LOUISVILLE, Colo. — The emotion was still somewhat raw as several Marshall Fire victims rallied in front of Louisville City Hall Saturday over thousands of dollars in fees the city is charging to those wanting to rebuild.
“We’re doing okay. It helps to be fighting for something,” said Louisville resident Tawnya Somauroo, who lost her home in the Marshall Fire. “I haven’t had time to get depressed because I’m so busy.”
The pain is also still fresh.
“How am I? Well, this is not the way I expected my 50s to start. I turned 50 yesterday,” said Trevor Ackerman, who also lost his home in the fire.
“Happy birthday,” said Denver7 reporter Russell Haythorn.
“Thank you,” Ackerman said. “I think like a lot of other survivors – we’re just experiencing fatigue and exhaustion and wondering why we have to keep justifying our needs over and over and over again. It’s been over six months and survivors have been challenged and have struggled with many, many things.”
At the protest Saturday, the message from all those who lost their homes in the Marshall Fire was a simple one directed at elected council members: step-up and do what’s right.
“It’s time for Louisville to rebate our use taxes,” Somauroo said.
“I think the whole community is standing up and saying, ‘Well – of course – this is what we need,’” Ackerman said.
For many fire victims, the debris is now gone and they are ready to move forward with rebuilding, but the hang-up is with the city use tax and the permitting process. Victims say it would lift a huge financial burden if the city waived the use tax.
“We’re all trying to nail this down so we can just go, ‘Okay, let’s build our house,’” Somauroo said. “Just the use tax is about 3.6% on new construction, which is an average of about $25,000 for every new home."
But fire victims never planned on building new homes, so they’re asking the city to waive those fees, especially considering many have other financial hardships like underinsurance.
“And costs are going up, up, up, up,” Somauroo said.
“It can be done,” Ackerman said. “It just takes the will and it takes the work.”
He’s right. Louisville’s neighbor to the south already did it months ago.
“Within the Town of Superior, we acted really quickly and we decided that we wanted to waive the use taxes and cut the permit fees because we knew it was the right thing to do,” said Town of Superior Trustee Neal Shah.
Shah was a trailblazer in this movement, and he believes Louisville can do the same.
“I think they can,” Shah said. “It’s a little more difficult in Louisville because a lot of those use taxes are bonded against, but I think they can get there.”
Shah is also critical of Boulder County because the county also has a use tax on new construction of about 1%, yet officials there have taken no action on waiving the county use tax, which also amounts to thousands per fire victim.
“They’ve done quite the opposite,” Shah said. “They’ve been working in the background to prevent having public conversations about refunding that use tax.”
These survivors say they will fight to the bitter end.
“Either council can do something and pass an ordinance to rebate them, or we can go to the voters ourselves directly,” Somauroo said.
Louisville City Council will discuss the matter at a public meeting coming up Tuesday, July 19.
The cause of the Marshall Fire remains under investigation. The Boulder County Sheriff's Office said on March 31 that the investigation will likely take several more months.