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Kerry Donovan eager to serve in the majority in Colorado Senate

EAGLE COUNTY — Kerry Donovan has already served a full term in the Colorado Senate. In January, she’ll have a new experience: serving as a member of the majority.

Donovan, who on Tuesday, Nov. 6, won re-election to represent Senate District 5, will be part of a new 19-16 majority for the Democrats. Donovan said she’s hopeful that the party’s full control over the Colorado Legislature will allow action on some issues that had previously stalled out due to partisan differences.

At the top of that list is the cost of health care, especially on the Western Slope and other rural areas in the state.

Donovan noted that Governor-elect Jared Polis — also a Democrat — campaigned on a promise to help control health insurance costs.

“I look forward to working with (Polis) to bring down the cost of health care across rural Colorado,” she said.

But first, she added, her responsibilities start with the people of the district.

Regardless of whether the conversation is with an interest group, or representatives or the governor, the people of the district need to know that state government is working for them, she said.

TRANSPORTATION A PRIORITY

Transportation will also be a priority in the next session of the legislature. In the wake of voters’ rejection of both transportation-funding measures on this fall’s ballot, Donovan said it’s going to be up to the legislature to find ways to improve funding for the state’s overburdened transportation system.

But finding funding won’t be easy. Much of the state’s budget is already legally dedicated to several issues, and there isn’t a lot left over. That’s complicated by a 1992 constitutional amendment known as the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR. That amendment limits taxes and spending and requires voter approval of any new taxes.

Still, Donovan said, transportation is a “top of mind problem, along with health care, education and protecting the environment.”

Those issues will all require strong leadership, Donovan said, adding she hopes to be one of those leaders.

Senate Democrats were set to meet Thursday, Nov. 8, to vote on leadership roles and committee assignments.

Donovan said legislative leaders will revisit a number of bills that were derailed in previous sessions. But, she added, that doesn’t mean previously introduced bills will simply be re-submitted.

“We want to be more thoughtful and deliberate,” she said, adding that it’s possible a bill requiring adequate tires on passenger cars traveling the Interstate 70 mountain corridor could be brought back.

That bill is worth another conversation with the Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado State Patrol and local police departments, Donovan said. If those groups agree there’s value in such a bill, chances are it could be revived.

LOCAL INTERESTS WEIGH IN

Other local interests will be ready to weigh in on those and other issues.

Chris Romer is the president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Romer said he expects to spend a good bit of time in Denver during the next legislative session, lobbying and testifying on bills.

The Partnership earlier this year lobbied for approval of a health care option called Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangements.

Romer said that could be one answer to rising costs, but noted that the state needs to take a “yes, and …” approach to health care and other issues.

“I want to see more options … by which people (can access care),” he said.

Romer added that with Donovan and State Rep. Dylan Roberts, Eagle County has two residents representing the area’s interests in the legislature.

That means the county’s representatives “have a more intimate understanding” of issues facing the area, he said.

But, Donovan said, her responsibility is to everyone in her district.

“I continue to be overwhelmed by support from (the district),” she said. “It’s really humbling to see the amount of support I got … such decisive support from a very diverse district.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.

Snowmass Village and Basalt have fire district levies passed

Separate proposals by the fire districts of Basalt and Snowmass Village to adjust their mill levies to maintain current property tax revenue levels were approved by overwhelming margins by voters in Tuesday's election.

Preliminary results showed the Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District ballot question had an insurmountable lead. Early voting from Pitkin and Eagle counties showed there were 3,235 in favor and 778 against. That's a margin of 81 percent to 19 percent in favor, according to the clerk's offices.

The vote on the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District question was 673 in favor and 265 against though numerous votes were still to be counted in Pitkin County.

"I feel very grateful that our constituents would support us," said Ed Van Walraven, president of the Basalt district's board of directors.

Without voter approval to adjust the mill levies and keep revenues, Basalt would have lost an estimated $279,000 in 2020 while Snowmass would have lost $373,000.

"We carry on without this cloud hanging over our head," Van Walraven said.

The Basalt fire department, which also handles emergency medical response, will be able to carry on the same services people have come to depend on, he said.

Bill Boineau, president of the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District, also expressed gratitude for the community support.

"There had been concern the community might not support it," Boineau said. The district had successfully got a property tax increase a couple of years ago to fund construction of a new firehouse.

All Roaring Fork Valley area judges retained by voters

Every judge on the 2018 local midterm ballot will remain in office.

