101 Years of the CML Annual Conference

This is the fifth story in a series of eight, celebrating the Colorado Municipal League’s dedication to serving Colorado’s municipalities over the last century.

Representatives from 15 Colorado municipalities gathered at the University of Colorado, Boulder on April 26, 1923. Surrounded by the brick of Macky Auditorium and looking out at Boulder’s Flatirons, the affair made Colorado history and led to the formation of the Colorado Municipal League. At what became the League’s inaugural Annual Conference, the delegation discussed the issues facing their communities and tapped their municipal networks for new solutions. The convening’s opening remarks focused on the importance of municipal government, and its subsequent discussions demonstrated the value of strong and effective governance.  

The convention’s topics covered various municipal issues, including accounting, business methods, street railway investment, and the relationship between municipal administration and public health. After the meeting, 11 delegates stayed behind to establish the League. The group determined that one of the League’s key functions would be to host an annual conference that brings together local government officials from across the state and promises the opportunity for collaboration, growth, and learning.  Since 1924, the League has fulfilled that mission by hosting conferences across Colorado and, in 2020, virtually bringing municipal officials to common ground to strengthen municipalities statewide.  

Timeless Issues and Innovative Solutions

Over the century, Colorado has seen changes to all areas of life, from paved roads to interstate highways and airports, from telephones to broadband internet, from gymnasiums to pickleball. Municipal governments have been the first to reckon with the benefits and impacts of new technologies, hobbies, and social issues, often learning how to work with them in real-time. The League’s Annual Conference has provided a forum for learning about and developing answers for new and evolving questions.  

An Essential Part of Municipal Service: Tax 

Taxes: an immensely important part of municipalities’ budgets. They play a critical role in how cities and towns across the state serve their communities. Equally important are the discussions that the League has facilitated over the years. Through the decades, municipal officials have gathered to share innovative ideas, work together to advocate for beneficial initiatives, and keep up with the world changing around them.   

The 2nd Annual Conference, held in Pueblo in 1924, included a session focused on the recently passed Gasoline Tax and Motor Vehicle Licenses law. Municipal officials asked whether “cities should obtain a portion of the Motor Vehicle Registration License Fees and Gasoline Tax for maintenance of city streets.” The discussion laid the groundwork for a major lobbying effort that eventually resulted in cities receiving some of the tax to maintain their streets. The Gas Tax was revisited in 1946, when attendees gathered in Durango to hear from the State Highway Department about the highway projects and a requested tax increase that would include more revenue for cities and towns. 

Locally-collected taxes quickly became a focus of municipal activity. In Glenwood Springs for the 35th Annual Conference, the “Clerks and Financial Officers” and “Mayors and Councilmen” sections covered taxes from two angles. The elected officials discussed how to make tax dollars go further during their Stretching the Tax Dollar session. The Clerks and Financial Officers section focused on collection with Tax Collections and Refunds and Administering Local Taxes. 

The importance of taxes did not tarnish between 1957 and 1967. In fact, the need for innovative change became even more clear. When attendees came together in Estes Park for a conference themed A Look at the Future, taxes were a central point of discussion.  

There is no municipal problem more critical and more important than that of developing and retaining tax sources sufficient to finance municipal service requirements. 

Cities and towns of necessity continue to rely on the ad valorem property tax as a major source of municipal revenue. The property tax is now over-worked since schools, counties and special districts are also placing primary reliance on this traditional tax to meet their ever-increasing needs….

The Colorado Municipal League urges the enactment of sufficient and sound replacement revenues for the local property tax which we feel is no longer adequate to carry the major burden of financing local government costs. Specifically, we urge the General Assembly to enact in 1968 a three cent increase in the state cigarette tax. 

Colorado Municipalities, 1967

The digital age challenged municipalities to apply established tax structures to new technologies and the rise of online retail. At the 96th Annual Conference hosted in Vail in 2018, members discussed the legal framework for collecting sales tax on internet sales following a major ruling from the United States Supreme Court. The first post-COVID-19 Annual Conference was held in Westminster in 2021. The pandemic catapulted cities and towns into the digital world and forced everyone to grapple with a very new normal. Taxes were one of the things that saw some change. To help navigate this new normal, the League hosted a session titled What Digital Divide? Application of “Analog” Municipal Tax Laws to Digital Products.  

