Key local posts up for grabs on Election Day
On Nov. 5, Eagle County residents will go to the polls and vote for the governor of Colorado, a U.S. senator, a U.S. congressman and a state legislator. But because those officials do most of their work far away for larger constituencies, the weightier votes may be those cast for Eagle County commissioner, how students learn English in public schools, the Avon Town Council, tax increases in Vail and water conservation on the Western Slope.
A slew of other local posts – such as county coroner and county clerk –are also on the ballot. But getting perhaps the most attention is the race for District 3 Eagle County Commissioner among incumbent Tom Stone, a Republican, Gerry Sandberg, a Democrat, and Laurie Bower, who is unaffiliated.
The District 3 commissioner represents the west side of the county. The commission has wide influence, providing funding for towns, managing the airport, overseeing unincorporated areas such as Eagle-Vail and Edwards and divvying up state and federal funding for roads and other infrastructure.
The county commission is currently managing the redevelopment of the Berry Creek Fifth in Edwards from an equestrian center into a major subdivision.
Stone, the incumbent, was elected in 1998 and has been a highly visible member of the commission. Sandberg is a longtime county resident who is an investigator for the Eagle County District Attorney’s Office. Bower, a county housing planner, ran for unsuccessfully for state senator in 1996.
Three longtime county officials, Sheriff A.J. Johnson, Clerk and Recorder Sara Fisher and Coroner Donna Barnes, are all prevented from running for reelection by term limits.
Eagle County sheriff’s deputies Joe Hoy, a Republican, and Bill Kaufman, a Democrat, are campaigning to replace their boss.
Democrat Earlene Roach and Republican Teak Simonton are running to fill Fisher’s post.
Barnes’ two deputies, Democrat Kara Bettis and Republican Bruce Campbell, are running to replace her. The coroner participates in all death investigations in Eagle County.
Races for county treasurer, surveyor and assessor have already been decided because the candidates –three Republicans – are running unopposed. Joyce Mack will be the new assessor, Karen L. Sheaffer is the treasurer and Dan Corcoran is the surveyor.
The ballot issue causing most controversy around the state is Amendment 31, which would amend the Colorado Constitution and dismantle bilingual education in public schools. If passed, all students learning English would be put in a one-year English immersion program.
Supporters, like Rita Montero, the Colorado resident sponsor of Amendment 31, say English immersion programs are the best way to teach English.
“The complaint we hear over and over again is that Hispanics don’t get enough English instruction,” says Montero, a former member of the Board of Education for the Denver Public School District. “Parents of English-speaking students complain that having the non-English speaking students in and out of the class diverts teachers’ attention.”
Several school boards across the state, including those of Denver, the Roaring Fork Valley, Boulder, Poudre Valley and Jefferson County, already have urged voters to reject Amendment 31.
The Eagle County School Board will consider an anti-Amendment 31 resolution next week.
“We’ve been successful in meshing kids together here,” said Keith Thompson of Edwards, a member of the Eagle County School Board. “This Amendment 31 seems segregating. Also, the initiative takes away local control.”
Other ballot amendments to the Colorado Constitution include:
– Amendment 27 – Limiting contributions individuals and corporations can make to political campaigns.
– Amendment 28 – Providing for automatic mail-in ballot elections beginning Jan., 2005.
– Amendment 29 – Requiring all candidates seeking nomination in a primary primary be placed on the ballot by petition.
– Amendment 30 – Allowing residents to register to vote on the day of an election, beginning Jan., 2004.
The are also a series of referendums on the ballot:
– Referendum A – Exempting district attorneys from constitutional term limits.
– Referendum B – Authorizing local governments to provide health care by partnering with public or private agencies
– Referendum C – Permitting the Legislature to establish requirements for county coroner.
– Referendum D – Repealing obsolete constitutional provisions, such as a congressional term-limit provision found unconstitutional in 1998.
– Referendum E – Making March 31 “Cesar Chavez Day,” in honor of the civil rights and labor leader.
In the next four years, Avon Town Council members will likely have to grapple with continuing construction at the Village at Avon, an uncertain financial future and Vail Resorts’ drive to build a gondola to Beaver Creek Mountain, among other issues.
Four empty seats on Avon Town Council are up for grabs on Election Day and a record 12 candidates are eager to the make the big decisions the town will face in the future.
The town will also have a new mayor because term limits prevent longtime councilwoman and current Mayor Judy Yoder from running for reelection.
“The most important thing they’ll have in the next four years is the budget,” Yoder says. “While the budget is always important when you’re in a growth mode and you have a lot more flexibility, if things continue to stay the way they are now, the budget will probably be the biggest decision they’ll have to make.”
The budget will determine how much money there is to spruce up the town in the coming years, she says.
Incumbents Debbie Buckley and Mac McDevitt, along with recent appointee Brian Sipes –who in June replaced departed councilman Rick Cuny – are running to retain their seats.
Campaigning to swipe their posts are Bob Angel, a sales associate with the Vail Daily; Bobby Bank, who runs Vail Brochure Delivery; Tab Bonidy, an architect; Rene Martinez, a Vail maintenance engineer; Mike McClinton, an internal auditor for Vail Resorts and member of Avon’s Planning and Zoning Commission; Steve Miller, a cellular infrastructure equipment consultant; Ron Neville, general manager, Arrowhead and Bachelor Gulch property management; Albert “Chico” Thuon, a river guide and ski instructor; Ron Wolfe, a retired chemical engineer and Avon Planning and Zoning Commissioner.
