This week: the bond issues…

Three or four times this weekend I heard or said to myself how lucky it is to live here. During spectacular sunsets, in the midst of clinging gold leaves, or taking a break to overlook Ohio Pass with a view of the Castles, it is indeed not unusual to feel the fortune of living in this place.

Part of the responsibility of living here is helping to shape the future. That can come in many ways, but we have the chance to do that with the upcoming election. Not only are two candidates with differing perspectives running to sit on the Gunnison County Commission, but there are a few ballot issues that will directly impact the future of the North Valley. With ballots being sent out this week, let’s touch on the county commissioner candidate race next week after the CB News Candidate’s Forum, and this week we’ll share some thoughts on the ballot issues.

For those living in the North Valley, two property tax increase proposals are on the fall ballot. Do I want to vote for 5A, the proposed school bond issue, or 6B, the proposed Met Rec recreation funding proposal for the North Valley? No. Will I? Yes. But it won’t come easy. 

The fact is that it is quickly getting more expensive, and thus harder, to live in this magical place. For many, these are trying times. If property taxes keep going up, if it’s more expensive to fill the gas tank, if a bag of groceries is more expensive with fewer items in it, if health insurance is eating away at the paycheck, it becomes a real decision to choose to pay more every month in taxes. I’ve heard from more than one of the people (like me) in the local middle-class demographic, that it will be a lot harder to check the yes box for any tax increase no matter how good. After a lot of thought, I’ve come around however, to seeing the benefit in a difficult but useful, yes vote for both 5A and 6B.

Before sharing the reasoning, let me say that the one easy yes vote will be for the under-the-radar 6A. That ballot issue will basically allow the county to use some of the lodging tax money it receives for things other than promoting the place. They’ll be able to use some of that funding for workforce housing and childcare assistance—so that’s an easy yes.

As for 5A and 6B, someone pointed out recently that the best indicator of job performance is job performance. Both the recreation and the school community have proven their worth in real time job performance.

The Crested Butte Conservation Corps, under the umbrella of the CB Mountain Bike Association, has more than proven its value with trail and backcountry mitigation work. Their trail maintenance and building along with sometimes nasty backcountry mitigation efforts have been nothing short of inspirational and an example of how good things work. The CB Avalanche Center is another group out there doing the hard work on a shoestring. Keeping winter backcountry users informed and safe has become more important as more people gravitate away from lift lines and toward the open spaces of the nearby mountains. The CBAC pays people to keep us all aware. Other entities like Crested Butte Nordic and the town of Crested Butte are out there doing the good recreation work. Add to that the expanding and beautiful cultural opportunities popping up in the North Valley and having a sustained funding source helping to pay for amenities that we use and enjoy and that make our lives better, is a good use of tax money.

Coming from the Met Rec district that not so long ago was focused primarily on the recreational activity of watching over-the-air television, this is a good way to put in some targeted and consistent dollars that reflect the culture of the community. It will come in at about $140 annually for every million dollars in residential property valuation (and more for commercial property) but seems a good idea worth supporting.

As for 5A, a school is a foundational part of any good community. And again, if the best indicator of job performance is job performance, the school district was a star during the COVID pandemic — and I mean a star in the entire country, not just this valley. While other schools were teaching students remotely, our school administrators, board representatives, teachers and staff took the risky steps to keep our kids physically coming to school and learning. It was courageous, bold and effective. Was it perfect? No. Was it great? Yes. They figured it out despite the slings and arrows thrown their way.

When I have spoken to some of those who were on the front lines during the pandemic, they are now uncomfortable with the current crowding situation in the Crested Butte facility and are very uncomfortable with the unfortunate reality that school shootings make the need for safety a priority. So, when they make the case for the need for more and better spaces, I am listening.

When I talk to school administrators and teachers and they tell me that the students are getting shortchanged in the current CBCS campus given space constraints, I listen. When they say that given the horror of potential school shooting incidents that no school thinks will happen to it — but all the schools in this district are compromised — I listen. When we can all see that it is likely more families will be moving to the North Valley with the potential affordable housing projects like Sixth and Butte, Whetstone and possibly North Village coming online sooner than later, I listen.

Would I prefer to raise my taxes to better pay the teachers and staff teaching the kids so those teachers could perhaps have a better chance of living here? You bet. Do I wish there was an element of housing for school district staff included in the proposal? Yup. But the teachers and administrators of the Gunnison Watershed School District have earned the respect of the community and they are asking for this plan.

Public education is a leveler in a resort community that is growing richer and less economically diverse every year. It is an important cornerstone in any community, but especially in those that are quickly changing.

We are where we are and continuing to support public education safely and comfortably is important. Do I want to raise my property taxes? No, — and it will be more difficult to convince me to do so for most reasons heading into the future — but this time I’ll pull the lever to support better school facilities for the children of the community.

Owning a house in the North Valley is certainly fortunate. But as the old-timers used to say, “You can’t eat equity soup.” So, when long-time middle-class locals can no longer afford to comfortably pay the monthly house payment, most choose to sell and move on with cash in the bank while despairing over the decision to leave. Most of my peers do not want to face that choice.

As we all so often feel here, we are lucky to live in this spectacular small-town valley. Community schools and recreation are part of that fortune. The powers that be should understand that there is not an endless supply of cash to continue to pay for every proposal that will raise taxes. The days of the rubber stamping tax increases in CB are over.

This fall, I’ll vote for 5A, 6A and 6B because the goals are good, and all three will have a positive impact on the community in general. That’s something to appreciate and support — even in trying in times. 

—Mark Reaman

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