A sneak peek at the 2010 ballot in Pitkin County
October 8, 2010
ASPEN – It’s election time, folks.
In about three weeks, the polls will close on an election that will determine everything from federal and state office-holders to mill levies for several local fire and metro districts.
Many voters will visit their regular polling places on Tuesday, Nov. 2, but others have gotten in the habit of mailing in their ballots beforehand. Pitkin County is sending out mail-in ballots on Oct. 12, and early voting is possible at the county government office at 530 E. Main St. in Aspen from Oct. 18 through Oct. 29.
Wherever you live in the Roaring Fork Valley, you’ll have a ballot crowded with yes-or-no questions and races for public office. In this edition of the Aspen Times Weekly, we’ve tried to frame a handful of the local races and questions for residents of the upper valley.
For a thorough run-down of the issues, read The Aspen Times in coming weeks for more election coverage, or watch your mailbox for the “blue book” mailed to all registered voters. At pitkinvotes.org, you can also read a sample ballot and find other election-related information.
Voting is a both a right and a privilege, so don’t forget!
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Put simply, the race for Pitkin County sheriff comes to this: maintain the status quo or revamp local law enforcement.
Those supporting candidate Joe DiSalvo, the current second-in-command to Sheriff Bob Braudis, who’s been at the helm 24 years, tend to like things the way they are. Patrick “Rick” Leonard’s advocates support a shift in philosophy and the way the sheriff’s office does business.
So far, the status quo is winning.
Based on the August primary election, the sheriff’s seat appears to be DiSalvo’s to lose. DiSalvo reeled in 2,186 votes, or 77.3 percent, well ahead of two opponents, Leonard and Rick Magnuson. Leonard tallied 12.1 percent, or 341 votes, good enough for second place, and the right to go head-to-head with DiSalvo on Nov. 2.
The August margin hasn’t stopped Leonard from being outspoken about DiSalvo or the current administration.
For one, the former Florida and New York lawman says the sheriff’s office doesn’t patrol highways 82 and 133 as thoroughly as it should; he advocates undercover drug investigations – under certain circumstances only – and says he would bolster law enforcement presence in Redstone. Leonard also has said the sheriff’s office’s pay scale is top heavy.
DiSalvo, meanwhile, has stood behind the practices of the department. While he has conceded there might be room for improvement, he also notes that there’s more to the sheriff’s office than meets the eye. He points to the human encounters that residents don’t always hear about – from a team of deputies recently coaxing someone out of committing suicide and finding a peaceful resolution, to exhaustive search and rescue efforts in the backcountry.
Like Braudis, DiSalvo views the local drug problem as a health issue rather than a criminal one. DiSalvo says those who claim the sheriff’s office doesn’t enforce drug laws are misguided; deputies do make drug busts, DiSalvo has noted, but they don’t act on anonymous tips and they don’t do undercover work.
Leonard, 54, of Basalt, retired to the valley more than two years ago. He has more than two decades of law enforcement experience and touts his investigative work in homicide and rape cases, among others.
DiSalvo, 50, has worked in local law enforcement for 25 years, and has worked under Braudis since 1987. He moved here in 1980.
– Rick Carroll
Rob Ittner and Jack Johnson both tout their experience as a key reason to support their bid for the District 1 Pitkin County commissioner seat.
In Ittner’s case, it’s his work as a restaurant manager at the Hotel Jerome, an instructor at the Cooking School of Aspen and, for the last 10 years, the owner and operator of Rustique, a successful Aspen restaurant. This private sector experience, says the 40-year-old Ittner, will help him bring fresh ideas and an open-minded, collaborative approach to county government.
In Johnson’s case, it’s his experience as an Aspen city councilman and Pitkin County Planning and Zoning commissioner. Johnson, 46, knows the inner workings of local government, and touts his slow-growth credentials to local voters.
“I’m proud of my experience,” said Johnson of his work in local government. “It’s been one of my joys in this town.”
The campaign leading up to the Nov. 2 election hasn’t been without jabs between the two candidates. Much of the positioning centers around who’s development-friendly and who’s not.
