Friday, November 15, 2019

Local ballot issues pass big, CB council gets new face

Mail ballots take longer to count

By Mark Reaman

A tight Crested Butte town council race between six people vying for five seats ended with a new face taking her place at the table on what will be a majority female council. Meanwhile Mt. Crested Butte voters handily approved a new lodging tax that should generate significant funds every year for affordable housing. Citizens across the county voted to raise their property taxes to fund the Gunnison County Library District and in Crested Butte voters overwhelmingly approved a big tax on nicotine products.

In Mt. Crested Butte the vote was 228 to 107 to implement a new 2.9 percent lodging tax on all short-term rental property, including hotel rooms. The measure is expected to generate approximately $950,000 annually. Mayor Janet Farmer said the citizens took a bold step that will make a real difference. “I am very grateful to the residents of Mt. Crested Butte for their decision to adopt this tax for workforce housing,” she commented. “The funds will be used to make substantial steps in solving this critical issue for our community. The Town Council will begin working soon on developing a priority list so it is clear for our constituents how we will approach the distribution of the funds.”

The library district made it over the hump with 6A. That measure will free the district from the Gunnison County budget process to the tune of about $910,000 a year and allow a partnership that results in a new library in Gunnison while expanding services throughout the district. Library district executive director Drew Brookhart said the district board is appreciative to the community of the 3,304 to 2,552 vote approving the measure. “The library board and library staff are incredibly grateful for having the support of those we serve. Moving our libraries forward has truly been a community effort,” he said. “In the coming months we will be focused on implementing service improvements in both Gunnison and Crested Butte. We will also be moving toward the development of a new public library facility. We hope to break ground early in 2021 and will be finalizing the design and preparing for a successful construction process during 2020.”

While Jim Schmidt was running unopposed for the office of Crested Butte mayor he garnered 550 of the 721 ballots that were cast in Crested Butte. There were six people hoping to fill the five open seats and they all ended up within a few percentage points of one another at the final tally.

The elected or appointed incumbents all made it back with Will Dujardin receiving the most votes this go around with 537. He was followed by Mallika Magner, who knocked on doors to talk to citizens as part of her campaign. She tallied 494 votes. Newcomer to the Crested Butte political scene, Mona Merrill came in third with 467 votes Those three will get four-year terms on the council. Candice Bradley and Laura Mitchell rounded out the council and will each get two-year terms before having to run again. Bradley got 445 votes while Mitchell tallied 417, five more than candidate Anne Moore who ended up with 412. The new councilmembers will all be sworn in at the next town council meeting on November 18.

Mayor Jim Schmidt said this would be his last run for the mayor’s seat, which he has held four times previously. He said he is looking forward to a productive two years in his fifth time in the middle seat. “I want to congratulate all the winning council candidates, Mallika, Will, Laura, Candice and new to the council, Mona. I would also like to thank Anne for running. It is not easy to put yourself out in front of the public and say ‘vote for me,’” he commented. “I look forward to working with this dynamic group as we embrace the many challenges that the town will be facing these next few years. This will be the first female majority council in Crested Butte history. I find the empowerment of women in town, in the nation and across the world to be exhilarating. I thank you for your support of my candidacy and promise to work my butt off to make Crested Butte the best place to live, play, grow up and grow old. And now it’s time to do a little snow dance.”

Before heading into the woods late Tuesday night in search of elk, Dujardin noted after the initial results were released that his early vote count  of 335 was almost what he received in total two years ago when he tallied 374. After two years on council he was the top voter getter in this year’s race with 537. “I’m stoked for four more years,” he commented early Wednesday morning from a high backcountry ridge with cell service. “I feel like these last two years were a warm up! I will keep pushing for affordable housing, climate action and community health.”

The council’s initiative to raise the nicotine taxes in town was approved handily 480 to 245. That is expected to raise about $150,000 annually with the money going into the town’s general fund. It is also hoped that the high price of nicotine products will deter young people from smoking and vaping.

Gunnison county elections director Diane Folowell said the state’s mail ballot slows down the tabulation process and in what she anticipates to be a huge election in 2020 that might mean results won’t be available right away. This year in Crested Butte for example, about half of the 721 ballots cast came in on Tuesday, November 5. That forced the vote count into early Wednesday morning.

“The mail ballot is a different bird with a lot more processes to ensure privacy for the voter so it takes longer to tabulate results,” she explained. “We’re fine-tuning what we can in anticipation of next year’s presidential election, especially with people who wait until literally the last hour to vote. If the voters want timely results, they have to work with us and think about voting before the last day and the final minute. We in the office are committed that we won’t trade speed for accuracy with our count so I doubt we’ll have results on election night next year.”

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