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Gypsum voters elect two incumbents and one newcomer, strongly support Sweetwater campaign

GYPSUM — In Tuesday’s municipal election, Gypsum voters returned two incumbents to the Town Council and resoundingly voiced their official support for the Sweetwater Lake preservation effort.

Incumbent members Tom Edwards and Chris Huffman were re-elected to the council and will be joined by newcomer Kathleen Brendza. By a vote of 859 in favor and 253 against, voters resoundingly supported an additional $80,000 contribution to the Sweetwater Save the Lake Campaign.

The July 7 election was postponed from April 7 because of COVID-19 concerns. It was Gypsum’s first mail-in ballot vote and the community saw the highest turnout ever for a municipal election. There were 1,112 ballots returned of the more than 4,000 mailed out. For comparison, around 700 residents voted in Gypsum’s 2018 municipal election.

Sweetwater support

In November, the Gypsum Town Council pledged $20,000 to the Save the Lake campaign, an effort of the Eagle Valley Land Trust to raise money to purchase the popular Sweetwater Lake Resort. The ballot question in Tuesday’s election asked if voters supported donating an additional $80,000 to the effort.

The Sweetwater campaign marked a milestone last week when The Conservation Fund announced its purchase of the 488-acre property. One of the reasons the national nonprofit closed on what is planned as an interim ownership deal is the high level of local support for the plan to preserve the property.

The Conservation Fund’s purchase ensures the property will not be developed and allows time to obtain necessary federal funding to transfer the land to the U.S. Forest Service. The Land and Water Conservation Fund will play a critical role in ensuring permanent protection of the lake as part of the White River National Forest.

In May of this year, the USFS announced that Sweetwater Lake was No. 9 on its list of nationwide priority land acquisitions for 2021. The agency is seeking $8.5 million for the project from the Land and Water Conservation Fund — a bipartisan, federal program that has used a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties, not taxpayer dollars, to acquire critical lands and protect natural resources for more than 50 years.

The Conservation Fund’s interim purchase of Sweetwater Lake was made possible through support from Great Outdoors Colorado, a $500,000 donation from Eagle County, and roughly $350,000 from private community donations raised by the Eagle Valley Land Trust. The land trust’s “Save the Lake” campaign is still actively seeking contributions for ongoing stewardship of the lake, and to ensure proper long-term management, maintenance, and recreational amenities.

Charter changes

Voters overwhelmingly agreed that it is time to clean up some of the provisions of Gypsum’s nearly 40-year-old home rule charter.

Gypsum officials said changes in the community and advancements in technology prompted the suggested charter changes.

The ballot results from the five charter changes are:

  • Election timelines: Colorado HB15-1130 changed the timelines for filing nomination petitions, and this change would reflect the state law. Yes: 771/No: 341
  • Initiative and referendum processes: This change would clarify the rules for the processes and reflect state regulation. Yes: 821/No: 291
  • Powers and duties of the mayor: “Back in 1982, Gypsum had one or two employees and the mayor, and they ran everything,” explained Gypsum Town Attorney Bob Cole. “The way your charter is written, the mayor has the power to come in and run the show, but that hasn’t happened recently.” Gypsum now operates in a more conventional manner, with the mayor and town council making policy and the town manager implementing their actions. The charter change reflects that practice, Cole said. Yes: 705 /No: 407
  • Hard copy or electronic copies of ordinances: This change allows the town to provide ordinance copies both electronically or by hard copy. Yes: 977/No: 135
  • Posting and publication: This change would designate the town’s website as the official location for any posting or publication of notices and documents. Yes: 913/ No: 199

Gypsum voters face Town Council, charter amendment and Sweetwater Lake donation election Tuesday

GYPSUM — Gypsum voters already have their ballots in hand and the community’s delayed 2020 municipal election will be held Tuesday, July 7.

