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Pueblo ballot question lawsuit to be dismissed, city council votes to amend language

Posted at 10:21 PM, Feb 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-25 06:43:52-05

PUEBLO — A lawsuit filed against the City of Pueblo seems to be resolved.

It happened earlier this month with some people questioning the language of a ballot measure that voters will decide on in a special election on May 5 to become a public power utility and to terminate the franchise agreement with Black Hills Energy.

On Monday night, the Pueblo City Council decided to amend the ballot language. With a unanimous vote the council agreed to incorporate some of the language suggested by the plaintiffs into the ballot measure, allowing the special election to move forward and giving voters a better understanding of what they'll be deciding.

Mayor Nick Gradisar shared that the question is simple: Do voters want to terminate the franchise agreement with Black Hills Energy 10 years early and establish a municipal utility to provide electric services to people in Pueblo?

He says if passed, electric and water services would be provided by the Pueblo Board of Water Works.

Authors of the lawsuit claimed the city was not being transparent enough with voters claiming the measure does not state how much money it will cost to acquire Black Hills property and that voters would give up any future rights to vote on future debt issues to finance the plan.

Gradisar says Pueblo Water Works is not subject to TABOR guidelines. It would issue revenue bonds to raise money, not to raise taxes.

"We expect that at the current rates there's enough money in the system to pay for the debt to acquire the system so it shouldn't cost anything more. In fact, eventually rates will go down," Gradisar said,

He shared that rates could drop by as much as 14% and the process to become a municipality would take five to eight years. The cost is only an estimate based on studies done by the city.

This could also impact places like Cañon City, Rocky Ford, and Pueblo County. The mayor says a lot of those places are waiting to hear what Pueblo is going to do, but part of the concept is that there will be a regional power authority and regional distribution authority. It will be up to those local governments to voluntarily join if they so choose.

Gradisar said on Monday night that the lawsuit should be dismissed this week.

Moving forward an educational series is going to start for people in Pueblo to ask questions and learn more about how this public power utility project is going to work.

For those interested - a meeting will be held at the InfoZone inside the Rawlings Library on Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Related story: Lawsuit filed in Pueblo over ballot question