daily) but almost none around capital costs,” said Brent Butzin, an attorney with Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell LLP, who specializes in structuring complex financial projects. 

Board member Joan Peck, the mayor of Longmont, wanted a split poll to test a couple of different tax rates, and her motion when amended would have tested 0.2% and 0.4%.

The upper rate “causes me a lot of alarm,” Levy said. “If we propose a number that big, would we then lose the municipalities that are backing this?”

Also of concern, as noted by Andy Karsian, general manager of the district, is the amount of bonded debt that the district will require because the project will require upfront money and can’t be built at the rate revenue comes in. “That’s the number that voters remember,” he said. Under Taxpayer Bill of Rights rules, ballot language has to include not just the principal amount but what the total payback amount will be. That will be in the billions of dollars, he said.

Karsian also said time is of the essence. “We can’t just keep iterating on possibilities,” he said of efforts to change what the group will ask in a poll. Any changes now from what the governor’s office has determined will delay the poll and delay the ultimate decision, he said.

“If we go to the ballot in 2024, we need to get a service narrative out to the public,” Karsian said.

The board ultimately decided against revising the poll question and instead will move toward getting results sooner rather than later so that the board can consider ballot language.

The Front Range Passenger Rail District did not decide on a ballot question at its monthly board meeting.

Ken Amundson
Ken Amundson is managing editor of BizWest. He has lived in Loveland and reported on issues in the region since 1987. Prior to Colorado, he reported and edited for news organizations in Minnesota and Iowa. He's a parent of two and grandparent of four, all of whom make their homes on the Front Range. A news junkie at heart, he also enjoys competitive sports, especially the Rapids.
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