Voters will elect three Town Council members to four-year terms and decide on a number of amendments to the Gypsum Town Charter. Additionally, voters will be asked if they support an $80,000 town donation to the Sweetwater Lake preservation campaign.

Following are survey responses offered by the six candidates who are running for the three open Gypsum Town Council seats.

Kathleen Brendza

Kathleen Brendza

Profession: Professional consultant/former educator

Why are you running for the Gypsum Town Council? I’ve had the privilege of living, raising my son and working in Gypsum for 21 years and I’ve enjoyed all of the benefits this community offers: the schools, the recreation, the library and the incredible people. I’ve seen significant changes over the years; some that have been a benefit to residents and some which have raised new challenges.

What is the biggest issue facing Gypsum? One big issue Gypsum faces is the growth of the community and the town’s subsequent ability to respond to its citizen’s needs.

 What does Gypsum need to do in response to the COVID-19 impacts in town? During this very strange and trying time, I have been very proud of my fellow Gypsum residents. I believe if we continue to follow the guidelines the state has recommended (social distancing, face masks and washing hands) we will be doing our part to keep families and neighbors safe.

Do you support the Sweetwater Lake ballot question that is on the ballot this spring? Why or why not? It’s a great initiative that could benefit Gypsum, however Gypsum citizens are still waiting for the purposed town center and other improvements to more immediately serve the community.

What amenities are most needed in the community and how can Gypsum help make projects happen? I believe the Town Council and leadership need to create a robust town center that provides opportunities for businesses that appeal to residents and visitors. When you can bring a community together around the same economic and social vision great things happen.

Cicero Da Silva

Cicero Da Silva

Profession: Husband, father, community member, entrepreneur/tire surgeon as founder & owner of Down Valley Tires & Wheels

Why are you running for the Gypsum Town Council? I love living in Gypsum, this is my home. My lovely wife and I raised our family here. I have been blessed with the ability to contribute to and support individuals, families and businesses within via philanthropic pursuits and my tire shop. Because of strong faith and upbringing I believe in being of service to the community I live in. At Down Valley Tires & Wheels I am in direct contact with the citizens of Gypsum who are the heart of our community. The daily conversations I have with community members provide me with a well-rounded perspective of the people who choose to live here.

What is the biggest issue facing Gypsum? We are growing and we need to do it wisely with affordable, high-density housing.

What does Gypsum need to do in response to the COVID-19 impacts in town?I believe that we all need to be aware of and actively engaged in our overall health; be respectful of each other’s beliefs and follow the overall guidelines that we are receiving from authority. 

Do you support the Sweetwater Lake ballot question that is on the ballot this spring? Why or why not? If the public can use 100% of it, without restrictions I am supportive of it.

What amenities are most needed in the community and how can Gypsum help make projects happen? A community park that includes all services in one place, as well as bike paths within the town boundaries, and additional services for the elderly. Bureaucracy that is easier to navigate for small businesses and individuals.

Additional Comments: I believe Gypsum is a beautiful growing town, made up of beautiful and diverse people who work very hard. As we continue to grow, I want to be of service to my fellow community members.

Tom Edwards

Tom Edwards

Profession: Retired architect

Why are you running for the Gypsum Town Council? To help make Gypsum the best place it can be. I wish to maintain Gypsum’s role as the friendly, recreation-oriented, family community where people live, work and connect with their surroundings.

What is the biggest issue facing Gypsum? Growing our businesses and business opportunities to make this a complete community while maintaining the surroundings and environment that make Gypsum a desirable place to live.

What does Gypsum need to do in response to the COVID-19 impacts in town? Follow county guidelines which, since being instituted, have brought us through early infections to being one of the safest places in the country. Ensure that residents are housed, fed and their health maintained. Bring businesses back as safely and quickly as possible, following established guidelines to prevent further economic hardship.

Do you support the Sweetwater Lake ballot question that is on the ballot this spring? Why or why not? Sweetwater is our backyard playground. We need to make sure it remains accessible. I voted to give some funds to this project and also put this on the ballot so Gypsum residents could have a say if more is to be contributed. 

