| AspenTimes.com

Biden leads the pack in funds raised in Aspen area

Pitkin County residents have poured $138,412 into the campaign coffers of active presidential candidates since Jan. 1, with Joe Biden well ahead of the pack.

An Aspen Times review of Federal Election Commission records shows Biden has raised $67,390 this year from Pitkin County’s five ZIP codes considered the campaign donors’ full-time residences. Those figures for Biden, as well as other presidential hopefuls, do not include donations from those who aren’t full-time Aspen residents and attended campaign fundraisers or donated to presidential campaigns in the Aspen area this year.

The former vice president and his wife, Jill, visited a private Aspen residence in August for a fundraiser charging $1,000 to $2,800 to attend. The event was held at the Northstar Drive home of Jane and Marc Nathanson, who founded Falcon Cable and sold it for $3.7 billion in 1999.

Sen. Michael Bennet also has stumped in Aspen this year, including a town hall-style meeting in August at the Pitkin County Library hosted by the Pitkin County Democrats. Polls show Bennet with about 1% support, but the $27,056 he’s raised this year in Pitkin County put him second to Biden in the local fundraising arena among presidential candidates.

Bennet and Biden are seeking the Democratic nomination to run against President Donald Trump, the Republican incumbent, in 2020.

Democratic candidates have set their sights on the Feb. 3 Iowa Caucus, which can bolster some campaigns and crush others.

Howard Wallach, president of the Pitkin County Democrats, said the monetary support coming in locally, with the election one year away, “says people are desperate to change the occupants of the White House. They’re desperate, and they’re serious.”

In its most recent poll Nov. 8, The New York Times showed Biden with 26% support, ahead of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (20%), Sen. Bernie Sanders (17%) and Pete Buttigieg (8%).

Biden is the only one of those four who have made fundraising stops in the Aspen area this year.

Yet other Democrats seeking their party’s bid have campaigned in the area this year, including Sen. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Billionaire Tom Steyer also was in Snowmass Village in August for the American Renewable Energy Day summit.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper also made presidential fundraising stops in Aspen this year before dropping out of the race. Hickenlooper currently is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for U.S. Senate.

Sanders might not have a strong showing in Pitkin County when it comes to dollars raised, but he has generated the most individual contributions so far — 89. Yet 55 of those donations came from one individual, including 48 contributions for one buck each. Sanders has prided himself on small donations, and recently reported that 84% of his contributions were $200 or less, according to publicintegrity.org.

The number of separate contributions also helped candidates meet one of the minimum thresholds set by the Democratic National Committee in its first two debates in the summer.

Trump has raised $2,407 so far this year from Pitkin County residents, while Vice President Mike Pence visited Aspen on July 22 for a private event held at the downtown Caribou Club. The event was a fundraiser for the Republican National Committee and the re-election of President Trump.

Aspen’s primary ZIP code, 81611, can be lucrative for candidates. In 2018, 81611 accounted for $3.15 million in donations to federal candidates, political action committees and other political funds, an amount that was 29 times more what the average ZIP code generated, according to opensecrets.org.

The Federal Election Commission’s limit for contributions is $2,800 per individual per federal election in 2019-20. The FEC, which oversees campaign finance law in national elections, also requires individual donors, either themselves or through their political party, to report the contributions.


Marianne Virgili edges out Mary Nelle Axelson for CMC Board of Trustees District 2 seat

Marianne Virgili has been elected to represent District 2 on Colorado Mountain College’s Board of Trustees. 

Marianne Virgili
Courtesy Photo

Virgili earned nearly 53 % of the vote whereas her opponent, Mary Nelle Axelson, had garnered just over 47% as of 9 p.m. Tuesday.  

“I am just so grateful for people who voted for me, wrote letters of support or helped with my campaign,” Virgili said. “I am so grateful to have a chance to encourage affordable education, workforce training and lifelong learning.”

District 2 represents the Roaring Fork School District’s boundaries, which extend from Basalt to Glenwood Springs.

Virgili has lived in Glenwood Springs for 37 years and served as president and CEO of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association for three decades before retiring at the end of 2017. 

Virgili will replace the term-limited Kathy Goudy who represented District 2 since being elected in 2011.

Colorado Mountain College Board of Trustees serve 4-year terms. 

Bob Hartzell wins Lake County seat for CMC District 6

Colorado Mountain College’s former Leadville campus dean won the Lake County seat on the CMC board of trustees in Tuesday’s vote

Bob Hartzell

As of 9 a.m. Wednesday, Bob Hartzell was leading Christine Whittington 53.94% to 46.06%, according to the Colorado secretary of state.

