If you’ve served on a jury in a criminal trial, you no doubt remember the judge’s instructions: Don’t vote to convict unless the prosecutors have proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt.


That’s a good standard to use when deciding how to cast a ballot on the May 5 referendum question dealing with Pueblo’s electric service.


By voting "yes" on ballot issue 2A, you’d be agreeing to end the city’s contract with Black Hills Energy and have the Pueblo Board of Water Works establish a municipal power company at an as-yet-undetermined cost.


After months of debate within our community on this important issue, ballots for the referendum are scheduled to go in the mail next week. Which means it’s finally time to make a choice.


We believe the referendum’s supporters, as passionate as many of them are about this issue, haven’t proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt. In fact, they’ve left enough doubts hanging out there to make a "yes" vote seem like a real triumph of hope over experience.


The referendum’s supporters say Black Hills needs to go because its rates are higher than those of other Front Range utility companies and its cutoff and service restoration policies are too harsh.


Let’s start with the rates first. Yes, they’re high. It’s unlikely that you’ll find many people in Pueblo who enjoy that time of month when their electric bills arrive. Yet part of the reason they’re higher is that Black Hills has made significant investments in renewable energy sources.


That’s good for the environment. And since the state Legislature has mandated that all Colorado utility companies increase their use of renewable energy, other companies are going to have to make similar investments to catch up to where Black Hills is now. As that happens, the gap between utility rates is going to decrease.


As for the cutoff and service restoration policies, Black Hills changed those quite some time back in response to customer complaints. People who still are complaining about those policies are living in the past. And trying to punish Black Hills for its past sins by setting up a municipal electric service could easily backfire.


Referendum supporters say replacing Black Hills would save ratepayers money, but let’s take a closer look at that claim. Most of the information they’ve been using to make those statements comes from a single consultant’s report. A consultant hired by city officials who were very transparent about their interest in hearing the virtues of municipal electric services.


Relying so heavily on one source of information on a subject this complicated is a bit like reading the CliffsNotes on "Moby Dick" and then claiming to be an expert on whale hunting.


In its report, the consulting firm acknowledged that most communities that explore the question of whether to "municipalize" their electric services ultimately have chosen not to take that step. The consultant tried to gloss over that finding by saying most municipalization efforts were scrapped for political reasons.


But what does that mean? The political leaders in those communities scattered across the country realized municipalization wasn’t in their constituents’ best interests. If that’s politics, then let’s have some more politics around here.


Referendum supporters say a municipal electric company would be able to save money, but it’s not clear how. Even by the rose-colored estimates of the referendum supporters, purchasing Black Hills’ equipment and assets would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. This in a community that has trouble scraping together enough spare change to keep streets paved.


Seth Clayton, the water board’s executive director, has argued the city could buy all of Black Hills’ assets, spend the money needed to support the utility’s day-to-day operations and still have money left over to pass savings along to ratepayers. Eventually. Even Clayton wouldn’t commit to a date when Puebloans could expect an actual rate reduction.


Clayton has expressed supreme confidence about the water board’s ability to branch into the electricity business and operate more efficiently than a proven provider. Then again, PAWS for Life was supremely confident it could take over management at the city/county animal shelter, even though the organization had no experience running that type of operation. That didn’t go so well.


We’re also concerned about the "just trust us" attitude Clayton and other supporters, including Mayor Nick Gradisar, have expressed about the city’s ability to run an electric company. We did trust city leaders when they asked us to support the establishment of a street repair fund in 2017 and no doubt many tire and alignment shops have profited from our lack of skepticism about the city’s ability to get that done.


Our neighbors in Boulder have spent a decade and millions of dollars in an attempt to municipalize their electric service, without an end in sight. Referendum supporters say we would "learn from Boulder’s mistakes." But which mistakes, exactly? And what have we learned from them?


There are a lot of people in Pueblo who don’t like Black Hills. We get that. Electric companies, private or government-run, aren’t known for inspiring warm and fuzzy feelings.


But a decision this important historic, even should be made based on logic and reason rather than emotion. If we want to show the water board how much we love them, it would be a lot cheaper to send everyone who works there a box of chocolates.


So, even under the best of circumstances, the risks outweigh the potential rewards here. Now let’s throw the post-coronavirus economy into the mix. Whenever this lock down period ends and we’re able to resume our normal lives, we’re going to be in an economic recovery period.


It’s going to take a lot of time and effort to build up our businesses back to where they were a few weeks ago, let alone reach a point where we can have serious discussions about creating new jobs.


One thing businesses crave is certainty. Making this transition to a municipal electric service would create years of uncertainty.


For all of those reasons and more, it seems extremely unwise to put the city’s future at risk based on some vague hopes that this would all work out well in the end.


We urge a "no" vote on ballot issue 2A.