What amenities are most needed in the community and how can Gypsum help make projects happen? Restaurants, businesses and a pavilion facility that create community gathering places and increase Gypsum’s sense of place. Our master plan, which has citizen input, outlines and makes easier the steps for businesses to succeed.

Additional comments:  The groundwork is in place. Your vote for me helps continue the path we have started.           

Chris Huffman

Chris Huffman

Profession: Owner of Sagebrush Services Inc.

Why are you running for the Gypsum Town Council? I have enjoyed being an active participant on the Town Council and with town activities. This is the best way to give back to my community.

What is the biggest issue facing Gypsum? Growth and traffic. With the growth that we are facing, the traffic flow on Cooley Mesa Road and the traffic on Highway 6.

What does Gypsum need to do in response to the COVID-19 impacts in town? I believe that if we can support our residents, with trying to keep the people safe is our biggest responsibility.

Do you support the Sweetwater Lake ballot question that is on the ballot this spring? Why or why not? The Sweetwater Lake is a great amenity for the area, but it is outside of the town limits and the county. Gypsum has contributed a portion, but I do not believe the residents will want to fund $80,000 more. But that is why we put it to a vote.

What amenities are most needed in the community and how can Gypsum help make projects happen?  Gypsum will need a community center that is double the size of what Gypsum has to offer now. Every month I hear people say we need some place to have a banquet, wedding reception or a large fundraiser. How to make this happen? Work towards bringing in more retail businesses, for convenience and community improvement.

Jesse Meryhew

Jesse Meryhew

Profession: SMI Mechanical

Why are you running for the Gypsum Town Council?  Gypsum is where my family calls home, and I feel it is important to be an active part of the community. 

What is the biggest issue facing Gypsum? Growth appears to be the biggest issue. More and more people are moving to Gypsum because it is a great community. As our community continues to grow, we must plan for growth. This means planning for infrastructure upgrades, finding ways to bring in more business and assessing new development ideas to make sure they fit within the town of Gypsum’s long term goals.

What does Gypsum need to do in response to the COVID-19 impacts in town? It is essential that collectively, with the help of the experts (Vail Health and local officials), we continue to find ways to keep people safe and keep the economy going. Right now, there is no one solution, and as the town of Gypsum continues to gather COVID-19 data and facts, tough decisions will need to be made. 

Do you support the Sweetwater Lake ballot question that is on the ballot this spring? Why or why not?  Yes, I am in support of the Sweetwater Lake ballot. The outdoors are what bring people to Vail Valley.  Sweetwater Lake is an excellent area for families to enjoy.  The question is whether or not it fits within the Town of Gypsum budget. Because of COVID-19, most local governments are on a spending freeze. 

What amenities are most needed in the community, and how can Gypsum help make projects happen?  This is a better question for everyone who lives in Gypsum. For example, the recreation center was asked for by several people in the community, and the town of Gypsum made it happen. One person alone doesn’t know what is best for everyone.

Additional comments: Thank you to all of the community members who take the time to make our community a better place which includes the men and women who serve and protect our community, teachers, coaches, town of Gypsum Public Works, own of Gypsum employees and government officials, and all of the people who volunteer to make our community what it is.

Gypsum Town Council Candidate Survey

Marisa Sato

Marisa Sato

Profession: Showroom consultant

Why are you running for Gypsum Town Council? It is important to me that I continue to be a voice for our community, helping make responsible decisions for growth and our long term future. I have lived here for the last 14 years and am raising my family here.

What is the biggest issue facing Gypsum? Continued responsible growth and fiscal stability. 

Do you support the Sweetwater Lake ballot question that is on the ballot this spring? Why or why not? I am not opposed to it, however, this decision is not up to me and it will be made by voters.

What amenities are most needed in the community and how can Gypsum help make projects happen? Camping and lodging for people outside of the community to utilize as they enjoy the great amenities that Gypsum has to offer. The town has been actively working on acquiring campsites and working landowners.