Municipal taxation has evolved significantly in the last three years. One area of taxation that remains in flux is the taxation of digital goods. This session will feature a discussion on applying current municipal sales tax laws to digital products and other current issues facing municipalities in a digital world.

Digital Divide Session Description

As a critical part of how municipalities serve their communities. Taxes will continue to be a topic of discussion at the League’s Annual Conferences. While we might see new challenges, the League’s commitment to helping its members tackle them remains the same.  


Addressing a Growing State: Housing 

Much like taxes, accommodating population growth, and particularly demands for housing, has been a point of interest for cities and towns since the beginning of the League. Growth has played a significant role in how municipalities approach housing as well. As the state has evolved over the years, housing has remained a key collaboration point at League conferences.  

In 1946, the nation was dealing with a housing shortage that many had never seen before. The 24th Annual Conference opened with a session titled The Housing Challenge that covered the hard-to-measure effects of the shortage, some of the causes, and how cities and towns might approach the crisis.  

A serious problem confronts the American people. It has been crowded out of the headlines by the atomic bomb test, the death of OPA, the Louis-Conn fight and other equally important matters, but the problem remains.  

An unusually high marriage rate—a four-year suspension of normal home construction—a minimum of home repair to check obsolescence—all of these coupled with the release of millions from the armed forces exploded in our faces a few months ago as the worst housing shortage in our history.  

Colorado Municipalities, 24th Annual Conference Proceedings, 1946

The following session, State Assistance for Housing, outlined how cities and towns might be able to obtain and use state assistance.  

Growth and housing challenges have remained a regular conference topic. At the Annual Conference in 1972, the Planning Section led a discussion about planned unit developments as an innovative zoning concept for residential land development. The League’s 57th Annual Conference included a session focused on legal approaches for controlling growth.  

Housing for big and small communities was a focal point of the League’s 73rd Annual Conference in 1995, as communities continued to seek ways to address growing pains and ensure the availability of housing for all.  

Now We Got ‘Em, Where Will We Put ‘Em?  — Discussed affordable housing issues facing cities and towns. It included representatives from the City of Longmont, the state Division of Housing, and the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority.  

Small Community Growing Pains — Presented tips on how small towns coped with population and prosperity surges. It also explored observations on how rapid growth impacted the social and political fabrics of smaller communities.   

Group Home Regulation and the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988 — Explored how enforcement actions under the Fair Housing Act might undermine the definitions “single-family residential” and “group home” used in common zoning codes.  

“Affordable housing” now has become a perennial topic.  At the 2021 conference, affordable housing was featured in Westminster as a session titled Different Folks, Different Strokes. The session argued that addressing affordable housing is not a one size fits all endeavor. Municipalities of varying sizes came together to share their goals and approaches to affordable housing. 

At the 101st Annual Conference in Aurora this year, the League presented several sessions covering aspects of housing affordability, including Innovative Solutions for Affordable Homeownership and Housing: An Economic Competitiveness Threat. These sessions focused on increasing affordable homeownership opportunities and creative housing solutions that are either completed or underway.  

Much like the 24th Annual Conference, municipalities remain eager to innovate and share their challenges and success to address housing shortages in their communities.  

Colorado is experiencing some of the nation’s deepest housing shortages. While great strides have been made in the past few years to counteract the economic threat, more needs to be done to help bring new affordable housing projects to all communities across the state. In this session, attendees will hear from top industry experts on creative housing solutions that are either completed or underway, creative financing solutions that can cover the gap and incentivize developers, and programs that have been created to support local housing stability for their workforce. 

Housing: An Economic Competitiveness Threat Session Description


A Vital Resource Then and Now: Water 

When the League was forming, Colorado was just approving the Colorado River Compact. Since then, the League has used the Annual Conference to facilitate difficult discussions about water rights and the Compact’s meaning.  