Johnson’s position paper notes Ittner’s “pro-development agenda,” while Ittner’s campaign literature says he believes “unchecked growth and development will see Pitkin County lose its character… .”
Both men speak of preservation of the environment and fostering tourism as goals. They both voice support for land-use policies that sustain the county’s rural character.
“I don’t think there’s a difference in what we love here,” Ittner said. “I think there’s a difference in how we make decisions. I think there’s a difference in thought process and our backgrounds.”
“There is nothing that we see eye to eye on,” Johnson countered.
Ittner, pegged early on as a pro-growth candidate, has labored to reshape that perception. His website says he favors controlled building and construction, but also encouraging economic growth through tourism.
He recently floated the idea of a property tax rebate to business owners who maintain or increase their payroll despite the tough economy. It’s an idea that needs a great deal more vetting, Ittner conceded, but the concept is not unprecedented, he said, noting the city of Aspen’s food tax rebate to citizens, a parking rebate the city offered last year to encourage shopping, and a stimulus program the town of Basalt funded a year ago to encourage spending there.
Johnson has steadfastly advocated preserving the environment and investing in tourism rather than a return to the boom-and-bust cycle of real estate speculation.
A real estate-driven economy will likely revive as the recession eases, Johnson said, but government could put in place a “pacing mechanism” through which building approvals are meted out based on what’s already approved but unbuilt.
County government has a role in preserving open space and advocating Wilderness to foster the recreational component of the local tourism economy, Johnson said. He also advocates no radical change in course for the Board of County Commissioners and, after a pause, says voters will largely be endorsing the status quo if they elect him.
– Janet Urquhart
Four candidates are seeking two Town Council seats this fall in Snowmass Village. Incumbent Bill Boineau, the only candidate to seek the job of mayor, is unopposed.
The four candidates are: Fred Kucker, chairman of the town’s Financial Advisory Board; Jason Haber, the former Town of Snowmass Village economic resources director; attorney and former candidate Kay Honigman-Singer; and Sally Sparhawk, who served on Town Council for a four-year term that ended in 2008.
Current councilman Reed Lewis, owner of Daly Bottle Shop, said he is uninterested in running for another term, while Arnold Mordkin, chief district attorney for Pitkin County, has maxed out his term eligibility.
The council seats are four-year terms while the mayor’s term is two years.
Kay Honigman-Singer said after falling short in a previous bid, this could be her time.
“I am running for Town Council for many of the same reasons I ran two years ago and then some new, additional reasons. For years I have relentlessly advocated to protect the character of our village, local businesses and local families,” she said, adding that she was a staunch opponent to the Base Village development.
Jason Haber, who works for the environmental non-profit CORE (Community Office for Resource Efficiency), said he brings to the table more than 13 years of professional experience in municipal government and nearly five years as the town’s former economic resources director.
“I will listen to your ideas, advocate positions that reflect your interests and concerns and make every effort to ensure that our government operates in a transparent and fiscally responsible way,” he said to voters. “My background in community and economic development, redevelopment, public finance and environmental sustainability will enable me to offer progressive leadership grounded in real-world experience and a commitment to open-minded creative problem-solving.”
Fred Kucker, chairman of the Snowmass Village Financial Advisory Board and a retired attorney said, “Within the foreseeable future, Base Village will be foreclosed and a new developer will come in. I think it is certain that the developer will come to the Town and ask for changes to the Base Villlage development plan. When that happens, I believe my background and experience in the real estate development world will enable me to make sure that whatever changes take place will be in the best interests of the town of Snowmass and its residents.”
Sally Sparhawk, consultant and ski pro, said that after a two-year hiatus from public office she’s ready to jump back in, partly because a number of people thought she did a good job in her earlier stint on the council. “I want to help Snowmass Village in this important time and I believe that my past experience will help get things done that are best for our village,” she said. “I also enjoyed listening to citizens and helping them.”
Returning to the council table this fall will be council members Markey Butler and John Wilkinson, each of whom are just halfway through their four-year terms.
– Madeleine Osberger
The Aspen School District will ask voters to approve a $1.35 million annual property tax increase on the Nov. 2 ballot.