The CMC board made up of seven people from six counties, and Hartzell has worked with four of them professionally.

Hartzell, who worked for a quarter-century for CMC in six different roles, said his three top priorities are “to listen, to learn and to participate.”

When he was a business instructor at CMC, he also taught classes ranging from secretarial science to snowmaking in the same semester. He has also previously served as the assistant dean, worked in college-wide faculty development, directed a nine-county leadership development group, and also worked in college leadership, and as the Leadville campus dean.

“I’m so glad I ran. The fact that there was competition brought so many more CMC issues to public attention,” Whittington said. “Friends from CMC and Lake County encouraged me to run. I considered it, and when a student encouraged me to run, I decided to take the plunge.”

“I thank Christine for entering the race in the first place. I was the only one with a petition filed, and in fact, she signed my petition,” Hartzell said. “Had she not entered the race I would not be nearly as knowledgeable about CMC and the board’s role.”

Whittington was the CMC library director for three years, the last of a 40-year career of academic positions, teaching, leadership, and advising that spanned Chicago, Maine, Wake Forest, and Greensboro College, among others.

– by Randy Wyrick, Vail Daily

Colorado Prop CC: State voters uphold taxpayer refunds for excess revenue

DENVER (AP) — Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure Tuesday asking if the state could keep tax revenue that otherwise would be refunded under limits set by the state constitution.

Democrats who control the statehouse had referred the measure, called Proposition CC, to the ballot. It asked if the state could keep revenue in those years when it has a surplus and is required to return that money to taxpayers.

The revenue would have been allocated to transportation and transit, K-12 schools and higher education. Preliminary results showed the measure losing by a double-digit margin.

Voters also were deciding whether to legalize sports betting in Colorado and tax it for water conservation. Early results suggested a close race.

The Democratic-led 2019 Legislature referred both tax measures to the ballot — but unlike sports betting, Democrats and Republicans staked opposite positions on the surplus revenue proposal.

The campaign reflected longstanding philosophical differences over the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a constitutional amendment that requires voters to approve new taxes or revenue retention measures.

Democrats blame TABOR’s revenue restrictions for chronic underinvestment in Colorado’s schools, roads and universities.

Republicans credit TABOR for keeping taxes low on the private sector, allowing it to fuel the state’s economic growth.

Proposition CC asked voters if the state could keep revenue in those years when it has a surplus and is required to return that money to taxpayers. Any excess revenue would be allocated to transportation and transit, K-12 schools and higher education.

Many local municipalities have adopted similar measures to fund their school districts and public safety.

TABOR also sets an annual state income limit that can trigger tax refunds based on a formula that involves population and inflation. Critics said that prevents Colorado from taking advantage of good economic times to fund schools and transportation.

Legislative leaders from both parties endorsed Proposition DD, saying it was time to bring sports betting out of the dark and tax it for water needs.

The proposal called for a 10% flat tax on net sports betting proceeds. Parent companies operating the state’s 33 casinos could seek licenses for onsite betting as well as online and sports gambling apps.

Enabling legislation passed this year would allow the Colorado Water Conservation Board to use the tax revenue — estimated at $11 million in fiscal year 2020-21 — for grants that further the goals of a state water plan launched under former Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The plan is a living document setting long-term goals to meet the needs of a growing population, agriculture, outdoor recreation and obligations to Southwestern states that rely on the Colorado River.

The state has yet to find a way to meet the water plan’s estimated price tag of $100 million a year. But the sports betting proposal harvested a coalition of environmentalists and farming groups supporting it.

Legal sports betting has grown since New Jersey won a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2018 allowing all 50 states to offer it. But most states that moved quickly to do so have seen limited tax revenue.

An Associated Press analysis shows that seven states that reported on sports betting revenue for the fiscal year that ended in June generated a total $74 million in state taxes — a drop in the bucket for state budgets.

Reasons varied, from slow rollouts to the unavailability in some places of mobile betting.

Eagle County 1A: Tobacco tax way out front in early results

EAGLE — In a pack of jubilant 1A supporters, Eagle Valley High School senior Lily Reynolds might have been the happiest person present.

From the first results reported shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday night through the second round released at 9 p.m., the Eagle County tobacco tax measure held strong with more than 69% of voters supporting 1A.

For Reynolds, it was a personal victory for a cause she has championed for two years. She became a strong local voice against youth vaping as she saw more and more of her classmates from EVHS succumb to the practice.

“I was seeing kids I have known since first-grade get addicted,” said Reynolds. “It wasn’t just ‘those kids.’ It was everyone. I had friends who couldn’t make it through a class period without leaving to take a hit.”

