Aspen, Pitkin County and Basalt voters to decide taxes and education representatives this fall
There are a number of questions local voters will decide on this November’s ballot, including extending a mill levy for Aspen Valley Hospital, as well as school board races and a few tobacco tax initiatives.
The hospital is asking voters in its district — which includes all of Pitkin County except for Redstone — to renew a 1.5 mill levy that’s been in place since 1995. Voters have extended the mill levy every five years since then.
It’s set to expire in December of 2020, but AVH is asking voters to extend it early and for 10 years instead of five.
AVH President and CEO Dave Ressler said the board of directors earlier this year recommended a decade-long mill levy, which would extend to 2030, when the hospital’s general obligation bonds and other debts will be paid off.
“We think that the next 10 years will represent significant change in our industry and this will help us ride that out,” Ressler said of state and federal health care reform efforts.
The mill levy generates roughly $4.6 million annually and supports the hospital’s operations.
Ressler said it’s about 4% of AVH’s overall budget.
“It’s essentially our margin,” he said.
The 1.5 mill levy means a property owner pays $11.93 annually on a property with an assessed value of $100,000, and so on.
The tax doesn’t go to AVH’s ongoing expansion, which is estimated to cost $60 million; $13 million of which still needs to be raised through private donations.
The remaining amount to be raised will pay for the fourth and final phase of construction, which would be in the middle of the hospital where there will be a new registration area, outpatient services and clinics.
Ballot questions wage war on cigarettes
There are three questions related to tobacco facing voters, depending on where they live in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Pitkin County residents are being asked to approve a tobacco tax increase that mirrors the one passed by city of Aspen voters two years ago.
If approved by voters Nov. 5, the county’s tax will go into effect Jan. 1 and impose a $3.20 tax on each pack of cigarettes sold in Pitkin County.
A 40% tax would be levied on other tobacco products, such as vape pens and chewing tobacco. The cigarette tax will go up 10 cents a year until it hits $4 per pack.
The county can collect up to $700,000 in tobacco taxes, according to the ballot language, which would be put toward tobacco and substance abuse prevention, cessation and education and mental health promotion.
The county’s tax collection estimation contrasts with the city of Aspen’s tobacco tax collection estimate of $325,000, which turned out to be far lower than the actual amount collected.
The city collected $436,600 in tobacco taxes in 2018 and must ask voters in November if it can keep that money because of TABOR limitations.
In Eagle County, voters are being asked to pass a $4 tax on a pack of cigarettes and 40% on the sales price of all other tobacco and nicotine products.
Eagle County also is asking to raise the age limit to buy nicotine from 18 years old to 21.
Price increases have been shown to have the largest impact on youth initiation into tobacco use and quitting, according to health officials.
TABOR give back
Basalt voters will be asked on the November ballot to re-establish the property tax rate at 5.957 mills.
The town staff discovered late last year that the mill levy had been increased 10 times since 2006 in violation of the Colorado Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights.
The town plans to voluntarily give current property owners a total of about $2 million in refunds this fall.
It must also secure voter approval for the proposed property tax rate or it will automatically be reduced to 2.562 mills, the lowest level its been since TABOR was approved in 1992.
The town government says it needs the higher mill levy to provide adequate services.
Board of education races
Six people are vying for two open seats on the board of education in the Aspen School District.
The terms expire for board members Sandra Peirce and Sheila Kennedy Wills.
Challengers for those seats are Katy Frisch, John Galambos, Patsy Kurkulis, Jonathan Nickell, Jim Pomeroy and Bettina Slusar.
Two candidates are challenging the incumbent for an open seat on the board of education in the Roaring Fork School District.
Amy Connerton and Jasmin Ramirez are running against incumbent Shane Larson for the District D (north and west Glenwood areas) seat, according to the Glenwood Post Independent.
Two candidates each filed valid nominating petitions for the District B (west Carbondale and west of the Highway 82 corridor), and District C (south Glenwood and Spring Valley/west Missouri Heights area), seats. They are Natalie Torres and Maureen Stepp, respectively, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent reported on Thursday.
Two additional candidates also filed their intentions to run for the Districts B and C seats, but did not turn in enough valid signatures. As a result, those candidates, Matthew Cova and Molly Peterson will be official write-in candidates for those respective seats, according to the Post Independent.
At Colorado Mountain College, five of the seven seats on the board of trustees are open.
An announcement on who is running is expected Friday.
Ballot language is due in Pitkin and Eagle counties Friday. Elections officials will begin working on ballots next week.
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Kevin Warner started his career with the U.S. Forest Service as a wilderness ranger in 2001. Now he’s taking over the key position as Aspen-Sopris District Ranger.