John Hickenlooper claims win in Democratic primary for US Senate, will face Republican Cory Gardner in November

John Hickenlooper escaped with a clear victory in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary in Colorado on Tuesday, defeating rival Andrew Romanoff after national Democrats and a big-money super PAC came to rescue his beleaguered campaign.

The former Colorado governor showed a comfortable advantage in the early returns with 60% of the vote, according to preliminary vote tallies at 8 p.m. The Associated Press projected his victory 23 minutes after polls closed. 

Hickenlooper will face Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in November — one of the most closely watched races in the nation and a must-win for Democrats to take control of the chamber.

“Hickenlooper won his primary with a landslide against a substantive opponent and despite late gaffes,” said Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics and a prominent election forecaster, on Twitter. He added that President Donald Trump “will fare rather badly in Colorado, and that makes Gardner’s climb very steep.”

Read more via The Colorado Sun.

LIVE updates: Colorado, Eagle County primary election results

After seven years serving as the No. 2 prosecutor in the sprawling 5th Judicial District, Heidi McCollum is set to become the region’s next district attorney.

Preliminary results showed McCollum handily winning Tuesday’s Democratic primary against Braden Angel, a former deputy DA in the district. 

As of 9:02 p.m. Tuesday, McCollum had 67% of the vote with 9,832 votes in the district that encompasses Clear Creek, Eagle, Summit and Lake Counties.

In Eagle County, where McCollum and Angel both reside, McCollum had 5,109 votes to Angel’s 2,552.

“I appreciate the support of everyone in the 5th Judicial District,” McCollum said Tuesday after being reached at watch party on election night. “I’ve always tried to do the right thing for the people involved in any given case, whether that’s for the victim, for the defendant, or for the community. And I will continue to always try to treat every case individually taking into account the needs of everyone involved and ultimately doing what’s best for the community.”

McCollum becomes the fourth acting female district attorney in the state.

“I never thought of myself as a trailblazer, per se, but I’m proud to be able to step into the position of being able to run in a general election as a female district attorney,” she said. “I’m very honored.”

Both candidates ran campaigns that emphasized restorative justice and prioritizing treatment options over jail in communities where behavioral health and addiction issues are prevalent. Both also stressed outreach to under-represented communities like Eagle County’s Latinx population.

McCollum, 49, has spent most of her life in Eagle County. She’s a graduate of Eagle Valley High School who went to Mesa State College before attending law school at Chapman University in California. She interned with the 5th Judicial District after law school before going into private practice for a few years. She has been the assistant district attorney under Bruce Brown, who is term-limited, since 2013 and during that time has prosecuted some of Eagle County’s most high-profile cases, including the cases of Richard Miller and Allison Marcus, the couple convicted of starting the massive Lake Christine Fire.

McCollum looks all but certain to be the next DA in the sprawling district since no Republican entered the field for the primary and the party cannot appoint one for the general election. A write-in candidate or an independent candidate could still emerge before the general election in November.

Angel, 39, received an endorsement from Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek earlier this week but failed to win over a majority of voters. Among other things, he’d said create a more diverse outfit of prosecutors and reduce turnover in the office.

Results are expected to be made official late Tuesday night.

Other races

After Rifle business owner and staunch Second Amendment advocate Lauren Boebert got out to a commanding lead against incumbent Scott Tipton in the GOP primary for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, Tipton released a statement conceding the race.

“3rd District Republicans have decided who they want to run against the Democrats this November. I want to congratulate Lauren Boebert and wish her and her supporters well,” Tipton said.

As of 9 p.m. Boebert leads with 54% of the votes to Tipton’s 46%. Tipton, however, had the support of Eagle County, with 58% of the local votes.

Covering over 52,000 square miles, Colorado’s 3rd District covers 52,000 square miles and is one of the largest in the country. It stretches from Grand Junction to Pueblo and Cortez to Steamboat Springs.