Pitkin County Court Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely was retained by a 90 percent vote in favor, with a majority of votes counted as of 9:45 p.m. Tuesday.

Ninth Judicial Court judges James Berkley Boyd, Anne K. Norrdin and Christopher G. Seldin were also retained by large margins.

At the state level, Colorado and Pitkin County voters chose to keep on the bench Colorado Supreme Court Justice Robert L. Gabriel, as well as Colorado Court of Appeals judges Daniel Dailey, Rebecca Rankin Freyre, Elizabeth L. Harris and David J. Richman.

Julie McCluskie declares victory in House District 61 race to replace Hamner

Democrat and Dillon resident Julie McCluskie declared victory Tuesday night in her race to become the next state representative for Colorado House District 61.

Holding a commanding lead over her Republican challenger Mike Mason with 31,466 votes counted, McCluskie said she was "proud and honored" to be the next representative and serve the district she calls home.

"Together, we are going to work hard to make a difference for all the hard-working families in this district," McCluskie said in a victory speech at the Democratic election party taking place at HighSide Brewery in Frisco. "I am going to work to give our kids the best public education possible, to fix our broken healthcare system, and protect the beautiful environment we call home."

The district — which covers Summit, Lake and Pitkin counties and portions of Delta and Gunnison counties — has been represented by Democrat Millie Hamner since 2012. Hamner is vacating the seat due to term limits.

Colorado Mountain College easily wins tax revenue proposal

Western Colorado voters approved Colorado Mountain College's bid to adjust property tax rates during lean budget years in a ballot initiative Tuesday.

Early results for the college's district — which includes Garfield, Eagle, Pitkin, Lake, Routt and Summit counties — showed the measure winning with more than 70 percent support.

Ballot Question 7D was not a property tax, but a way for the college to make up for budget shortfalls caused when the state reduces property tax assessment rates. The CMC board of directors had asked for the ability to change the mill levy rates in order to restore tax revenue that may be lost when the assessment rate changes in the future.

"We are honored that voters in our communities took the time to learn about how a quirk in the state Constitution put local services in rural areas at risk and have entrusted the college with the ability to maintain revenues that otherwise would have been lost," the board of trustees said in a statement Tuesday.

"We humbly accept this responsibility and are committed to providing the essential education and training that our students, employers and communities need to meet the demands of our regional economy."

The residential mill levy is typically adjusted down, due to the Gallagher Amendment to the state Constitution, which requires a certain percentage of revenue to come from businesses compared with residential property taxes. That system has caused CMC to lose revenue, according to the board.

CMC proposed a similar change to offset losses from the Gallagher Amendment during the 2017 election, but that measure was defeated with around 45 percent report.

As part of the ballot language, CMC promised to maintain a transparent accounting of how it uses its funds and its justification for increasing a mill levy over the assessment rate.

"As has always been true, we will continue to publicly and transparently report the actions of the CMC Board of Trustees, when and if they ever exercise the provisions of 7D," the statement said.

In 2017, CMC changed employee benefits and implemented reductions in operations, along with raising tuition, to accommodate the drop in revenue. If the assessment rate drops in 2019 — a certainty unless the legislature can devise a way to change Gallagher — the college would have faced an additional reduction for $3.8 million without the passage of 7D, according to the trustees.

Critics of the measure said that in future years, if CMC raises the mill levy rate as the assessment rate drops, it would be, in effect a tax not subject to community vote.

tphippen@postindependent.com

Aspen Ballot Questions: Voters choose original city office plan at Rio Grande/Galena Plaza

In a 57 to 43 percent margin, Aspen voters have chosen Rio Grande Place and Galena Plaza for a new municipal office building to be developed by the city, according to unofficial election results.

Question 2D presented two locations for city office space. As of 1 a.m. Wednesday, 2,040 voters chose Option B, which is a new building to be constructed at 427 and 455 Rio Grande Place.

As of early Wednesday morning, Option A had garnered 1,552 votes and included yet-to-be developed office space in a commercial building on Hopkins Avenue, as well as second-floor space next door where the Aspen Kitchen restaurant is located.

But the majority of voters ultimately went with what was originally approved by Aspen City Council over a year ago. The roughly 37,500-square-foot office building was approved by ordinance in the spring of 2017. The Rio Grande/Galena Plaza project is currently estimated to cost $26 million to build.

"I feel relieved for knowing our representative government worked," said Mayor Steve Skadron. "I just think Option B is a 50-year plan that will provide public services that will stand the test of time."

