Puckett Daniels wins seat at county, school bond squeaks in

Voter turnout similar to 2018

[  By Mark Reaman and Kendra Walker  ]

Gunnison County voters overwhelmingly chose to send Laura Puckett Daniels to the board of county commissioners while the primary tax issue on the ballot, a $95 million property tax increase proposal for the Gunnison Watershed School District, was a closer call but still squeaked by. 

Democrat Puckett Daniels garnered 5,888 votes, or almost 66%, over Republican Rich Evans who tallied 3,049 votes. The school district’s ballot issue 5A, meant to pay primarily for expansion work and safety upgrades to district facilities, passed by just 125 votes or just over 50%. The Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District request for a mill levy to fund North Valley recreation needs (6B) passed handily with 1,981 votes in favor versus 1,264 against. Almost 70% of county voters agreed to use some Local Marketing District revenue for things other than marketing tourism including helping to fund workforce housing and childcare. That ballot question, 6A, was approved 5,994 to 2,753.

In other local ballot issues, starting in 2024 Mt. Crested Butte voters will go to the polls in November instead of the spring. The town councilmembers that would have seats up in April of 2023 will be granted an additional seven months on the council. Mt. CB voters overwhelmingly liked the change, voting for it 479 to 66. Meanwhile, Gunnison city voters rejected a proposal to increase the sales tax to pay for street maintenance by a 56% to 44% margin.

Official reactions

Overall, 9,333 ballots were returned to the county this year. That was out of a possible 12,299. Despite another big Election Day turnout on November 8 by Gunnison County voters, the ballot counting went smoothly and county clerk Kathy Simillion said she couldn’t have been more pleased with the process.

“It all went really well,” she said Wednesday morning. “Tuesday was super busy at the Blackstock polling place and up in Crested Butte. We had 6,365 ballots in the office by Monday and then on Tuesday we had another almost 3,000 come in. The team handled it all really well and we didn’t have many issues. Even getting slammed on Election Day we were able to stay on top of everything. The process is what it is. We can’t take any shortcuts and I feel good about how it all went.”

Simillion said this midterm election was similar in numbers to the last midterm in 2018 when 9,771 votes were cast. The county can accept so-called cross county ballots (Gunnison County ballots dropped off in another Colorado county) along with those coming in from members of the military and residents that are overseas until November 16. She guessed there would be fewer than 50 such ballots so no change to any of the unofficial results are likely. The vote will be officially certified November 29 after an audit.

Gunnison’s newest county commissioner Laura Puckett Daniels said she learned a lot while getting out and campaigning the last several months. “I am so grateful and honored to have the opportunity to serve as Gunnison County’s next county commissioner,” she said Wednesday. “Thank you to everyone that helped during the campaign, whether they were knocking on doors, putting up signs or sitting down with me for a cup of coffee. I know the real work is ahead, and I’m excited to continue to deepen my connection to Gunnison County in the years to come.” 

School District superintendent Leslie Nichols was happy and relieved that 5A was approved, no matter how close the vote ended up being. “I’m thrilled. This investment in all our schools will have a generations-long return for our community,” she said. “It’s wonderful to know that we will see our schools become safer, be more efficient and functional when it comes to heating, have adequate space for our kids and provide vocational education programs to support our local workforce.

“I am empathetic to those for whom this property tax increase will be difficult,” Nichols continued. “The cost of living in the valley is indeed a difficult reality. The burden and responsibility of supporting public schools in our country does land on our property owners, and again, I do feel the investment in our schools will benefit every member of our community. If all goes well, we hope to be breaking ground in summer 2023. We approach this work with a great sense of stewardship to our community, and humility knowing the scope of the project and its impacts.”

Hedda Peterson chaired the committee to get 6B approved and she too was thrilled with the result. “The success of Met Rec’s measure underlines our community’s strong value of recreation,” she said. “6B’s passing is a pivotal step in ensuring access to the high-quality amenities and programs unique to Crested Butte.”

The passage of 6A could also help in that realm and Gunnison County commissioner Jonathan Houck said addressing not just more tourism but the impacts of tourism was something worth pursuing and the county did that by going to the state with the idea to use LMD funds for that purpose. “From leadership on developing this expansion concept, to ushering it through the legislative process in Denver, to bringing it home to the voters of Gunnison County; we are happy that we were able to find new tools to support the impacts of tourism while still having resources to continue thoughtful data-driven marketing of our area and supporting economic development as well,” he said.  

And FYI, Gunnison County voters soundly rejected congresswoman Lauren Boebert’s bid for reelection giving her 2,747 votes to challenger Adam Frisch’s 6,183 local votes. And Gunnison county voters appreciate Michael Bennet as well with more than 65% voting for him to be our U.S. senator.

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