UPDATE Sept. 20, 2017 — At a work session on Sept. 19, 2017, the Board of Weld County Commissioners attempted to discredit the Clerk and Recorder’s stated cost of the election by calling the election “revenue neutral.”
However, Weld County Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes said they were speaking over her and did not give her an opportunity to fully explain her figures. She said she never agreed the election was revenue neutral. She only agreed that the money was in the budget. As the original story states, the budget for Weld County for 2017 is not expected to be impacted by the election because Koppes planed for a “what if” scenario, the cost of the election to voters to disband the County Council remains at $150,000. Koppes’ initial assessment remains accurate,she said. Because many school district elections were cancelled and to account for the residents who live in unincorporated Weld County and have no special elections they are voting on either, there are 47,177 voters in Weld County who will only be voting on issues 1A and 1B . If 1A and 1B were not on the ballot, Koppes’ budget for 2017 would have come in about $150,000 under budget.
GREELEY – A ballot initiative in November asking Weld County voters to disband the Weld County Council will cost 10-15 times the normal yearly cost to fund the council.
According to Weld County Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes, preliminary estimates are the election will cost the county just under $150,000.
The Weld County Council is a governing body unique to Weld County. It was written into the Weld County Charter when Weld became a home rule county in 1976 to oversee the county’s other elected officials without state interference.
It’s usual yearly operating cost is $10,000-15,000. In 2017, it had an additional $50,000 for the purpose of performance audits on the Clerk and Recorder’s office and the Board of County Commissioners. That cost is not regular or normal. In fact, it is not known when, if ever, the council has ever ordered performance audits in the past.
The commissioners have been opposed to audits in the past, but because they drove the request for the clerk’s audit, the council tied that audit to their ability to run an audit on the commissioners.
The council is charged with setting salaries, appointing replacements in the case of vacancies, ordering performance audits, removing commissioners from office in the case of criminal proceedings or recalls, among other things.
However, over the past several years, it has come under fire from current and past commissioners that it has become partisan with an ax to grind, while supporters say the council’s hands are tied because commissioners refuse to give it a realistic budget, independent legal counsel and other needed things to properly do its job.
In August, two former commissioners and two former council members asked the commissioners to put the idea of disbanding it before the voters in November.
Despite all but one resident speaking against the idea, commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of putting it on the ballot. Additionally, commissioners later refused to consider a petition of 150 more residents against the idea to withdraw the idea.
Koppes said the cost is for several reasons.
First, there are no other Weld County issues and no state issues going to the voters. Prior to issues 1A and 1B, 47,177 registered voters in Weld were not set to get a ballot.
Additionally, Koppes said the extensive language of the 1A doesn’t fit on a standard 11-inch ballot.
The use of an 18-inch ballot along with additional printing and postage costs puts Weld’s responsibility for the election at $148,802 as of Friday. Koppes said there are still some items that could increase that cost even more.
Koppes said 168,165 ballots will be mailed. The current estimate of the entire coordinated election is $452,304. Of that, $303,502 is born by other Weld municipalities with questions on the ballot, Koppes said.
Those against the election said $150,000 is a waste of tax money, and gives control back to the state.
The home rule charter page on the county Website says “The charter brings government closer to the residents of Weld County and gives them the authority to manage their own affairs.”
“By disbanding the Council you are taking away that local control from the people,” said Dave Kisker, president of People United for Responsible Government, a non-profit formed to watch-dog the county commissioners. “This is not about less government. This is about a less responsive government.”
Earlier this year, the commissioners denied the purchase request of a Nemo Q system for the south Weld County motor vehicle office at a cost of about $30,000. The system, which is a customer ticketing system, was installed in the Greeley offices a year ago to speed up the service times in the office. Commissioners said they hadn’t planned for the expense so it would have to wait until 2018.
Likewise, commissioners have repeatedly refused to budget money to outfit both the regular meeting room and their work session room with audio and video equipment to implement live stream and/or delayed recordings of their meetings.
Residents have long complained about lack of transparency with meetings because they are held in the middle of the day when most are at work and can’t attend.
Former County Commissioner Bill Jerke and a supporter of disbanding the council said when he first started looking at bringing this before the voters it was through a citizen’s initiative, but it never came to fruition. Jerke has said at several meetings that he was taken by surprise when this group came forward to ask commissioners to place the issue on the ballot. He has also agreed on several occasions that there might be a better way or better time to do it.
He was not part of the group who asked commissioners to put it on the ballot, so he does not know if they considered the cost.
Although the conversation on the cost is a moot point now, Jerke still supports the effort for other reasons.
“The bigger picture for me is when I do public and corporate presentations, the question that always comes up is ‘What in the world is going on in Weld County?’” Jerke said. “And it’s not just this issue, but to the extent of the county council, they just keep their strife on the front pages. And it’s been that way for decades. I see it as adding another layer of mistrust of government.”
Commissioner Chairwoman Julie Cozad who initially said putting the issue to disband the council on the ballot looked bad but changed her vote at the last minute, was on an Honor Flight at the time of publication and contacted Complete Colorado, but was unable to comment immediately. Cozad’s comments will be added when she returns.
Koppes said she may have to have conversations next week with finance manager Don Warden about budget implications if the cost goes much higher.
“We always prepare for different case scenarios,” Koppes said.
But Jeffrey Hare, a former Weld County Councilman said it was another example of an irresponsible waste of money, adding that Commissioner Barb Kirkmeyer collects more in mileage reimbursements each year – about half of which are in untaxed fringe benefits for mileage from her home to the office – than the council costs to operate.
“It’s disappointing,” Hare said. “It’s clearly irresponsible, but it’s also clearly politically driven and not what the residents of the county probably want.”