Voters split over taxing measures
County goes way of state on pot proposal, school funding
Times Staff Writer
Originally published 2013-11-07
Gunnison County residents went the way of voters statewide Tuesday in approving one taxing measure, while turning down another.
Voters gave a resounding “no” to Amendment 66 — an initiative to reform school funding through a state income tax increase. The measure failed by a 2-to-1 margin statewide.
County voters followed the state trend by a smaller margin — with 55.6 percent voting against the amendment.
If passed, the amendment would have implemented a two-tiered income tax and committed 43 percent of the state budget to funding P-12 education. At a time when Gunnison Watershed RE1J School District has seen an annual $2 million shortfall from the state for several years, Superintendent Doug Tredway is disappointed.
“I thought there was a lot of work at the state level to try to fix this funding formula for education that I think is broken,” Tredway said. “I think everyone agrees there are some issues with the funding formula for public schools. … But I think it was pretty loud and clear that the public thinks that maybe the state needs to go back to the drawing board and work on it some more.”
Tredway said it may be time for Colorado school districts to look to the local level to resolve the funding issue.
“Our school board will have to be involved with the conversations about the next steps at RE1J,” he explained. “That’s our next step — work with the school board, work with the community and find out where we go from here.”
Tredway acknowledged that the funding cuts have affected the way educators do business in the local district. He pointed to cuts in counseling, special services staff and elective programming. Increased class size also has been a result of decreased funding, according to the superintendent. But Tredway also believes the school board recognizes the district has been underfunded for years and will look to take action.
“To balance our existing budget we’ve borrowed about $400,000 from our reserves to make this year’s budget. You know you can’t continue that — it’s not sustainable,” he said. “I think we’ve done a great job with what we’ve had. But I think if we’re going to move to the next level I think we need to really have conversations about our funding.”
Meanwhile, voters both statewide and in Gunnison County gave a big thumbs up to Proposition AA, which taxes recreational marijuana.
The state voted by a 30 percent margin to approve the measure, while the county followed suit with 66.4 percent of the vote.
The initiative will impose a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana and a 10 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana and related products. State lawmakers have the option to raise the sales tax to a maximum of 15 percent. Revenue from the excise tax will fund up to $40 million in school construction while the sales tax will help pay for marijuana-related regulation.
None of the new taxes will apply to medical marijuana.
Based on unofficial results, voter turnout was 42 percent countywide — relatively heavy for an off-year election. New election legislation (see related article) added to the pool of registered active voters this year. Inactive voters who had not cast a ballot in six years were reactivated, making a fair comparison to past odd-year elections difficult.
in Crested Butte
Incumbent Mayor Aaron Huckstep successfully held off a challenge by conservation consultant Jeremy Rubingh in a heated battle. Huckstep garnered 60 percent of the vote for a two-year term.
Closed-door discussions between mining company U.S. Energy and the Town Council over a possible solution that would end the prospect of a mine above Crested Butte was the hottest point of contention in the mayoral race. Late last week, it came to light that U.S. Energy had applied for and received approval from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for a volunteer cleanup of the former Keystone Mine that could wash the company’s hands of the current water treatment plant (see related article). The announcement was cause for further distrust of current councilors among some residents.
Monday, Town Council had the opportunity to explain what has transpired during closed discussions, but a full day of voting remaining the following day raised the question of whether this issue would influence the election’s outcome.
“There’s a lot of ways you can read into this. It’s pretty clear that people don’t like the acrimony,” Huckstep told the Times. “I think by the time Monday night rolled around, the town had cast their votes. I think Monday helped the town and the community at large, no question.”
One of the areas Huckstep had promised to focus on if re-elected is funding for the Parks and Recreation Department. Currently, the department has no revenue source of its own, but shares a portion of a real estate transfer tax with other town priorities. Yet, 60 percent of parks and recreation users are from outside the town boundaries.
“Either we need to be talking about a solution that’s centered on town and really impacts town, or we need to find a way to organize the greater community to really impact parks and rec across the board, not just in Crested Butte but throughout the upper valley,” Huckstep said.
In the Town Council race, both incumbents Jim Schmidt and Roland Mason will retain their seats for another four years. The council will welcome newcomer Chris Ladoulis, who will fill the seat left vacant by John Wirsing, to a four-year term. All three candidates received more than 400 votes each.
Ladoulis acknowledged that one of his first priorities on council will be to foster better communication with community stakeholders and town residents. He pointed to the recent rift over the mine.
“I think I can play a role in helping to get the different people in our community working together a little more closely,” he said. “I think we can change the way that we engage the community. Because I had support from a variety of different groups I think I can help facilitate some of those discussions so they can be less challenging.”
Ladoulis will be officially seated as a new councilman and the incumbents will start their new terms at the Town Council meeting Nov. 18.
(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org)