But Mother Nature may make a lot of issues moot, Yoder said.
“Something else they may have to deal with is water conservation,” Yoder says. “That may go up a notch and prove to be more important than some of the other things. But let’s hope not.”
Also on Avon’s ballot is a controversial 4 percent tax on all building materials used in the town. Supporters say the tax, known as Referendum 2E, will generate $500,000 to help fund the town’s ailing free bus system.
But opponents argue the tax unfairly singles out contractors and developers and forces them to pay for a bus system that everybody uses.
The “use tax’ nearly died in Town Hall. The tax made it onto the ballot by a narrow 4-3 vote of the Town Council, with Yoder voting the break the deadlocked council.
The tax is assessed when a builder applies for a building permit. The town will assume that 50 percent of the cost of the project will be spent on building supplies. The builder will then pay a 4 percent tax on the supplies.
The builder will then be exempt from paying sales tax when he or she buys their materials.
“I don’t see it as a tax on the construction industry, I see it as a tax on growth,” Councilman Mac McDevitt has said.
Councilman Buz Reynolds, however, has said the tax will increase the already lofty costs of construction because many builders buy their supplies in Edwards where there is no sales tax to be exempted from.
“The bottom line is the cost of construction in this valley has just gone crazy,” Reynolds said.
Builders, not surprisingly, have strongly opposed the tax.
“It still seems as if the use tax is unfairly targeting one group to pay for expenses that should be shared by all of us,” builder George Plavec said at an August Town Council meeting.
Cost of living
A controversial package of proposed tax increases on the ballot in the town of Vail would raise nearly $50 million to maintain the town’s infrastructure and build a conference center in Lionshead.
The first, Referendum 2C, aims to raise $2.25 million a year through a property tax increase to keep up the town’s streets and other infrastructure.
Referendum 2C would raise property taxes by $40 per $100,000 in market value for residential properties and $120 for commercial properties. It would increase the town’s mill levy to 48.6, compared to Eagle’s, 51, Gypsum’s, 83, and Avon, 59.
Referendum 2D is a package of tax hikes to pay off bonds on a proposed $46 million conference center in Lionshead. The package includes a 1.5 percent increase to the 1.4 percent lodging tax and a 0.5 percent increase to the town’s 8.5 percent sales tax for an estimated combined $2 million in annual debt payments.
The sales tax increase would end once the center’s debt is payed off, but the lodging portion would stay in place and finance operations and maintenance.
Supporters, like Councilman Greg Moffet, say the town badly needs a conference center to attract more visitors.
“This thing is the single most important thing we can do,” Moffet says. “This isn’t going to be paid for by us, unless we check into hotels.”
But opponents argue the center won’t be widely used because it will be dominated by nearby hotels.
“It’s a convention center for the Marriott,” Vail Town Council woman Diana Donovan says. “It’s the biggest, closest hotel to it.”
Others, like Vail resident Rick Scalpello, warn simply that the conference center is a gamble because there’s a risk it won’t recover costs.
“It isn’t whether there will be another 9-11 but when there will be another 9-11,” Scalpello says. “If this thing does not work, the town will have to step up to it … that will affect our credit rating for a long long time.”
Open space and water
Other tax increases on the Western Slope ballot would conserve open space and water.
Eagle County Referendum 1H would raise property taxes to create a fund of seed money to buy open space. The money could be used to match state and federal grants.
“I will vote “yes’,” says Michael Gallagher, chairman of the Eagle County Board of County Commissioners. “We (Eagle County) have spent millions on open space, but there’s more to buy.”
The open space referendum, proposed by the Eagle Valley Citizens for Open Space, will raise the countywide tax levy 1.5 mills – an increase of about $14 per $100,000 assessed value of a house – and generate another $2.9 million per year. The exact amount of the increase depends on whether the County Commission decides to increase the tax rate this year.
Sixteen Western Slopes counties, including Eagle, will vote on the Colorado Water Conservation District’s proposal to increase property taxes to deal with dwindling water supplies.
Referendum 4A would increase property taxes $2.30 per $100,000 of assessed valuation. It will raise and estimated $2.5 million annually for 20 years.
“We need to secure local control over federally available water,
says Conservation District spokesman Chris Treese.
The Conservation District covers the entire Colorado River watershed, including Eagle and all or parts of 15 other Western Slope counties.
Due to redistricting, many of the state races in Colorado feature unfamiliar candidates.
Locally, Rep. Carl Miller, D-Leadville, is running against Vail Valley lawyer Heather Lemon to represent Eagle County in the state assembly. The county is currently represented by Republican Al White, whose district has been shifted.
The county will also lose the representation in Congress of Rep. Scott McInnis, whose district also has been changed. Running to represent the county in Congress are an incumbent, Rep. Mark Udall, D-Boulder, and Boulder County Treasurer Sandy Hume, a Republican.
Battling to represent Eagle County and Colorado in the U.S. Senate is the incumbent Republican, Sen. Wayne Allard, and former federal prosecutor, Tom Strickland, a Democrat.
And squaring off for the state’s top spot are Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, and Rollie Heath, a Democrat and longtime businessman making his first bid for elected office.
Vail Daily reporters Cliff Thompson, Geraldine Haldner and Veronica Whitney contributed to this report.