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Basalt declares ecological emergency
Resolution calls for ‘mobilization effort to restore a safe climate'
Sopris
Mount Sopris, pictured in July 2018, the day after the Lake Christine Fire erupted. This week, the Basalt Town Council unanimously championed a climate emergency resolution. - photo by Katie Hankinson

As far as official get-togethers go, the Basalt Town Council meeting Tuesday night was a short one, wrapping up in about an hour and a half, but it could end up having a significant impact on the town’s long-term ecologic and economic outlooks.

Most notably, a resolution was unanimously approved “endorsing a declaration of a climate emergency and requesting regional collaboration on an immediate just transition and emergency mobilization effort to restore a safe climate.” There was also a lesser measure approved regarding property taxes that has the potential to become a bigger issue this fall.

The climate-emergency resolution, championed by council members Katie Schwoerer, finance and operations director for the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, and Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability for the Aspen Skiing Co., make Basalt one of 966 local governments in 18 countries to declare a climate emergency, according to The Climate Mobilization, an organization dedicated to making governments take action on climate change. 

In Colorado, however, Basalt is just the fourth entity to sign on, following the city of Boulder, Boulder County and the city of Fort Collins. Nationally, a mere 27 governments have endorsed the declaration, although that number includes both New York City and Los Angeles, the two most populous burgs in the U.S.

“It’s kind of telling that the largest carbon emitter on the planet is so far behind,” said Schwoerer. “This a great step forward. Cities the size of New York all the way to towns with populations of 600 are getting behind this climate emergency and taking action within their communities, but also sending a collective message to our federal government saying, ‘This is first and foremost on our minds, and we must, must take significant action.’”

What this means for the Town of Basalt in an official capacity remains to be seen. Spearheaded by the Basalt Green Team, the town has already made many eco-friendly moves in recent years. The effort has helped bring along not just other local towns and counties but local businesses as well.

“One of the first stated goals (of the Green Team’s 2017 climate action plan) was to advocate for 100 percent clean energy by 2030, and it involved pushing on Holy Cross, our utility,” said Schendler. “That pressure actually helped Holy Cross. They announced yesterday or the day before that they would meet their 2030 goal of 70 percent clean power a decade early.”

The town can only do so much; the resolution is largely a statement of intent rather than an act of legislation. Much of the change has to come from local citizens and the private sector, but now the town has a seeming mandate of ensuring its citizens are doing all they can to quell the climate emergency. The details of how that will be done have yet to be worked out.


Trifling taxing concern

The meeting’s first resolution involved putting a question on the November ballot ostensibly asking citizens if they don’t want to change their property tax rate. On the surface, that might seem simple enough, but it gets a little more complicated the deeper one delves.

The town’s current property-tax mill levy rate is 5.957. This rate, however, is in violation of the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), under which the rate should be 2.562 mills, as it was in 2010. Since then, the rate has been raised without voter approval a number of times. Basalt will be paying out a refund of over-collected money to its citizens soon.

The ballot measure will be asking Basaltines to allow the town to keep the rate at 5.957 rather than be forced to revert to the 2010 rate. Should the ballot measure fail, a number of town-provided services will have to be scaled back or cut.

Further complicating the issue, due to TABOR requirements, the ballot measure has to categorize itself as an increase in taxes, as the 5.957 mill rate is expected to bring in roughly $740,000 more in 2020 than it did in 2019.

“This is the continued deviance and weirdness and trouble with TABOR,” said Schendler. “If the community says, ‘Oh, I don’t want a tax increase,’ and votes no when it’s not a tax increase – it’s just providing the services we have – that’s a tragic misunderstanding of the issue, so we really have to work on this.”

Should the measure pass, it also includes language that would “de-Bruce” the town. The concept, named for the legislator who sponsored the TABOR bill, means that the town would have the authority going forward to adjust the mill levy rate to anything lower than or equal to 5.957 mills without putting any tax raises to a vote.

“So forevermore, we will be able to raise or lower to a maximum of 5.957 unless we go to the voters again and seek a higher amount?” asked council member Bill Infante.

“That’s correct,” said Town Attorney Jeff Conklin.

The resolution supporting the ballot language passed unanimously.