The city's project has been the source of a protracted legal battle between three residents and the government since City Council passed Ordinance 4.

City residents Steve Goldenberg and Marcia Goshorn, assisted by Snowmass Canyon resident Toni Kronberg, sued the government after they were denied an attempt to put the development to the voters via referendum.

Frustrated and concerned about the project languishing and construction costs escalating as litigation wore on, council looked for other alternatives.

Enter developer Mark Hunt, who offered to sell 27,000 square feet of turnkey office space at 517 E. Hopkins Ave. and 204 S. Galena St., across from City Hall. The total price tag is $32.5 million, which is between $5.5 million to $7.5 million higher than what two outside appraisers have valued the space for.

The city is under contract to buy those spaces, along with a deal for Hunt's development team to remodel the old Armory (now City Hall) for $15.8 million.

In September, council agreed to a settlement agreement with Goshorn and Goldenberg and let voters decide which deal to take.

Tuesday's vote is only advisory, but the terms of the settlement make the election results binding. With Tuesday's vote tally, the lawsuit will now be dismissed with prejudice.

Kronberg declined to comment, other than to say, "I'm glad it's an advisory vote, according to the city's statement of fact."

If the majority of voters had supported the city buying Hunt's properties, the city would have rescinded Ordinance 4.

Goshorn, Goldenberg and Kronberg agreed to the settlement because the matter is going before voters, which is what they wanted in the first place.

This is not the first ballot measure introduced by the city. In 2015, it asked an advisory question if the current City Hall, known historically as the Armory, should be converted to community use instead of offices.

The advisory question narrowly passed in favor of the conversion but council has no plans to change City Hall, other than to remodel it.

csackariason@aspentimes.com

Eagle County Commissioner: Jeanne McQueeney solidly wins re-election

EDWARDS — As she entered the Eagle County Democrats' watch party in Edwards on Tuesday night supporters told District 3 county commissioner candidate Jeanne McQueeney that she had already won her re-election race.

"I couldn't get my head around that. People were staying that to me, and I just couldn't process it at all," McQueeney said.

But when the first results were reported at 7:15 p.m., McQueeney had already built up a commanding lead over her Republican challenger, Jacqueline Cartier. That lead held through the night. According to unofficial results posted around 1:30 a.m., McQueeney had amassed 12,176 votes to Cartier's 7,195 — a 63 percent to 37 percent difference.

Working families

McQueeney's campaign centered on what she believed were important issues for Eagle County working families — housing, early childhood education, quality of life and mental health.

"It's always good to go out and knock on doors and talk with people," McQueeney said. "Generally people seem to like the direction the county has taken."

That was particularly true regarding the issue of affordable housing.

"I did a lot of door knocking, and affordable housing was people's No. 1 issue," McQueeney said.

The Vail Valley Partnership's recent Eagle County Workforce Study showed that 61 percent of the employees surveyed cited finding affordable housing as a "major frustration." McQueeney said that during her first term as a county commissioner, more than 683 affordable housing units were approved for construction by the county.

McQueeney said the commissioners are always looking for ways to do more. In August, they announced plans for a 22-unit workforce housing project adjacent to the Castle Peak Senior Care Community in the Eagle Ranch neighborhood. The $6.5 million project, which is proposed as a joint effort between Eagle County and the Eagle County Housing and Development Authority, can eventually transition into an independent living center associated with Castle Peak Senior Care Community.

Mental health

Out on the campaign trail, McQueeney said Eagle County residents also cited improved mental health services as a priority.

"We are so fortunate the voters approved mental health funding in 2018. That has allowed us to build up a program and start to fill in some of the gaps," she said.

Health care costs and transportation improvements were also on voters' minds this year, McQueeney said. She noted the solutions to those problems extend beyond the reach of the Eagle County commissioners, but the current board is working with other leaders throughout the state to address the issues.

McQueeney added she was thrilled by the results from the county open space ballot question, which drew 81 percent support.

"I loved the margin of the open space victory," she said. "That shows support for the overall open space program and for the most recent open space purchases."

Pitkin County’s Healthy Community Fund tax extended for 9 years

A property tax that funds much of Pitkin County's public health efforts and helps fund numerous nonprofits that benefit the community was handily re-approved by county voters Tuesday.

The Healthy Community Fund, proposition 1A on this year's ballot — first approved by voters in 2002 — received the nod from 69 percent of county voters, with more than 5,200 yes votes. A bit more than 2,300 people voted against the property tax.