“I just felt strongly this measure had to happen,” Reynolds said. “It was not being addressed as a problem.”

With 9,620 ballots counted as of 9 p.m. Tuesday night, the measure was leading 6,134 votes in favor to 2,801 opposed. That translated into a 69% to 31% margin of victory.

Ballot question 1A sought voter support for a hefty tax on tobacco and nicotine product sales — 20 cents per cigarette or $4 per pack and a 40% tax on the sale of all other tobacco and nicotine products. Tobacco-use cessation products such as nicotine patches and gum are exempt from the tax.

“It is such a victory for our community and our youth,” said Mandy Ivanov, Eagle County Public Health and Environment Policy and Partnerships Strategist during an election watch party in Eagle. “I am proud of our county that we are leading the charge to approve measures to reduce the impact of tobacco.”

The tobacco tax is one of three key elements the county has promoted to reduce tobacco and nicotine product use. The other actions include raising the legal purchase age to 21 years and instituting a licensing procedure for retail outlets who sell the products.

Ballot Question 7A: Early returns show voters annexing Salida School District into Colorado Mountain College District

Early results show voters overwhelmingly supporting annexation of the Salida School District into Colorado Mountain College’s taxing district boundary.

As of 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, approximately 58 percent of Salida School District voters supported the annexation whereas just over 41 percent opposed it.

Additionally, voters within Colorado Mountain College’s boundaries overwhelmingly supported the annexation with 77 percent favoring it and just 23 percent rejecting it.

Both Ballot Question 5A that applied to just Salida School District voters, and Ballot Question 7A that included all Colorado Mountain College District voters had to pass in order for the annexation to occur. 

Previously, residents within the Salida School District had to pay $170 per credit hour at Colorado Mountain College whereas those that lived within the six-county taxing district only paid $80. 

The reason being, residents within Colorado Mountain College’s taxing district already pay a 3.997 mill levy, which supports the college.

Now that voters have approved the annexation, Salida School District residents will also pay a 3.997 mill levy and $80 per credit hour.

The addition of the Salida School District will have no impact on current taxpayers within Colorado Mountain College’s taxing district. 

The Steamboat Springs School District was the last school district to be successfully annexed into Colorado Mountain College’s taxing district, which occurred in 1982.


Aspen hospital mill levy extension on pace to pass

Aspen Valley Hospital District will continue to enjoy a revenue stream supported by property taxes for at least another decade following a convincing outcome in Tuesday’s election.

As of 11 p.m., tallies showed that 3,338 voters, or 73.04%, approved the property tax, in the form of a 1.5 mill levy, which generates about $4.6 million annually to the 25-bedroom, critical-access hospital’s operations.

The amount accounts for roughly 4% of the hospital’s yearly revenue, according to hospital CEO David Ressler.

For land and home owners, the extension means they’ll keep paying $11.93 in taxes annually on a property with an assessed value of $100,000, and so on.

The mill levy has been in place since 1995 and has been renewed by voters every five years. The current mill levy runs Dec. 31, 2015, through Dec. 31, 2020. The extension will keep it intact through Dec. 31, 2030.

Ressler said the organization’s board of directors opted to bring the renewal question to voters a year earlier for planning purposes into the next decade.

“This revenue is very important to us,” he said Tuesday night. “(The election outcome) will allow us to be able to plan well into the future for 10 years. We’re in the midst of significant change in our industry and we’re a hospital that’s part of moving toward a valley-based environment where we want to be part of the solution for high health care costs.”

The hospital district includes all of Pitkin County except for Redstone.

“We’re excited to see the strong support of our community and the appreciation it has for the hospital,” Ressler said.

Aspen Ballot Issue 2A: Voters approve of city keeping excess tobacco tax

Aspen voters resoundingly decided in Tuesday’s election to allow the city to keep excess revenue from taxes on tobacco products.

With 1,664 votes in favor and 424 against reported at 11 p.m., city voters passed Ballot Question 2A, which allows the municipal government to keep all revenue from a voter-approved tax in 2017.

It started last year as a $3 tax on a pack of cigarettes and a 40% hike on all other tobacco products — including cigars, e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

The tax escalates 10 cents each year until it reaches $4.

The city anticipated it would collect $325,000 annually but it turned out that an additional $111,622 came in over that estimate in 2018.

Last year’s additional money is subject to TABOR limitations and had to either be returned to taxpayers, or the government could keep it with the blessing of city voters.

With Tuesday’s approval to retain excess revenue, the city does not have to go back to ask again if the government collects more than $325,000 in any given year.

City Finance Director Pete Strecker confirmed that as of Monday, the city had collected $357,000 in tobacco taxes so far this year.