District officials are asking for the tax increase to compensate for state-mandated budget cuts, as well as to offset anticipated reductions in property tax revenue due to falling property values. Without the additional tax revenue, the district is projecting a funding shortfall of approximately $1.6 million for the 2011-12 school year.
“The low-hanging fruit was plucked this year,” said district finance director Kate Fuentes, calling the most recent budget cycle “painful” and adding that future cuts would likely have to come at the expense of teacher salaries, class sizes and school programming.
The Aspen School Board decided unanimously to pursue the ballot measure in late August, after a poll of Aspen voters showed overwhelming support for the school district and the proposed tax increase. If the measure is approved, property owners would pay an additional $16 per year for every $500,000 of market value.
According to Terry Casey, managing director of RBC Capital Markets, which is working with the school district on the ballot initiative, more than three-fifths of voters polled said they would vote yes in November; one-third said they would vote no.
“When you have these kinds of scores, it usually translates into a pretty positive result at the polls,” Casey said.
School board members took this information as the go-ahead for putting a question on the November ballot. And while board members contemplated waiting a year to put the measure before voters, given the current economic climate and several other tax measures expected to be on the November ballot, they decided the time is right.
“This is a referendum on education in Aspen – what is best for our kids,” said school board treasurer Bob Glah. “With a ballot question, voters can make that decision. It is an opportunity for them to speak their piece at the polls.”
– Jeanne McGovern
If Aspen Valley Hospital was a medical patient, it would be long overdue for drastic procedures to improve its health, officials contend.
After 33 years in operation, the facility no longer is capable of meeting the community’s needs, according to hospital CEO David Ressler. So, on Nov. 2 the hospital district will ask its constituents to help pay for an overhaul by approving the issuance of $50 million in general obligation bonds. They will be paid back over 20 years with a property tax hike that would raise $4.36 million annually.
The average tax hike will be about 3 percent, according to hospital CEO David Ressler. The owner of a home valued at $500,000 would pay $3 extra per month.
Two questions on the Pitkin County ballot are related to the hospital’s request. Question 5A would clear the way for the hospital district’s proposed revenue increase, which is sought in question 5B. Colorado’s Tabor Amendment limits the revenues for taxing districts, so approval of 5A would grant permission to the district to exceed its current limits; 5B is the actual tax increase.
Critics contend the hospital expansion is too grand and that the district is pushing too hard, too fast at a poor economic time. Elizabeth Milias, a conservative local government watchdog, contends voters will enter quicksand if they approve the general obligation bonds in November. She questions how AVH will raise all the funds necessary to complete the next three phases of its master plan. She suspects that the $50 million bond issuance is just a first step and that the hospital will be back seeking more money.
AVH’s master plan calls for the facility to triple in size to 214,000 square feet once its multi-phase master plan is completed at an estimated cost of $120 million. Hospital officials have identified $40 million in funding from hospital cash-on-hand and existing revenue bonds, and at least $30 million in contributions raised by the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation.
Milias doubts the philanthropy AVH is counting on will materialize in this economy. Other critics contend the proposed size of the hospital is more than Aspen needs. The addition of 27,000-square-feet for doctors’ offices has come under particular scrutiny, in part because of the anticipated traffic.
Ressler counters that the expansion plan is more about modernizing the facility and providing adequate space to the services offered, rather than adding services.
“It’s about having facilities that are right-sized and meet the needs of our patients,” he said. AVH was built in 1977 with an emphasis on in-patient care. Now, medical services are geared to outpatient care. AVH officials claim they don’t have the space or the proper configuration to do their jobs effectively.
The expansion would add 11 beds for a total of 36. While the emphasis has grown on outpatient care, the hospital says more inpatient beds are needed to care for an aging population. All inpatient rooms will be private; Ressler claims every hospital built in the last decade or so provides private rooms.
“There’s no fluff in this,” Ressler said. “There’s no excess space.”
The plan also includes 22 affordable housing units on the campus.
Ressler dubbed the expansion strategy “the right plan at the right price.” The expansion is “sorely needed” and it makes good business sense to pursue it while construction costs are down and interests rates are low, he said.
