Friday, November 15, 2019

Thoughts on the 2019 election: Some yeses, a no and vote for who you know

It is election season and you should have your ballots in hand. I’m sure many of you have voted and sent back your choices but others like to wait until the last minute. The important thing is to do it, so please vote in the next couple of weeks. 

Of course it is next year’s election that will bring everyone out. How could it not? My mind already hurts with what to expect in the 2020 election. This coming November, you have a few state issues, some tax increase requests and a Crested Butte Town Council election. All are important, but not in the Donald league.

Yes on 2A

Let’s start with the local desire to raise taxes to address some pertinent issues. There are two that are pretty important this fall. The first is the Mt. Crested Butte request to put a 2.9 percent lodging tax on short-term rentals in town, including hotel room rentals. The revenue would be directed toward workforce housing projects in the area. If passed, the lodging tax is projected to bring in about $950,000 a year for workforce housing projects. That’s real money for a real need.

It seems everyone pretty much understands that it is more and more difficult for workers and middle class families to afford to live up in the north end of the valley, so deed-restricted housing is becoming more and more necessary. This tax that would hit the visitors could have a significant impact on that issue and help keep locals living near the tourist jobs in Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte. 

There are several housing projects in the works throughout the valley at the moment and more on the horizon. Having a dedicated revenue source tied directly to the tourism industry that needs nearby workers is a good deal. Adding another $900,000 or $1,000,000 a year to the effort is a good deal. It’s a good deal to find compatible ways to keep workers residing in municipalities like Mt. Crested Butte where there are existing services such as bus routes, water and sewer and the opportunity to have an impactful vote over local issues and representation. 

Hopefully the voters of Mt. Crested Butte step up and vote to pass the proposed lodging tax that will ultimately benefit them and all of us who care about keeping locals in the places where locals work. It will improve the town by supporting depth of community. It might help house the cop or teacher or snowplow driver you need in the future. It would ultimately benefit the tourist experience that people are coming here to enjoy, so the tax is being targeted to the right spot and paid for by the right people. Vote yes for 2A.

Yes on 6A

Libraries that have stored knowledge and records have been around since ancient times. Community libraries are more modern but have been around hundreds of years. In the United States, one of my favorite founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, is usually credited with helping to start the first public circulating library in the nation as the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731. I am a fan of libraries. Libraries provide opportunity and build up community. 

Some say libraries are outdated. They aren’t, and they actually show how a societal institution can adapt to changing times and remain relevant. I have used the Crested Butte, the Gunnison and the Western State libraries since moving here. Last week, I returned my latest book to the Crested Butte library through its book drop and that book, I Heard You Paint Houses, will be returned to the library in Aspen for someone else to read. What a country.

The Gunnison County Library District is a great example of how libraries have changed over the years. Sure, you have access to more than 30 million titles through a regional book share system and you can get most of the books within four days if they’re not in the facility. But this district offers a number of activities ranging from hosting discussion groups to presenting speakers and even renting telescopes. The district provides certified GED preparation and testing for free to locals in both English and Spanish. The libraries provide food to families and children in need through an established partnership with the Gunnison Country Food Pantry. There are yoga classes and after-school programs and a lot more.

It is rarely not busy in any of the local libraries. There are adults using the computers, kids being read to by their parents and classes studying anything in the world. Libraries provide free access for anyone to get information. And in these days when the truth seems constantly under assault, having a place where someone can go to discover truth is pretty important. It really is one of the best community hubs we have in the valley.

The Library District is asking the community to support that community asset. Currently, the district relies on the county to pay its bills, to the tune of about $910,000 a year. They want a dedicated source of revenue to expand the services at both ends of the valley. That will free up hundreds of thousands of dollars for the county. The county has first committed to facilitating the construction of a new library facility on the Van Tuyl property in Gunnison. County manager Matthew Birnie says the money that currently goes to the library will be redirected to service the debt of building that new facility. 

Libraries are an important element in a strong, vibrant community. This ballot issue will increase property taxes a bit but it will significantly enhance opportunities for everyone in the county. Pull the lever and vote yes for ballot issue 6A. 

No on 2B

The town of Crested Butte is asking its voters to impose a 40% tax on nicotine products sold in town. The purpose according to the town council is two-fold: to raise more revenue for town and to discourage nicotine use, especially by young people. I don’t smoke or use nicotine but one of the longest chairlift rides I took last season was when some young guy was vaping an awful faux-vanilla-flavored smoke up the Silver Queen. If the proposed tax stopped my chairlift partners from being rude, I’d be a big supporter. It is not a tax I will pay since I don’t use the product. And I did understand the concerns brought up by longtime local business owner John Penn of the Tobacconist who felt targeted by the tax and said it could put him out of business in a resort community. The council tried to tone down some of the tax application after listening to John but it will be expensive to buy nicotine products in Crested Butte. 

It is becoming apparent that vaping sucks and kids vaping really sucks. But I don’t think the town action will stop people who use nicotine from spending the money anyway or finding it somewhere else. I disagree with tax increase proposals that don’t explicitly show where the revenues will be spent. This one goes into the town’s general fund and mentions the money will be spent on generic “health services, public safety and other needs as deemed necessary.” That could literally mean anything.  If even part of it went toward specific programs to keep kids from vaping or counseled vapers how to break the addiction, I’d like it a lot more. But it doesn’t. The town isn’t in any dire financial shape but can always find ways to spend the money to benefit the general community or just put it in the bank for a time of need. As it is, I imagine this easy sin tax will pass but I wouldn’t vote for that tax increase in its current form.

Who do you know?

The Crested Butte Town Council election race has seven people basically vying for six seats. Whatever the outcome, the council will be made up of a majority of females. Jim Schmidt is a given to return since he is running unopposed for mayor in what he says is his last term. Deli brings great history and perspective about some of the “whys” the council deals with regularly. Having him at the table is a positive thing for the community.

Just one of the others will not be voted in this November—but as someone mentioned to me last week, considering the history of council moves recently, no one should be surprised if a council appointment is needed soon and whoever doesn’t make it this fall might find themselves part of the magnificent seven relatively quickly.

Practically speaking, the seven candidates are pretty similar with their big picture positions. They all want to do more for affordable and workforce housing. They all want to implement a real Climate Action Plan. They all want to represent the community and try to maintain what they see as the soul and funkiness of a unique Crested Butte. No one is advocating this place move at lightspeed to become Vail. The details differ and how to get to the big picture results take slightly different roads, but all council candidates come across as part of the expected left-leaning, progressive Crested Butte foundation. No real surprise there. 

The previously elected incumbents, Laura Mitchell and Will Dujardin, have worked hard and added effectively to council discussion over the years. They have also taken contrarian views at times on some issues that I appreciate. The appointed incumbents, Candice Bradley and Mallika Magner, have stepped up to seriously take on their representative roles. The outside challengers, Anne Moore and Mona Merrill, have brought some fresh energy and perspective to the discussion. 

There are some differences with parking plans and money spent on marketing. But they are all sitting not only in the same ballpark but in the same section and row of box seats. Who you know and who you feel comfortable talking issues with is probably the determining factor on your best vote for Town Council. Each has different local constituencies they can represent effectively. All are sincere in their passion for the place and that is what is most important. 

Tuesday, November 5 is the last day to cast your ballot, but why wait? Fill it out and send it in by the end of the month so when the county counts them it will be easier for everyone.

—Mark Reaman

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