Dems voted back to County Commission

School bond passes/ Mt. Crested Butte issue fails

While the political campaigns on the national stage signified major change, Gunnison County voted to keep the Board of County Commissioners as it is, Tuesday, November 4, re-electing Hap Channell and Paula Swenson for second terms. The local school district and Rural Transportation Authority issues passed overwhelmingly but the proposed Mt. Crested Butte property tax increase failed by a handful of votes.



In the county commissioner race, the incumbent Democrats held off challenges from Erich Ferchau and Doug Sparks in their respective districts to maintain the party’s stronghold on the county’s most influential body. Jim Starr, whose term will end in 2011, is the third Democratic commissioner on the board.
Hap Channell defeated Republican Erich Ferchau for the District 2 commissioner’s seat, getting 5,054 votes that made up nearly 60 percent of the votes cast in the race. Ferchau got 3,408 votes.
Channell, who has served as chairman of the board for the last two years, saw overwhelming support in all areas of the county.
Channell commented Wednesday morning, “I think we’ve had an effective board and I’m pleased to see that continuing. We were challenged during the campaign about all being Democrats, but we have diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise that help the county in separate ways.”
There was similar support for Swenson, who, by Tuesday evening, had garnered 4,588 votes compared to 3,841 cast for Sparks.
Swenson says, “I’m honored that the citizens of Gunnison County have reelected me for a second term as a county commissioner. I’m ready to get back to work for everyone in the county.”
The commissioners will begin their next four-year term in January.
Almost a third of the county’s 9,858 active voters opted to cast their ballot early, while nearly 4,500 voted via mail-in ballot, leaving just over 2,000 voters going to the polls on Election Day.
According to county clerk Stella Dominguez, 73.45 percent of all registered county voters, including those who are no longer considered to be active voters, cast a ballot, which is a record for Gunnison County elections. Four years ago, 68 percent of the electorate voted.

Voters approve school expansion
The school bond issue was approved by a huge margin. Almost 62 percent of the voters in the county voted to increase their taxes to pay for school expansion projects in Crested Butte and Gunnison. The tally came in at 5,119 yes votes to 3,144 no votes.
“The outcome is so wonderful,” said a delighted school board president MJ Vosburg. “It is a testament to the kids. Even in tough times this community is willing to put their kids first. A lot of school initiatives in the state failed so we are proud that the people in this district made education a priority.”
Vosburg was admittedly surprised at the margin of victory. “To get 62 percent of the vote is incredible,” she said. “It came from all of our constituents. It’s not an up-valley and a down-valley issue. We are so excited we can hardly stand it. To support our kids and support our education is great.
“It is time to move forward,” she continued. “We can now do great things for the kids of the community.”
The passage of the issue means that the Crested Butte Community School will expand south onto the Tommy V. baseball field. The Crested Butte Town Council agreed to give land to the school for expansion. In exchange, the current storage barn at the town ranch will be moved to accommodate a new field built by the school district. The new part of the school expansion will also likely end up LEED-certified as a result of the bond passage.    

The buses will keep running
Ballot issue 5A, the tax reauthorization for the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority, won by a landslide, with 6,175 votes in favor, and 1,626 votes against the measure. The tax-reauthorization also eliminates a sunset on the RTA’s funding, giving them an indefinite source of tax funding for years to come.
Despite the impressive outcome, RTA member Skip Berkshire says there was always a concern the measure might not pass. “Anytime you’re asking people to vote on a tax issue, even though it’s not a new tax, there’s always a risk,” Berkshire says. He points to the RTA’s recent success in ground transportation efforts as one of the keys to 5A’s approval. “We felt the citizens of the valley would see the value in what they’re getting,” Berkshire says.

Mt. CB voters say no to tax increase
The town of Mt. Crested Butte received a mixed bag in the results for its two ballot issues. Ballot issue 2A, which would have raised property taxes to provide a more stable revenue stream, lost by 45 votes. Issue 2B gives the town authorization to withdraw $8.6 million in bonds to finance several key capital improvements projects, and was passed by a margin of 12 votes.
The total tally for 2A was 193 yes votes and 236 no votes; for ballot issue 2B there were 224 yes votes and 212 no votes.
Mt. Crested Butte mayor pro-tem Bill Babbitt says he’s disappointed both issues did not pass. “2B is the one that passed, and that allows us to bond and borrow the money but (without 2A) we don’t have the ability to pay that debt back,” Babbitt says.  Babbitt says he thinks the notion of a tax increase prompted the majority of voters to reject 2A, while some voters were more amenable to the debt increase and proposed amenities listed in 2B.  
Now Mt. Crested Butte must begin to formulate a 2009 budget that does not rely on the property tax increase.  The bond approval in 2B lasts for several years and if the town is able to increase its revenue stream those bonds can still be issued.   Babbitt says the town will have to decide whether to approach voters with a proposal similar to 2A in a future election.  “Town staff is currently investigating when we can come back to the public for another vote,” Babbitt says.  
The town was expected to resume its budget discussion on Wednesday, November 5.  “It’s going to be a tough year and a tight budget for 2009,” Babbitt says.     
County votes democratic
In the presidential election, Gunnison County voters favored the Democratic ticket nearly 2 to 1 over the Republicans, with 2,658 votes going to Barack Obama and 1,752 going to John McCain.
The county electorate supported every Democratic candidate on the ballot, with the exception of Republican district attorney Myrl Serra, who was running unopposed.
Mark Udall took the U.S. Senate race over Bob Schaffer with 2,546 votes to 1,522 to replace retiring Republican senator Wayne Allard.
Democrat John Salazar defeated challenger Wayne Wolf, a Republican Delta County commissioner, among county voters with a 3,115 to 1,248 vote.
Of the 10 voter initiatives on the state ballot, only 50, 54, 58 and 59 passed in the county, including constitutional amendments that will allow more gaming at Colorado casinos; stop political contributions from government contractors; end severance tax credits granted to energy companies; and require extra funding for schools.
The Gunnison County Elections Office will release official results after about 100 provisional ballots are counted, but no matter how those votes were cast, they wouldn’t be enough to change the results of the election. The county has 14 days to process the remaining ballots to be counted.

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