In the Democratic primary for Colorado’s 3rd, Diane Mitsch Bush has a comfortable late-night lead over James Iacino with 61% of the vote.

In the Colorado U.S. Senate Democratic primary, former Gov. John Hickenlooper defeated former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, winning 60% of the vote as of 8 p.m. compared to Romanoff’s 40%, according to The Associated Press. The AP called the race at 7:21 p.m. — the polls closed at 7 p.m. Hickenlooper will face incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner in November.

It’s finally municipal election time in Gypsum

GYPSUM — Around 700 residents voted in the last Gypsum municipal election. As of today, more than 4,000 town residents have ballots in hand for the July 7 vote.

The town was initially slated to conduct its regular municipal election on April 7, but COVID-19 orders in place at that time restricted public gatherings to no more than 10 people. As a result, town officials opted to postpone the municipal election until July 7 and to conduct this year’s election by mail-in ballot. This marks the first time Gypsum has conducted a mail-in vote.

According to Gypsum Town Clerk Danette Schlegel, on June 15 the town mailed out 4,083 regular ballots and 21 military and overseas ballots for the July 7 election. Because this year’s vote is a move into uncharted territory, Schlegel doesn’t have any turnout predictions. But she does expect higher turnout than past municipal election because of the convenience of mail ballots.

“This way, you can vote in your pajamas,” she said.

Voters must return the ballots by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 7, by mail or at the Gypsum Town Hall ballot box.

Six candidates, three seats

There are six candidates vying for three four-year terms on the Gypsum Town Council. The candidates include incumbent members Tom Edwards, Chris Huffman and Marisa Sato. The challengers are Kathleen Brendza, Cicero DaSilva and Jesse Meryhew. Originally, there were seven candidates for the election, but candidate Lori McCole was appointed to the council in May to fill the vacancy created by the passing of longtime council member Pam Schultz.

The Daily has sent out questionnaires to the six candidates and their survey responses will be published during the week of June 29-July 4.

Busy Ballot

Along with the council races, Gypsum has a busy ballot for its 2020 municipal election. The town is presenting a funding question and several town charter amendments to the voters.

Last fall, the Gypsum Town Council pledged $20,000 to the Save the Lake campaign, which is working to raise money to purchase the popular Sweetwater Lake Resort. Members of the Gypsum Town Council decided to ask the voters if they support donating an additional $80,000 to the effort.

The charter questions reflect the changes Gypsum has undergone since the document was approved nearly 40 years ago. The charter questions include:

  • Election timelines: Colorado HB15-1130 changed the timelines for filing nomination petitions, and this change would reflect the state law.
  • Initiative and referendum processes: This change would clarify the rules for the processes and reflect state regulation.
  • Powers and duties of the mayor: “Back in 1982, Gypsum had one or two employees and the mayor, and they ran everything,” Cole said. “The way your charter is written, the mayor has the power to come in and run the show, but that hasn’t happened recently.” Gypsum now operates in a more conventional manner, with the mayor and Town Council making policy and the town manager implementing their actions. The charter change reflects that practice, Cole said.
  • Hard copy or electronic copies of ordinances: This change allows the town to provide ordinance copies both electronically or by hard copy.
  • Posting and publication: This change would designate the town’s website as the official location for any posting or publication of notices and documents. Currently, the Eagle Valley Enterprise and the Vail Daily are the town’s official publication venue.

Democrats Diane Mitsch Bush, James Iacino and Republican Lauren Boebert face off in virtual forum

Given the geographic size of 3rd Congressional District, perhaps the best way to reach voters is via the internet.

That’s what the La Plata County League of Women Voters had in mind with a Wednesday evening candidate forum featuring three of the four candidates for the position. The virtual forum drew just less than 450 live viewers, and is now available on Durango Government Television’s YouTube channel.

