Basalt flirts with record voter turnout
The Aspen Times
Basalt voter turnout
One acre of land could produce the town’s most active municipal election.
• During three April municipal elections in the 1990s, the town’s highest turnout was 414 in 1996.
• In the 2000s, the highest turnout in six municipal elections was 586 in year 2000.
• The turnout in 2008 wasn’t clear, however there were 530 ballots cast in a bond issue on that ballot.
• In this decade, there were 774 votes cast in the 2012 election and 491 cast two years ago when three council seats were up for grabs.
Basalt registered voters have until 7 p.m. Tuesday to turn in their ballots. Schilling recommended that voters bring their ballots to Town Hall at this point rather than risk that they will arrive by mail in time.
Ballots can be dropped off between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. today (Friday) and Monday; and between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
Basalt’s hotly contested mayoral race has the potential to produce the highest turnout in a regular municipal election in the town in the past 22 years.
Town Clerk Pam Schilling reported that 637 residents had voted through Wednesday. That is more votes than in 10 of the past 11 Basalt municipal elections, which are held in April.
Election day is Tuesday. Ballots were mailed out, and there is no polling place.
The highest turnouts in the town have typically come in November elections that feature a presidential race. Those elections never have Basalt council races and rarely have Basalt ballot questions.
The 2012 April election — which featured Jacque Whitsitt and Glenn Rappaport in the mayor’s race — drew 774 voters to the polls. That’s the highest since 1994, the earliest records immediately available. The pace of voting this year suggests that mark will fall and this will be the highest turnout in a municipal election.
Incumbent mayor Whitsitt is locked in a battle with challenger Rick Stevens. Both are seasoned political veterans who have earned election by Basalt voters numerous times in council and mayoral races. This is the first time they have squared off directly against each other.
The key debate in the race is over the future of 2.3 acres of land at the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park along Two Rivers Road. The property is owned by the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. Whitsitt wants the town to buy the parcel and enlarge a park the town is currently developing on about 3 acres adjacent to the Roaring Fork River at the Pan and Fork site. She wants limited development and no residential uses on the additional property.
Stevens voted for a resolution that directs the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission to proceed with planning for up to 55,000 square feet of development on the 1.15 acres of Community Development Corp. property closest to Rocky Mountain Institute. The remaining 1.15 acres owned by CDC would remain open space.
The local newspapers have been flooded with letters to the editors about the mayor’s race, and most cite the candidates’ records on the Pan and Fork.
Basalt resident Lynne Mace said all a person has to do is read the letters to the editors to see what is on the minds of Basalt voters.
“It’s the Pan and Fork. There really isn’t any other major issue,” Mace said.
Town Manager Mike Scanlon said the discussion of the Pan and Fork has dominated the town since last spring, and the debate carried over to the election.
“It’s sort of been the issue of the year for Basalt,” Scanlon said. Issues such as funding for child care and construction of affordable housing have been overshadowed by possible differences on uses of roughly 1 acre of land at the Pan and Fork, he noted.
“The acre seems to trump all,” Scanlon said.
This article was changed to reflect more details of the resolution that Stevens supported.
Tenants at the city’s oldest deed-restricted housing complex, Centennial Apartments, faced rent hikes as high as 30% in January that sent city, county, and APCHA officials into closed-door meetings with the relatively new landlord, Birge & Held.