In 1942, the disposal of water and sewage was highlighted as a priority in the opening remarks by Executive Board President Ray Talbot of Pueblo at the 20th Annual Conference in Fort Collins. A decade later, the League’s 1959 conference in Glenwood Springs made clear that the health and economic well-being of Colorado’s municipalities depend on water. A resolution passed by the members focused on water.  

The health and economic wellbeing of every community of this state depends upon adequate supplies of water satisfactory for domestic, municipal and industrial purposes. Water requirements of municipalities are steadily increasing as a result of the population growth and industrial expansion in various areas and communities of the state. At the same time, Colorado water supplies have been claimed and used by other states, and additional claims for Colorado’s waters are being made. Protection of Colorado’s water supplies is mandatory and necessary in order to protect municipal and other interests in the state. Cooperation among municipal officials and other water interests of the state is necessary and desirable to protect and preserve our most vital natural resource. We therefore resolve:  

1. That the municipalities of the state, individually and collectively, cooperate with such organizations as the Colorado Water Congress in developing a program of preservation, protection and development of the water resources of the State of Colorado as a whole. 

2. That the Colorado Municipal League through its Executive Board continually support, where desirable, water programs developed or supported by the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the benefit of the State of Colorado. 

Colorado Municipalities, 1959

Municipal officials headed to the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park for the 45th Annual Conference in 1967. Two general sessions covered water—Water Pollution, hosted by the Director of Water Pollution Control Division of the State Department of Public Health, Frank Rozich, and Water and Sewer Loans, hosted by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Reynold Hoeglund.  

Water law appeared again at the 50th Anniversary Conference held at Colorado Springs’ Broadmoor Hotel in 1972. City attorneys attended Recent Developments in Colorado Water Law and several sections discussed it during their meetings at the conference. 

Planning Section 

A Panel Discussion: Water Availability Related to Statewide and Municipal Growth Patterns in Colorado 


Film and Panel:
The Water Plan and The State’s Role in Maintaining a Quality Environment—Water 


A Discussion: Interesting New Products Regarding Water and Sewer Pipe 

In 2000, the Back to the Future-themed Annual Conference welcomed insightful ideas about the future of stormwater permitting. The session covered Phase 2 of the stormwater permitting program, which required municipalities with less than 100,000 in population to apply for a state permit to begin a mandatory stormwater management program.  

Twelve years later, three different sessions at the 90th Annual Conference, held in Breckenridge, had water-centric discussions.  

Savings Multiplied – Water and Energy —Focused on how water and energy are intertwined in a water-energy nexus. Saving water and energy resources go hand-in-hand with sustainability. 

Exploring the Water and Energy Nexus —Discussed water rights, financing water development, and issues relating to water and energy development. 

The Water Quality Regulatory Environment —
Helped municipalities better understand the demands that federal and state environmental regulations might have on water and wastewater infrastructure costs. 

2021 saw a discussion about water rates. In Westminster, attendees explored how municipalities can build support for water rate changes using proactive education and outreach.  

The League’s most recent conference in Aurora continued the tradition by offering two sessions focused on immerging water challenges in Colorado. 

Transforming Water Intensive Landscapes: Case Studies on Innovative Local Policies and Programs  

Focused on the many cities and towns in Colorado looking for ways to manage water demand by changing the deeply rooted turfgrass norm. It provided specific strategies for approaching turfgrass, including Aurora’s policy on turfgrass in new developments, Greeley’s water budget-based rate structure, and Thornton’s rebate programs.  

Funding Water / Wastewater Infrastructure Projects 

Explored how small municipalities might go through the process of obtaining grant and loan funding from the applications through construction. It included discussion on available funding, the process for grants and loans, execution of the grant/loans, implications of TABOR including enterprises, legal and bond counsel consultation usually required, and construction requirements set by funding source. 

As a vital resource that impacts the health and economy of every city and town in Colorado, water will continue to be a focus at the League’s conferences.  


Other Consistent Issues 

Taxes, housing, and water are only a glimpse into the variety of issues that have dominated municipal discussions over the decades. For over a century, the League has brought city and town leaders together with experts to discuss issues including transportation and public works, staffing and governance challenges, public safety and justice matters, emergency preparedness, conservation, economic development, public financing, and more.  

