Boulder Ratepayers Reconsider Renewal of Utility Occupation Tax

A plurality of Boulder , Colorado, voters say they would support a renewal of the Utility Occupation Tax, which funds the city’s now five-year-old bid to separate from Xcel Energy and form a municipal electric utility, a Daily Camera poll has found. But backing for the movement is declining overall, the news outlet has found.

The local newspaper reported on December 3 that – of poll respondents who were asked whether they would support extending the Occupation Tax, if such a question were to appear on the 2017 ballot – 48 percent said “yes.” 34 percent said “no,” and 18 percent were “undecided.” The poll was performed November 13 -November 18, and responses came from more than 400 Boulder voters across demographics representative of the city’s overall population.

The poll, conducted for the Camera by Drake Research & Strategy, also indicated support for municipalization – but shows that support has diminished over time, with more voters reporting a change in attitude from “for” to “against,” than vice-versa.

In fact, among respondents who said they recalled how they voted in 2011, 11 percent said they voted for the measure then but now would oppose it, while only 2 percent said they fought the measure then but now lean in favor of it.

The most enthusiastic supporters of a city-run utility, according to the survey results, remain young people, renters, and low- to-mid-level earners; while older people who are more tenured in the community and earn higher incomes tend to be significantly more skeptical.

Boulder filed its latest utility plan (Proceeding No. 15A-0589E) on September 28 with the state Public Utilities Commission and is hoping for a ruling by August, in time to place a renewal of the voter-approved Utility Occupation Tax on the 2017 ballot.

Any potential municipalization-inspired tax placed on the 2017 ballot would kick off a lengthy and expensive campaign that could sway voters in any number of directions. In 2011, Xcel spent nearly $1 million campaigning against Boulder, the local news outlet reported.

After spending more than $12 million on municipalization since 2011, the city’s efforts have been marked more by struggles in court and controversial strategies — notably, Boulder tried unsuccessfully to include customers and Xcel assets outside its city limits— than by meaningful triumphs, the Daily Camera

For now at least, that there is no standing community mandate to support the utility tax, avoid a settlement with Xcel, and continue on its original course. If a renewal of the tax were placed on the ballot today, the election would be an extremely close one, the newspaper suggests, based on its recent poll.

What’s more, the local news outlet points out, it still is possible that no tax extension even will appear on a ballot next year. Boulder and Xcel remain in negotiations on a possible settlement that would see the city terminate its municipalization effort and Xcel retain its local customers. Should that happen, voters could expect to see a new franchise agreement on the 2017 ballot, instead of a tax renewal.

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