Cortez City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday night that sets up a ballot measure this summer that will determine whether the city may provide its own internet services to residents.
The Colorado General Assembly passed a bill in 2005 that prohibited municipal governments from providing their own “specialized services,” which include high-speed internet, telecommunications and cable service. The bill was meant to protect private industry. The bill does, however, allow municipal governments to create a ballot initiative that would reestablish the right to provide their own specialized services.
The vote would likely take place in June.
Passing the ballot measure does not necessarily mean the city would provide the services, but it would allow Cortez to explore the option and learn about the potential cost. City Attorney Mike Green emphasized that fact Tuesday night.
“This does not commit anyone to spending any money. This does not raise any taxes,” Green said. “This is not a financial election.”
Several other municipalities in Colorado have held similar elections.
Montezuma County voted decisively in 2016 to opt out of the restrictions of the 2005 bill.
“COVID is providing an opportunity to see how necessary broadband is,” Green said. “We need to get broadband out to homes so that people can work from home.”
City Council also unanimously approved a contract Tuesday with auditing firm Atlas CPAs to complete Cortez’s 2017 and 2018 financial audits.
Because of the backlog of audits, property taxes were withheld, and the city couldn’t apply for grants from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
Cortez’s city charter requires that an ordinance be passed to award a contract for the project that is longer than two years.
Council set a vote and a public hearing for its next meeting on extending the firm’s contract to cover the remaining years of audits.
The contract would not be very flexible, but Green noted that the city was not in the position to object.
“While it may have only been $65,000, the embezzlement makes you a high-risk audit client,” Green said. “These folks have given you something that nobody else is willing to do. They’re dedicating the time to get you caught up to the year that you’re in, instead of sitting and waiting for that to go on.”
City Council met in person Tuesday evening. Members and staff wore masks and maintained social distancing. Public comment for meetings will continue to take place via Zoom for now.