The revenue is earmarked specifically for financing health and human services, tobacco-related health issues, and addiction and substance abuse education, according to CJ Oliver, the city’s environmental health and sustainability director.

Aspen City Council in August agreed to release most of the $436,600 in the tobacco tax coffer toward a plan that tackles substance abuse, addiction and prevention targeted at local youth and their parents.

It will be done in partnership with the Aspen School District through an intergovernmental agreement, according to Oliver.

“We’ve asked them to put a plan together with a menu of items, or a suite of different options and costs that will be presented (to council),” he said Tuesday before the election results. “Then we will build the IGA around the list.”

The multi-year plan is designed to fill a gap in services that was discovered as health specialists and government officials worked on the tobacco tax two years ago, and the ban on all flavored tobacco and vaping products earlier this year.

Katherine Sand, director of Aspen Family Connections at the school district, is currently working on the plan and expects to have it ready by the beginning of the year.

“The city of Aspen funding really gives us the ability to be creative. … It takes time; we want to do this properly,” she said Tuesday. “The idea of the city and the Aspen School District collaborating is a quite far-reaching prevention plan.”

Filling in the gaps means providing community-based services to families throughout the district, from preschool to parent education and all of the students in between.

“People are hungry for it and we know the demand is there,” she said.

Sand noted that the principles behind prevention are aimed at how parents and students think, feel and act.

“It’s building resiliency and relationships, and healthy decision-making,” she said. “If there is stuff going on at home kids will find ways to cope.”

That’s where providing extracurricular activities and developing community connections fill in gaps of services to assist families and youth.

“Ultimately, it’s a cost-effective way to approach these issues,” Sand said. “This is a solid investment in the future, families and the community.”


Colorado Prop DD: Measure to allow sports betting to fund water projects too close to call

The closest race Tuesday night remains too close to call on whether Colorado voters would passed a measure to legalize sports betting and use the taxes raised to fund projects outlined in the Colorado Water Plan.

As of 10:40 p.m., unofficial results showed Proposition DD passing by less than 1,000 votes — with 50.03 percent of Colorado voters in favor of the measure and 49.97 percent against it.

In Pitkin County, 60 percent of voters supported the measure and in Eagle County 58.4 percent of voters were in support of it. 

Voters in Garfield County rejected Proposition DD with 52.3 percent of voters against it.

If Proposition DD was to pass, the state would be authorized to collect a 10% tax up to $29 million (but probably closer to $15 million) a year from casino’s sports-betting proceeds. The money would go toward funding projects that align with the goals outlined in the water plan, as well as toward meeting interstate obligations such as the Colorado River Compact.

The plan, outlined in a 567-page policy document, does not prescribe or endorse specific projects, but, instead, sets Colorado’s water values, goals and measurable objectives. According to the water plan, there is an estimated funding gap of $100 million per year over 30 years, but Colorado Water Conservation Board officials have said that number is an estimate and not precise. 

Some of the projects outlined in the water plan stand in opposition to one another — for example stream restoration projects with an emphasis on environmental health and building or expanding dams and reservoirs that would divert and impound more Colorado River water. Proposition DD funding could go toward any of these. 

The funds would be administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a statewide agency charged with managing Colorado’s water supply. 

In addition to doling out money from Proposition DD in the form of water-plan grants, the revenue could also be spent to ensure compliance with interstate compacts and to pay water users for temporary and voluntary reductions in consumptive use. That could mean a demand management program — the feasibility of which the state is currently studying — in which agricultural water users would be paid to leave more water in the river. 

The measure had received broad support from environmental organizations, agriculture interests, water-conservation districts and even Aspen Skiing Company. 

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of rivers and water. For more, go to aspenjournalism.org.

Pitkin County Issue 1A: Voters approve of tax on tobacco products

Pitkin County’s proposed tobacco tax appeared well on its way to passing Tuesday night by a nearly three-to-one margin.

“Looks like we got it,” Pitkin Board of County Commissioners Chairman Greg Poschman said Tuesday night. “I think it’s great.”

The tax will allow Pitkin County to charge the same as other municipalities in the Roaring Fork Valley “so people can’t leave the county to buy cigarettes cheaper,” he said. But the bottom line is that price increases are the best way to get both young people and adults to quit tobacco and nicotine, he said.

“So that’s why we did it,” Poschman said.

The tax — known as Ballot Issue 1A — was passing Tuesday night by a margin of 3,939 votes for (78.75%) to 1,062 against (21.25%), according to updated results posted at 11 p.m. by the Pitkin County Clerk’s Office on the Colorado Secretary of State’s website.