– Scott Condon
As Aspen fights to keep its privileged place among world-class mountain resort towns, city officials and business leaders are saying they must boost revenue streams for marketing programs.
That’s why Referendum 2A on the November ballot asks if the existing bed tax should be increased by one percent, which some say could substantially increase the city’s tourism marketing budget.
Most of the local lodging industry and the Aspen Chamber and Resort Association have thrown their weight behind 2A, which is expected to increase the marketing budget to $1.78 million per year for the next few years, said Don Taylor, the city’s finance director.
Currently the marketing budget sits at about $446,000.
Mayor Mick Ireland endorsed the initiative on Sept. 13 as the ACRA announced an active campaign for the measure. Officials at that press conference said the tax increase would help stimulate the Aspen economy during the recession without affecting Aspen residents.
The lodging tax would apply only to people who stay in Aspen hotels and resorts, and the revenues would be used to promote Aspen and its year-round calendar of special events. Since the Aspen Skiing Co. handles most winter marketing for Aspen and Snowmass Village, proceeds from the new lodging tax would go mostly toward the spring, summer and fall seasons.
Other advocates for the measure include Charlie Case, the innkeeper of Annabelle Inn, Warren Klug, general manager of the Aspen Square Hotel and chairman of ACRA’s board of directors, and Rob Ittner, a candidate for Pitkin County commissioner and owner of Rustique Bistro. All say 2A would help reinvigorate the service industry.
The city of Aspen would collect the tax, but is expected to transfer the money to ACRA to handle the actual marketing efforts.
– Aaron Hedge
After 18 months of controversy, instant runoff voting’s tenure in Aspen will either be extended or terminated by voters on Nov. 2.
Referendum 2B asks voters if they want to keep IRV, or scrap it and return to a more traditional runoff system that Aspen used between 1999 and 2007.
The opponents and proponents of tinstant runoff voting argue the pros and cons vehemently: Should Aspen voters again put their faith in a method that is quicker and more efficient than staging a second, runoff election when one candidate fails to achieve a majority? Or, should they switch back to the runoff, which produces an accurate count, but also tends to attract fewer voters to the polls?
IRV, which was approved by Aspen voters in 2007, allows voters to rank candidates according to their preference. If the candidate with the largest number of first-place votes does not receive more than 50 percent of the total votes cast, then the person with the least support gets eliminated, and that candidate’s ballots get redistributed to the second-ranked candidate on those ballots.
This method, which was used in the May 2009 election, eliminates expensive runoff elections and can save the local government thousands of dollars.
But critics of IRV have presented evidence that the method used in the last municipal election was flawed in numerous ways, and the ensuing controversy about the election has led to both legal and political battles for city officials. Opponents of IRV say the voters are better off with a more traditional method, the June runoff.
– Aaron Hedge
Snowmass Village voters will be asked Nov. 2 to approve a tax that would allow the town to contribute $2 million toward an $18 million purchase of open space on the town’s border.
The town, if voters agree, will be a partner in the purchase of the Droste property – 742 acres encompassing the scenic ridge that separates the Brush Creek and Owl Creek valleys.
Pitkin County is spearheading the purchase, and has committed to spending $10 million toward the acquisition from its Open Space and Trails tax revenues. The city of Aspen has committed $1 million from its open space fund and $2.5 million is being sought in a Great Outdoors Colorado grant. The final $2.5 million is supposed to come from private donors under the envisioned funding arrangement.
Passage of Referendum 2E in Snowmass Village means $200,000 will be collected annually, from 2011 through 2015, and $500,000 will be collected in 2016 and 2017, for the Droste purchase.
The purchase contract with the Droste family calls for the transaction to be complete by the end of 2011; the county anticipates fronting the Snowmass Village share, which would be collected over seven years.
The Snowmass Village Financial Advisory Board recommended contributing just $1 million to the purchase, in light of the town’s budget challenges and a second tax question on the ballot – Referendum 2D – to fund transportation services and equipment, but the Town Council opted to ask voters for $2 million.
If voters approve 2E, then an expiring tax will essentially be replaced by the open space mill levy, proponents argue.
– Janet Urquhart