"It's really great to see the continued generosity of Pitkin County citizens in supporting this fund for the nonprofit community and public health services," said Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock. "We've worked hard to be responsible with how we spend those dollars.

"We're just really thankful to the voters of Pitkin County."

The Healthy Community Fund was authorized for six years in 2002, 2006 and 2011. This year, commissioners and county health officials decided to ask voters to authorize the tax for nine years. In addition, they asked for an increase in the tax from $5.40 per $100,000 of assessed property value to $7.02.

The increased mill levy will generate a total of just over $3 million, which is about $370,000 more than the current levy. The additional money will go toward federal and state public health funding mandates and other health services, officials have said.

Aspen Fire Protection District wins voters’ support for mill levy

The Aspen Fire Protection District won over its electorate Tuesday with the passage of a property tax aimed to build worker housing and replace old trucks, among other capital improvements.

Ballot question 6A generated more than 71 percent in the fire district's favor, which Chief Rick Balentine said will financially position the district to make overdue capital improvements by generating an estimated $3.3 million its first year and another $51.5 million over the next 19 years.

"A lot of people put hard work into this, not just me, and I'm thankful to have all of these people," Balentine said. "It's my first foray into politics and it was not a pleasant one for a lot of reasons."

The property tax is a 1.325 mill levy through 2038, with the levy dropping to 0.9 thereafter.

A mill represents one-tenth of one cent of the assessed value of a property.

The passage of 6A means the owner of a residence with an assessed value of $500,000 will pay $47.70 toward the fire district.

"I think our community and the people in our fire district recognize the good that our fire department does," Balentine said. "And our board takes their financial duties very seriously."

The extra funds will help the district pay for firefighter housing and buy new fire trucks and emergency equipment. The money also will be used to hire additional paid staff and establish an emergency disaster fund.

"One reason why our mill levy has been so low is because of all of the volunteers we have on the fire force," Balentine said.

Next up for the fire district is ironing out the details on housing and other expenditures.

"We really need to delve into more outreach, more input from the public on what they want to see in the form of housing," Balentine said.

The fire district plans to build 12 to 14 apartment units and town homes on its land by its North Forty satellite station.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Pitkin County Assessor: Deb Bamesberger defeats Mick Ireland

Political newcomer Debbie Bamesberger will be Pitkin County's next assessor following her convincing victory Tuesday over former Aspen mayor and commissioner Mick Ireland.

As of the Pitkin County results update at 1 a.m., Bamesberger held a nearly 2-to-1 margin over Ireland, having garnered 5,301 votes compared to her opponent's 3,290.

"I want to thank all of Pitkin County for voting for me, to have the trust and faith in me to be the next county assessor," Bamesberger said. "I'm here for all of us."

Bamesberger, 61, has worked under Assessor Tom Isaac, who is retiring after 28 years at the helm, since 2012. Isaac also endorsed Bamesberger to be his successor.

"I would say having your boss support you in a public election is very important," she said.

For Ireland, 68, the loss was his second straight political defeat — he lost to Bert Myrin in the June 2015 runoff for a seat on City Council — following 10 previous contests that had catapulted him to county commissioner, council and mayoral seats in Aspen.

Ireland had enjoyed support from such local political players as outgoing County Commissioner Rachel Richards, Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron, Basalt Mayor Jackie Whitsitt, Aspen Councilwoman Ann Mullins, former Pitkin County Democratic Party Chair Blanca O'Leary, and Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, all of whom financially contributed to his campaign.

Both of Aspen's daily newspapers also endorsed Ireland for assessor.

Ireland spoke tersely about the apparent outcome.

"I lost," he said. "I didn't get enough votes, and people made another choice."

Ireland had raised $5,819 for his campaign through Oct. 28, according to the Pitkin County Clerk & Recorder's Office. That was more than three times the $1,746 Bamesberger collected for her election bid. Myrin was the sole elected official who supported Bamesberger with a monetary contributions, but her campaign received donations from some of Ireland's fiercest local conservative critics, from Maurice Emmer to Elizabeth Milias.

Bamesberger said that despite Ireland's local name recognition, she had no delusions about running.

"When I get into something, I expect to win," she said. "That was my purpose or running. I learned to speak in front of people and be very confident."

The assessor-elect said her first order of business is to take classes that will prepare her for her new job.

Ireland had campaigned on a platform of updating the assessor's office technology and improving its customer service.

Bamesberger stayed on the message that her experience working in the assessor's office made her a viable successor to Isaac, and that the office runs smoothly.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com