Appearing via Zoom were Democrats Diane Mitsch Bush and James Iacino, along with Republican Lauren Boebert. Missing was incumbent Republican Scott Tipton, who also didn’t send any statements to the forum.

The three candidates appearing Wednesday all talked about ways they’d be the better choice to represent the district.

Answering viewer questions presented by Paul DeBell, an assistant professor in political science at Fort Lewis College in Durango, the three candidates made their cases to prevail in both the June 30 primary election and the Nov. 3 general election.

Boebert is an owner of Shooter’s Grill in Rifle. She’s challenging Tipton in the primary, casting herself as a true conservative to represent the district. She’s challenging Tipton’s alleged chumminess with Democrats who currently hold the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Iacino and Mitsch Bush are both challenging Tipton’s alleged lock-step adherence to President Donald Trump’s policies.

Various experience

Mitsch Bush told forum viewers about her government experience as both a Routt County Commissioner and a nearly eight-year veteran of the Colorado House of Representatives.

“Our democracy is in danger,” Mitsch Bush told viewers, adding that she’s a “seasoned, tested, trusted” public servant who has worked across the aisle for her constituents.

“I’ve never been more concerned about the future of our country,” Iacino said. Citing his business experience — the Ridgway resident is a third-generation owner of the Seattle Fish Company — Iacino noted that company has long been a union shop, and said “we need to fight for economic mobility for everybody.”

Boebert also said said “this is one of the most challenging times in our country’s history.”

Boebert said the next 3rd District representative has to be “principled and strong” in defense of free enterprise and against government dependency.

The different views between the Democrats and Tipton’s Republican challenger were on vivid display during the roughly hour-long forum.

Responding to a question about the future of health care, both Iacino and Mitsch Bush said government needs to provide a “public option” to private health insurance. Government should also ensure rural health clinics, with access to mental health and women’s care.

Boebert noted that the current health care system is “broken,” but preferred finding options to open up competition for health care on the Western Slope.

“Nobody is incented to change,” Boebert said.

Some left-right agreement

The candidates did have similar answers to a couple of questions, with some differences, of course.

All favor community-based solutions to affordable housing. Boebert focused more on free markets. Iacino said federal funding should support those efforts. Mitsch Bush said local housing authorities have been effective, but said there needs to be a combination of state and federal efforts, along with public-private partnerships at the local level.

All three candidates also voiced full-throated support for the future of the U.S. Postal Service.

But the Democratic and Republican candidates had more sharp differences than agreement. Answers to a question about police reform illustrated those differences.

“This is our opportunity to effect the change we’ve needed,” Iacino said, noting that military equipment shouldn’t go to local police agencies.

Mitsch Bush said she supports current legislation to outlaw chokeholds and no-knock raids.

Noting that her first husband was a police officer, Mitsch Bush said he knew first-hand the need for training that allows officers to de-escalate confrontations.

“It’s insane that we have to have a discussion about defunding or disbanding (police agencies),” Boebert said, adding that there should be no room for bad officers or racism.

“We need to show compassion and empathy, but never (settle for) looting and violence,” she said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.

Colorado’s primary election is set for June 30

Colorado’s June 30 state primary will include party primary races for the United States Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and County Commissioner seats. Eagle County voters have the opportunity to nominate candidates to compete in the November General Election for those seats. 

Some important points are:

  • Voters registered as Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians or unaffiliated can participate. There are currently no other minor party contests for the state primary.
  • Unaffiliated voters without a preference will receive both major party ballots, Democrat and Republican, but may only return one. If both ballots are cast, neither will count.
  • Voters who are 18 years of age by the Nov. 3, 2020, general election can vote in the state primary.
  • Voters must change or withdraw their affiliation by June 1 if they wish to vote in a different party’s primary election. 
  • Ballots will be mailed on June 8. By law, ballots may not be forwarded by the Postal Service.  
  • Check your voter registration mailing address at www.GoVoteColorado.gov.
  • Sample ballots and additional election information may be found at eaglecounty.us/clerk. For more information, email elections@eaglecounty.us.
  • Voters can update and verify voter registration, register to vote online, or find their Voting Services Polling Center at www.GoVoteColorado.gov.

