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Charter amendment on ballot as Question 3D extends the city’s options for leasing property
Why change the city charter?
Longmont adopted its city charter and became a home rule city in 1961. A lot has changed since then.
The notion of a home rule city is defined in the Colorado Constitution. Home rule cities can govern themselves, within certain limits, called preemptions, set by the state. Recently, the trend in Colorado law has been to relax the extent to which the state dictates the actions of county and municipal governments, and cede more power to home rule cities.
Changing circumstances require Longmont to adapt to the times. Sometimes, that means a charter amendment. This should not be done frivolously, but it also should not be viewed as such a momentous change that it should always be avoided.
This is a time when change is needed.
Then and now: 1961 to 2021
In 1961, the Longmont charter authors believed that 20 years was an ample length of time to lease city property to a third party. But as of the 1960 census, Longmont’s population was just over 11,000 people. We were a farm town. The idea that municipal government would become a major owner and manager of property was in the future.
Now, Longmont’s population has increased almost tenfold. We’ve created a ring of open space around our city in order to preserve our character as a self-contained city (not a suburb). That is central to our identity. Longmont’s open space is nearly sacred to this community, and it is hard to imagine any city council permitting that land to be developed or sold. However, much of the open space property is leased to farmers to keep it under cultivation and healthy. That’s a good thing.
Over time, Longmont has acquired many other types of land, too. There have been distressed properties, strategic investments and even land recovered from the St. Vrain flood plain. That land can be managed and used to the public benefit — without taxing the public to do so.
Longmont’s city leadership — not only the elected council but the career city managers and directors — works hard to determine what mix of public and private resources Longmont needs. Here are some of the imperatives supported by recent policy decisions:
Increase our commitment to renewable energy, improving Longmont’s quality of life, keeping utility costs low, and engaging in good environmental stewardship.
Make sure we stay the tight-knit but welcoming community we are today by providing the right home for everyone who lives here.
Enrich our community with public amenities that bring us closer together and pull money into our economy without greatly increasing our population. Our voters are clear this needs to be accomplished without raising local taxes.
The elephant in the mask
Longmont’s newest need is managing the recovery from the COVID-19-induced recession, while still keeping our community as safe as possible from disease.
Though many small businesses are hard-hit, with some even closing, Longmont has been judicious in its management of the situation. Instead of making the false economies of austerity, the city government, in cooperation with local nonprofits, has been spending from reserves where it will do the most good. Years of prudent financial management by the city made this possible.
A municipal government can’t do this forever without finding new money. Local taxes are not the answer when so many people are suffering. But leveraging the city’s land assets (not open space) to create investment and new jobs can be part of the answer. We can choose what kind of investments will do the most good, and make good public land available to qualified investors at fair rates. Jobs and freer spending by residents will follow, a rising tide that lifts all boats.
Just as most first-time homebuyers need a 30-year mortgage to afford their house payment, so do investors in public-private partnerships need 30-year financing to make viable projects in many cases. Passing Ballot Question 3D will create the latitude for the city to make the best use of its land assets, and give Longmont its best, safest, and fastest recovery.
Pros and cons
Municipal ballot questions are not described in the state’s voter Blue Book. Boulder County Elections is expected to have ballot facsimiles live on its website on Tuesday. Here is Longmont’s information on the two ballot questions voters will be asked to decide this fall: 3D on the charter amendment for 30-year leases. The link also includes information on the city’s water bond issue, Question 3C.
Public-private investment through city land leasing is a win-win-win for the people, for investors, and for the municipal government. Leased land remains the property of the city, so if the lessee defaults, the city has gained revenue and lost nothing. Often, the partners negotiate for the city to assume maintenance of the finished improvements at the end of the lease period.
Major investors need long leases to get a full return on their investment. This is good for Longmont because otherwise the investment would likely not happen at all.
(Thirty) year leases allow the city to do long-range planning on the resulting revenue stream.
Some people perceive this as a “pro-business” policy and object for that reason.
With the city controlling the land, the benefits can be balanced to serve public and private interests fairly. It’s hard to see how the public loses out.
In my time working with the Longmont city government, I’ve learned great respect and confidence in the judgement of our city manager and his leadership staff. Allowing the city to negotiate leases of up to 30 years, especially in creative public-private partnerships, is something we can trust them to do to everyone’s benefit. It’s one way to engage the private sector while ensuring that the outcomes benefit everyone, the people of Longmont most of all.
Some of the most civically engaged people of Longmont have formed a local issue committee to educate the rest of us about Ballot Question 3D and promote its passage. Check out the committee's message at OurBestLongmont.org, and then make your plan to vote yes on Ballot Question 3D.
— Marcia Martin is a member of the Longmont City Council. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the council. However, the council has passed a resolution urging passage of Ballot Question 3D.