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Government Affairs Monthly Report

07-1-2020

Fire Restrictions Now in Place in Routt County – Pandemic Causes Complications

Routt County’s emergency director is asking the public to stay vigilant during fire season as the extra burden of a pandemic is bound to complicate any disasters.

“We’re taking precautions to be sure everyone’s aware and taking this seriously, so we’re not compounding any COVID issues out there,” said David “Mo” DeMorat, the county’s emergency operation director.

For example, when wildfires displace residents, the Red Cross would normally set up evacuation shelters. But this year, the Red Cross volunteers are reaching out to hotels in areas prone to wildfires to see what kind of availability they could offer vulnerable communities.

DeMorat also said when motels aren’t available, the Red Cross will look at ways to keep congregate shelters, like a gym, safe with social distancing rules.

Fire restrictions start July 3 for national forests

Stage 1 fire restrictions went into effect last week for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland.

According to a news release for the U.S. Forest Service, no building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire or stove fire, which includes barbecues, grills and portable braziers will be allowed, except when using a fire in constructed, permanent fire pits or fire grates in developed sites. Portable stoves, lanterns using gas, jellied petroleum, pressurized liquid fuel or a fully enclosed (sheepherder type) stove with a 1/4 inch spark arrester type screen are also permitted.

No smoking is allowed, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreate site or while stopped in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable material.

Operating a chainsaw, welding and operating acetylene or other torches with open flame are not allowed unless strict guidelines are followed. No explosives are allowed.

Routt Receives More Emergency Funding; Extends Disaster Declaration

As reported in the Steamboat Pilot, Routt County and its municipalities have signed an agreement to allocate a $2.2 million stimulus package from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund.

The money is one of the latest provisions of the CARES Act, which the federal government established to supplement relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in response to the financial impact of the pandemic.

In a statement the Routt County Board of Commissioners said the $2.2 million stimulus package is meant to improve public health and to support the local economy. Under an agreement, the county will receive 55%, or about $1.2 million, of the funds and its municipalities — Steamboat Springs, Hayden, Oak Creek and Yampa — will split the remaining 45% based upon their populations.
Steamboat, with a population of 13,214 people according to the latest U.S. Census data, will get $787,093.87. Hayden’s population of 1,979 will receive $117,879.43. Oak Creek, with a population 959 people, gets $57,122.98. Yampa, population 464, will receive $27,638.22 for COVID-19 related expenses.

The county’s highest priority for its portion of the funding is to expand the Routt County Public Health Department, according to Commissioner Beth Melton.

Currently, the county directly employs three staff members and has contracts with additional personnel to meet local needs. By the end of August, it plans to hire Kari Ladrow as Routt County’s full-time public health director. Ladrow currently splits her time between Moffat and Routt counties. More staff, such as contact tracers and epidemiologists, could be hired with the relief funding.

Municipalities can use the relief money to cover other costs related the pandemic, such as emergency operations, human services and virus suppression. It also could provide grants for local businesses or other economic-related initiatives.

To date, the county has spent about $900,000 on expenses related to the pandemic, according to Corrigan, and the expenses will only grow larger as the virus continues to plague communities. The CARES Act is one of three primary sources of relief funding, Corrigan explained. The local disaster declaration makes the county eligible for FEMA funding, which covers 75% of related costs.

Routt County also is set to receive about $400,000 from the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment. As Corrigan said, those funds expire after 30 months starting July 1, a much longer deadline than the CARES Act money. For that reason, the county aims to save the state funding until next year to cover future expenses that could arise if the virus resurges in the winter.


State News – CAR Earns Victories in the Last Days of Legislative Session

In an odd legislative session that saw an extended recess due to COVID-19 and then a flurry of activity in the last two weeks once state officials came back to Denver, CAR was able to earn some key wins for REALTORS state-wide. Among them:

1. Mitigated the worst impacts to small businesses from an oppressive tax

HB-1420 Adjust Tax Expenditures For State Education Fund (LPC Position: Oppose) - De-couples the federal tax deduction for qualified business income from the state, thereby increasing taxes on small businesses from 2021 to 2023 and no longer allows those businesses to take advantage of the benefits of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. As initially drafted, HB-1420 would have increased taxes on any of our members who have an LLC, S-Corp, or Sole Proprietorship as their business model for the next six years.