Vail Valley districts watching effort to repeal tax amendment

Those who run and work for special districts in Colorado are usually pretty busy with their own affairs. But special districts throughout the state are keeping a careful eye on a bill making its way through the Colorado legislature.

If passed, SR20-001 would ask voters in November to repeal the Gallagher Amendment to the state constitution. The bill requires two-thirds majority votes from both the House and Senate to send the question to voters.

The Gallagher Amendment, passed by state voters in 1982, established a ratio for commercial and residential property taxes in the state. Under the amendment, commercial property owners will always pay 55% of a jurisdiction’s property tax collections. The rest is paid by residential property owners.

Since more homes are built than commercial property, the assessment rate on homes needs to continually fall to meet the amendment’s ratio.

The decline in the assessment rate means trouble for districts that rely primarily on property taxes from residential property owners.

Those districts range from school districts and library districts to cemetery districts to fire and ambulance districts.

Asking twice

The Gallagher effect between 2016 and 2018 essentially erased a property tax increase voters approved for the Gypsum Fire Protection District. In fact, the district hadn’t even had a chance to allocate money from the tax increase before the state’s bi-annual property re-assessment took away all of the increase’s gains.

As a result district officials asked voters another question, this time to essentially exempt the district from further residential assessment rate decreases. Voters approved.

The next round of rate decreases “would have gutted us,” Gypsum Fire Protection District Chief Justin Kirkland said.

The Eagle County Paramedic Services District, which covers the length of the Eagle River Valley, in the fall of 2019 asked its voters a similar question. Voters approved that measure as well.

While local fire districts received virtually all of their funding from property tax collections, Eagle County Paramedics also relies on patient billing.

Chris Montera, the CEO of Eagle County Paramedic Services, said patient billing has fallen sharply since local ski resorts closed and the valley quickly emptied of guests and seasonal employees.

Montera said the district has built some financial reserves over the past few years, and can weather this particular storm, at least for a year or two. But, he added, if the district also had to weather the next drop in the residential assessment rate, it could now be planning for a 20% drop in revenue.

“That highlights the necessity of what we did as a local government,” to exempt the district from Gallagher’s continual declines, Montera said. A number of the state’s smaller special districts haven’t yet taken that step, and are in serious budget trouble because of it, he added.

The Eagle River Fire Protection District covers the valley from the top of Tennessee Pass to Wolcott. That district a few years ago passed a combination of a mill levy increase. It was planning another ballot question this year, but shelved that plan due to the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

District Chief Karl Bauer said in response to the national recession that hit the valley in 2008 and 2009, district voters approved an adjustable mill levy. Bauer said the mill levy would fluctuate as needed to ensure revenue wouldn’t drop too much. That adjustable levy is capped.

“What was supposed to happen was that as we came out of (the recession), the adjustable levy would diminish,” Bauer said. But many properties haven’t completely recovered from the previous recession. Combined with reductions from Gallagher, the adjustable mill levy is about to hit its cap. The revenue still won’t cover the district’s needs.

Those needs include the continuing need to purchase “mission critical” equipment including breathing apparatus and radios.

The district has already eliminated three open positions, and is looking at further cutbacks.

Good progress so far

Dylan Roberts represents Eagle and Routt counties in the Colorado House of Representatives. Roberts said the bill is making good progress through the legislative process.

The bill passed its first committee test, in the Colorado Senate, with a unanimous vote. And he added, he hopes voters agree if the proposal makes it to the November ballot.

“It isn’t going to raise anybody’s taxes,” Roberts said, adding that the measure would lock in current residential assessment rates.

Locking in current assessment rates will allow school and other districts to survive, Roberts said.

“If we remove Gallagher, we can be more consistent, and can better plan for the future,” Roberts said.

