Elbert County adds ballot measures

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Elbert County voters will be asked in November to decide whether to beef up the county budget by approving a mill levy increase and a 1 percent sales tax on new industrial tools/machinery.

And voters will be asked whether to direct the commissioners to get involved in the 51st State Initiative effort, joining other rural Colorado counties that are considering options that include forming a new state.

Elbert County commissioners voted 3-0 Aug. 28 to put those three issues on the November ballot, Commissioner Robert Rowland said recently.

Rowland said the 4-mill increase for county government, which now has a 28.137-mill levy, is needed to maintain service levels, as the county has been facing declining revenues and declining property values while service needs have increased.

Elbert County Treasurer Rick Pettitt said Sept. 5 that “right now we're `even' as far as paying bills.”

But Pettit said the county is short-staffed after drastic measures a couple of years ago that included layoffs, a 10 percent pay cut for remaining employees and the reduction of the work week from 40 to 36 hours.

Regarding the 51st State Initiative, Rowland said he was the one who earlier this year became interested in getting the county involved in an effort led by Weld County and several other rural eastern Colorado counties.

“I'm the one that raised the issue (with the other commissioners),” said Rowland, who describes himself as a “liberty activist” and founder of the Elbert County Tea Party. “I felt it was a valid thing to put on the ballot.”

He said he didn't know much at first about the initiative effort, whose supporters are proposing a couple of options, including forming a new state or annexing to Wyoming.

But after studying it and having discussions with other counties' commissioners, and after fielding a raft of calls and Facebook comments from pro-initiative residents — the most for any issue since he became a commissioner in January — “I became convinced it was right.”

Rowland said while the current state government focuses on the needs of Boulder and Denver, rural counties are “feeling very disconnected.”

“I believe rural Colorado, including Elbert County, over the last several years is feeling very neglected (by the governor and Legislature),” he said.

He said that, for example, the state's 20 percent mandate requiring coal-fired power plants to operate with more “green energy” sources will be more expensive for the plants — so that will result in “huge increases” in energy bills for the county's agricultural industry and others.

The state government's position on Second Amendment and gun laws also “leaves us very frustrated,” he said.