Over 2,400 Colorado REALTORS® jumped to action and contacted their state legislators and Governor Polis to alert them of the devastating impacts this bill would have on Colorado's smallest businesses in a time when many small businesses are struggling to re-open safely. As a result, CAR worked with stakeholders to amend the bill to change the threshold for qualified business income from $75,000 to $500,000 for single filers and $1 million for joint filers. The House approved these amendments and the bill now heads to Governor Polis for his consideration.

2. Advanced relief for Coloradans facing housing-hardship

HB-1410 COVID-19-related Housing Assistance (LPC Position: Support) - Allocates 19 million federal CARES Act dollars to keep people in their homes whether they rent or own. This financial assistance will help some of the most vulnerable Coloradans who do not have a home, it will help housing providers so that we can preserve and increase the amount of affordable housing available, and it will help the Coloradans who are in danger of losing their homes or apartments due to lost income--serving a threshold of 100% AMI.

This also means that the federal dollars will reach into our middle-class working families. And as a result of many stakeholder conversations there is no eviction timeframe extension added into the final bill, so housing providers should follow the most recent executive order extension by Governor Polis that takes the current rules through July.

3. Reviewed Gallagher proposal changes with policymakers and shared property tax assessment rate concerns

SCR-001 Repeal Property Tax Assessment Rates (LPC Position: Monitor) - The ballot referral would de-couple the Gallagher Amendment of 1982 from the state Constitution. Gallagher requires that the proportion of taxable value for residential and nonresidential property remain constant between each assessment cycle.

The current commercial property tax rates are highly expensive for our business sectors that drive the Colorado economy and these revenues also contribute significant support to our local governments, school districts, and special districts that provide essential services such as fire protection to Coloradans. Therefore, if property tax assessments decline it would place pressure on the state budget to backfill these important needs. While CAR appreciates the intent to remedy some of the challenges that the Gallagher Amendment has presented over the years, we have expressed concern along with some members of the Colorado Real Estate Alliance, that this approach may have unintended consequences to our economy.

SB-223 Assessment Rate Moratorium and Conforming Changes (LPC Position: Monitor) - In November, Colorado voters will determine the fate of a proposal to repeal the Gallagher Amendment from the state Constitution as put forth by SCR-001. If Coloradans approve that change, beginning with the January 1, 2020 property tax year, there would be a moratorium on changing the ratio of valuation for assessment for any class of property. It is unclear if this legislative-free pause for four years can bind a future legislature.


Fed Govt Offers New Help for Businesses with Regulatory Compliance Issues

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a new pilot program that allows businesses to seek clarity on regulatory compliance obligations through a request for an advisory opinion (AO). The pilot program is intended to address regulatory uncertainty, where AOs will be made public to ensure broad benefit of the Bureau’s analysis, although certain information can be made confidential upon request. The requests for an AO will also inform the Bureau of outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome regulations, but will not change the regulations themselves nor will they be issued in cases that would be better addressed through notice and comment procedures.

There are a number of stipulations on issues that may be eligible or ineligible for an advisory opinion. For example, issues that would benefit from an AO include:

  • Issues that the Bureau has previously indicated would benefit from additional clarity;
  • Issues of substantive importance or impact; and,
  • Issues that have not been previously addressed through an interpretive rule or authoritative source.

Issues that would likely be ineligible for an AO include:

  • Issues that are the subject of an ongoing Bureau investigation or enforcement action;
  • Issues that are the subject of an ongoing or planned rulemaking; or,
  • Issues that would be better suited for a formal notice-and-comment process or other compliance aid.

Notably, the AOs will have a statutory safe harbor providing certain protections from liability for acts and omissions done in good faith in conformity with the interpretation requested if the issue falls under certain laws such as the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), Truth in Lending Act (TILA), Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA), and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), for example.

The CFPB will also be seeking feedback on the pilot program,(link is external) which will inform them of changes to implement to the AO program at the end of the pilot. Stay tuned to nar.realtor/respa for the latest updates.


NAR Comments on FHLB Membership

In recent years, a number of financial entities with different business models have sought entry to the Federal Home Loan Bank system due to its low cost of funds and other advantages. NAR submitted a comment letter(link is external) to the FHFA in response to its request for information on expanding membership to the FHLB system.

NAR’s position in the letter maintains existing policy that:

  • New members should a be admitted
  • So long as they and their parent company meet safety and soundness standards tailored to their business model, and
  • They and their parent company meet a test for their support of the housing market.
  • Furthermore, this test should be on-going and it should be applied to current FHLB members

NAR will provide updates on the status of this issue as more details become available.