The League has the unique advantage of a diverse membership willing to share their experiences and to showcase their work to help others learn. With their engagement and collaboration over the years, the Annual Conference has been the source of inspiration and innovation that has moved Colorado forward. 

Programming Has Changed, But Our Intentions Have Not

While intended to be educational, the League’s Annual Conferences are also meant to be enjoyed. The conference offers a space for officials to collaborate, network, catch up, and appreciate the conference host’s municipality. 

Here are just a few examples of the League’s programming outside of educational sessions. 

Spouses Programs 

For decades, the League worked to incorporate programs for attendees’ spouses and partners into its conferences to help encourage attendees to attend for the entirety of the conference and enjoy the community they were visiting. Initially called a “Special Ladies Program,” the 1952 conference offered  the following events:  

  • Ladies’ Tea—the group reviewed The King and I 
  • Ladies’ Luncheon—the group heard a presentation titled A Thousand Million Years Ago in Western Colorado 

Attendees of the program in Colorado Springs in 1972 enjoyed a traditional tea and a flower arrangement demonstration at the Broadmoor Hotel. 

By 1979, the updated “Spouses Program” discussed money management, small investment opportunities, and stress management. Not long after, the League began hosting sessions focused on women in municipal government.  

The League no longer creates special programming for spouses or partners, but attendees’ partners are invited to join the festivities. Next time you register for the Annual Conference, make sure to check the “additional attendee” box and bring a plus one along for collaboration and learning. 

Host Municipality Activities 

Before the conference grew to the size it is today, the Annual Conference was able to visit locations across Colorado. From Durango to Boulder to Leadville, attendees were able to explore the many wonders of Colorado in places they might not normally visit.

For instance, in 1946, attendees of the 24th Annual Conference held Durango boarded a bus at the close of the Friday afternoon business session and made their way to Mesa Verde National Park. And, in 1984, the spouses’ program featured a Historic Leadville Tour where participants toured the Climax Molybdenum Mine in Leadville. Attendees could stay an extra day for a rafting trip through Glenwood Canyon.  

Grand Junction hosted the Annual Conference in 1995 and 2000. In 1995, the conference included a Fourth of July celebration called “The Grand Event,” with a barbecue, live music, local musicians, hot air balloon rides, and fireworks accompanied by the Grand Junction Symphony. The 2000 conference included winery tours featuring the Grand Valley’s diverse offerings, as well as a tour of the Cross Orchards Historic Farm, a living-history farm that recreated life as it was on a 1900s Grand Junction orchard. Each of these activities was meant to bring colleagues closer together and encourage their collaboration. To this day, the Annual Conference reunites old friends from prior years. 

New Traditions

The League’s most recent conference in Aurora featured new traditions like the Sam Mamet Good Governance Award, tours focused on current issues, and social responsibility opportunities. 

To recognize officials’ commitment to municipal government, the League established the Sam Mamet Good Governance Award in 2019 in honor of retired CML Executive Director Sam Mamet. The award honors an individual who exemplifies and seeks to expand the application of principles of good governance. This year, Arvada Mayor Marc Williams and Lyons Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen received the award.  

I have always thought so highly of Sam… He is such a professional with a good sense of humor and so kind and so accessible to everyone that I’m really humbled and honored to be selected this year as a recipient of the Good Governance award.

Victoria Simonsen, Lyons Town Administrator

It’s very touching… It’s a culmination of 24 years of giving back to the community and it’s very special.

Marc Williams, Arvada Mayor

Victoria Simonsen, Lyons Town Administrator

Marc Williams, Arvada Mayor

This year, attendees took a mobile tour to explore how Aurora is addressing homelessness. The tour provided a glimpse of Aurora’s continuum of responses to homelessness and housing stability, stopping at a safe outdoor space for people transitioning from encampments, an affordable housing development, and other affordable housing projects. 

The League is excited to continue facilitating municipal collaboration through conferences for the next 100 years. These events will continue to explore topics of municipal concern, whether old or new, and share the creative solutions cities and towns use to address them each day.  

Conference Highlights