There are still details to be worked out, but Kirkland said it’s time to repeal Gallagher.

“This has to happen,” Kirkland said. And, he added, it’s essential for the future of other districts besides Gypsum fire.

“Even though we’re technically protected, we rely on (the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District), and the ambulance district,” Kirkland. “We rely on Garfield County agencies, too. It puts us at risk if they’re cut back.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.

Eagle County Democrats hosting virtual candidate events

With the Colorado primary fast approaching, the Eagle County Democratic Party is hosting virtual candidate events to help voters make informed decisions. 

On Monday, June 8, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. the Eagle Democratic Party, in collaboration with the Garfield and Pitkin Democratic parties, will host a High Country candidate forum with business owner James Iacino and former member of the Colorado House of Representatives Diane Mitsch Bush. Iacino and Mitsch Bush are vying to represent the Democratic Party in the November general election for the Congressional District 3 seat for the U.S. House of Representatives. To register, go to https://eagledems.org/events/.

On Thursday, June 11, from 7 to 8 p.m. the Eagle Democratic Party is hosting a 5th Judicial District District Attorney’s candidate forum with Braden Angel, a local attorney and municipal prosecutor for the town of Blue River, and Heidi. McCollum, a prosecutor and assistant district attorney for the 5th Judicial District. This forum is co-hosted with our 5th Judicial District Democratic partners Clear Creek, Lake and Summit Counties. Visit the Eagle County Democratic Party’s event page, https://eagledems.org/events/ for more information.

Former DA candidate calls out Heidi McCollum for falsely playing ‘first female’ card

The race for district attorney in Colorado’s 5th Judicial District has created the first dust-up of this local campaign season.

Democrats Heidi McCollum and Braden Angel are vying for their party’s nomination. In a campaign email that was associated with a women’s DA candidate forum, McCollum claimed to be the first woman to run for District Attorney in Colorado’s Fifth Judicial District. She’s not, said Sanam Mehrnia, a Summit County woman who ran as an independent in 2016.

Mehrnia called McCollum’s claim “false” and “grossly insulting” in a letter to the editor that was sent to the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily News.

McCollum apologized for her campaign piece’s “lack of clarity.” She said it referred to her participation in a panel of five Democratic women running for District Attorney’s offices across Colorado.

“I am the first woman to be nominated by the Democratic Party in the Fifth Judicial District making it onto the primary ballot for District Attorney,” McCollum said in a statement. “While Ms. Mehrnia ran as an unaffiliated and did, in fact, petition onto the ballot, we’ve still never had a Democratic woman be able to say the same — until now.”

Angel, McCollum’s Democratic primary opponent, said it’s a matter of integrity.

“I believe that honesty and integrity are of utmost importance in a District Attorney,” Angel said in a statement. “In the current political climate, it is imperative that the community is able to trust and rely upon their elected officials.”

Mehrnia said, “as a female it is insulting for Ms. McCollum to falsely play the “first female card.”

“Heidi McCollum’s boss and direct supervisor, Bruce Brown, was my opponent in 2016 and thus she has actual knowledge that her statement is untrue,” Mehrnia wrote in her letter in which she also voiced her support for Angel. “Ms. McCollum either decided to purposefully ignore/discount my presence and falsely take credit for my achievement or as the result of incompetence, forgot. Either of these possibilities demonstrates that she is not competent to be District Attorney.”

McCollum thanked Mehrnia for speaking up and said women are needed in politics now more than ever in mountain communities and across Colorado to promote the advancement of science, protect the environment and natural resources, support a woman’s right to choose, support marriage equality, and criminal justice reform for rehabilitation before incarceration, and accountability of law enforcement.

“With events over the past week throughout our nation stemming from the murder of George Floyd, we all need to practice speaking up when we see or hear an injustice, no matter how small. Thank you Ms. Mehrnia for speaking up when you saw something that you thought was wrong,” McCollum said.