Pitkin County’s tax — which was approved unanimously in August by all five members of the board of commissioners — will add $3.20 to a pack of cigarettes with an annual 10-cent increase until the tax reaches $4. The tax mirrors the same price for cigarettes in the city of Aspen, where voters approved the same tobacco tax in 2017.

Aspen was the first municipality in the state to pass the tax. Tuesday night, Aspen voters were on the way to allowing the city to keep the excess tax it collected in 2018, and there after.

Other tobacco and nicotine products sold in Pitkin County will be taxed at 40%, under the new tax.

Tuesday, voters in Eagle and Summit counties faced a similar tobacco tax question, as did voters in Glenwood Springs and New Castle.

Research has established that price increases are the best way to impact children and young adults who use tobacco tax, Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann has said. For every 10% increase in price, there is a corresponding 7% decrease in youth use and a 4% overall decrease.

“It’s such a heartwarming thing to know that this community continues to prioritize health,” Koenemann said Tuesday night.

That the tobacco ban would pass in Pitkin County was not hard to predict. In 2016, when voters statewide defeated a tobacco tax increase, Pitkin County had the highest percentage of support for it of any county in the state. In Aspen, 75% of city voters passed the tax in November 2017.

“It wasn’t that much of a surprise,” Poschman said. “I didn’t meet anybody who was against it.”

Commissioners, however, are not yet finished dealing with tobacco and nicotine.

Last month, the board expressed unanimous support for raising the county’s minimum age for buying tobacco and other nicotine products from 18 to 21. Commissioners also supported banning flavored nicotine products, including flavored chewing tobacco and menthol cigarettes that have been available for decades.

Aspen, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs already have banned flavored nicotine products, while Garfield County is looking at a ban and at raising the minimum age.


Basalt Issue 3A: Setting property tax rate gains widespread support

Basalt officials were finally breathing easy Tuesday night after a year of budget uncertainty.

The town government’s request to re-establish a property tax mill levy was ahead by a comfortable 257-vote margin with a handful of votes remaining to count. As of 11 p.m., there were 613 votes in favor of the mill levy and 356 against. That’s a margin of 63.3% to 36.7%.

The vote on the property tax rate was required after town staff discovered in fall 2018 that the government had been violating the Colorado Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights for more than a decade by raising the property tax rate without voter approval. The council responded by approving $2.1 million in refunds for four years of overcharges and placing a question on the ballot to re-establish the tax rate.

“I think we’ve continued to forge ahead to solve the problem,” Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said Tuesday night after the voting trend was clear. “With that came earning the trust from their constituency.”

Issue 3A asked for permission to set the property tax rate at 5.957 mills, the same as last year. Without that approval, Basalt would have been forced to drop to a mill levy of 2.562 — the lowest level it has been since the Colorado Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights was approved in 1992.

The lower mill levy would have forced Basalt to slash about $700,000 from its budget for 2020 and future years.

“The reality is you can slash $700,000 from your budget and you might not feel it in year one,” Mahoney said. But the cumulative effect of the budget cuts would eventually mean infrastructure repairs wouldn’t be made as frequently, vehicles wouldn’t be replaced and special projects couldn’t be pursued, he said.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said she felt many voters understood the implications, despite the complexity of the issue. It was a low-key campaign, but when she went door-to-door, it seemed like voters were informed, she said.

Since the TABOR violation was discovered, the town government took steps to beef up its financial oversight. It added citizen watchdogs to its financial advisory board. It changed budget approval procedures to increase transparency of the mill levy.

“I think the town has really ramped up their game on transparency and financial reporting,” Whitsitt said.

She said the results were a personal relief, as well. Whitsitt must leave office in April due to term limits. She didn’t want to leave office with the town facing a dire financial situation.

“It’s great to go out on a high note,” she said.

Mahoney said voter approval of the ballot question means the town can “stay on track” with its strategic plan, which includes everything from regular maintenance of roads and sidewalks to efforts to add affordable housing and assist with affordable day care.

The ballot measure also gives future town council flexibility in raising and lowering the property tax rate — as long as it stays under 5.957 mills. Any increase above that level requires voter approval.

Despite the stakes, the election didn’t entice many Basalt residents to vote. As of deadline time Tuesday night, there were 969 ballots cast with a small amount remaining to be counted. There are about 2,200 registered voters, so the turnout was about 42 percent.

There were 844 votes cast in the last municipal election in April 2018.

The measure was supported by a comfortable margin in both Eagle and Pitkin counties. Basalt is divided among the two.

In the Eagle County portion of Basalt, the vote was 429 in favor and 267 against as of 11 p.m. The margin was 184 in favor and 89 against in the Pitkin County portion of Basalt.