| AspenTimes.com

Race tightens between Frisch, Boebert

Aspen resident Adam Frisch’s lead over Rep. Lauren Boebert has shrunk to less than 1%, according to the latest returns from the Colorado secretary of state at 12:13 p.m. Wednesday.

Frisch, the Democratic nominee challenging the Silt Republican, had 50.41% of the vote, while Boebert had 49.59% of the vote, according to the Colorado secretary of state. The same update showed Frisch with 149,698 votes and Boebert with 147,249.

“We feel good; we’re not going to get over our skis, but the race will come down to a couple of hundred of votes either way,” said Frisch, a former member of Aspen City Council, earlier on Tuesday night.

He gathered with supporters at Belly Up, where a large-screen provided updates on the race that handicappers like The New York Times predicted a comfortable victory for Boebert, a Christian nationalist supported by Donald Trump.

She has styled herself as a hard-right Republican supporting a nationwide abortion ban and openly suggesting there shouldn’t be a separation of church and state, the Glenwood Post Independent reported.

Frisch is trying to do what no Democrat has done since John Salazar in 2008 — win the 3rd Congressional seat in a district that covers the Western Slope and extends into southeastern Colorado. Grand Junction and Pueblo are the district’s two largest population centers.

“I knew that about 40% of Republican Party kind of wants their party back,” he said. “I knew that if being a pragmatic, bipartisan guy, I thought we could build a tri-partisan coalition of independents, Democrats and Republicans. People resonated across the political spectrum when I talked about wanting the circus to stop, and that if there was a get-stuff-done party, I’d be in that party.”

Boebert was elected in November 2020, edging Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush of Routt County. In that contest, Boebert garnered 220,634 votes, or 51.4%, while Mitsch Bush received 194,122 votes, or 45.2%.

Lauren Boebert greets supporters on election night at the Warehouse 2560 in Grand Junction on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. Photo by Chris Tomlinson/Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.
Chris Tomlinson/Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Frisch ran as a moderate Democrat with conservative views toward energy and small businesses and as someone who would cross the aisle and be a consensus builder. He also combed the 27-county district, trying to win hearts and minds.

“We worked incredibly, incredibly hard. We put 23,000 or 24,000 miles on the road,” he said. “Felix (my son) and I just came back a couple of hours ago from 11 days, 27 counties, three state lines, 102 stops, 3,300 miles. Getting people to know, to understand that somebody from the mountains can actually relate and understand and represent them well.”

State Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, also endorsed Frisch, writing in the Montrose Press: “Let’s elect someone who cares about representing the majority of people in the middle that are fed up with extreme partisanship and juvenile antics.”

Boebert seized on Frisch’s Aspen address and portrayed him as an out-of-touch, radical liberal.

A Denver Post endorsement titled “Please, don’t give your vote to Lauren Boebert,” credited the Silt resident for “contributing to the toxic political environment in this nation.”

Frisch, said the endorsement, “would be a better representative for the people of the 3rd Congressional District. Yes, he is a Democrat from the affluent enclave of Aspen, a ski town that most voters consider a playground for rich out-of-towners. But Frisch, who served on Aspen City Council and whose wife is on the school board, has no desire to impose liberal policies on the people of his district.”

He spent two terms on Aspen City Council, from 2011-18. He earned an undergraduate degree in economics, with emphases in political science and art history, from the University of Colorado-Boulder.


2A: Aspen goes for STR-tax hike

Voters approved ballot issue 2A, a hotly-contested proposal of sales-tax increases on short-term rentals in Aspen.

As of 1:50 a.m. Wednesday, Pitkin County election officials have counted nearly all ballots apart from military/overseas ballots and ballots that need to be cured.

The tax will impose a 5% tax on nightly room rates for STRs with lodge-exempt permits (STR-LE) and owner-occupied unit permits (STR-OO). For second-home owners or investment properties (STR-C), 2A will implement a 10% increase.

Hotels and fractional properties are not affected by the tax increase. 

Proponents of 2A say the goal of ballot measure 2A and the increased tax rate on STRs is to mitigate the negative effects that STRs have had on local workforce and affordable long-term housing. The tax will make STRs more expensive for tourists and provide a new revenue stream for affordable housing projects.

Aspen City Council member Rachel Richards has been a proponent of 2A since its introduction.

“I think it’s an exciting result for the city’s future. It’s a re-affirmation that Aspen is a community, wants to be a community, and supports the community,” she said of the apparent victory. 

She pointed specifically to issues including matching grants, water infrastructure, and supporting childcare that 2A revenue will fund. 

Aspen Mayor Torre has also supported 2A throughout the campaign period. 

“I’m really glad to see the margin that it passed by; it really seems substantial at this point. It gives us the ability to deal with some of the impacts that STRs and other factors are having on our people and community,” he said.

The city of Aspen expects $9,140,000 in revenue from 2A. The city will allocate at least 70% of that revenue to fund affordable-housing projects, and the remaining 30% will go to infrastructure maintenance and environmental-protection initiatives.

Critics of 2A say the tax unfairly punishes Aspen’s numerous “condotels” like Aspen Square, The Gant, Aspen Alps, and more, while traditional hotels escape the sales-tax hike.

Tim Clark, managing partner at Frias Properties, along with other condo general managers or owners, signed a letter published in The Aspen Times in October arguing against the passage of 2A. 

“Clearly, affordable housing is the winner, and that is a great outcome! However, the funding mechanism is flawed, and that could be vastly improved if all business sectors were taxed,” he shared in a text message Tuesday night with The Aspen Times.  

He went on: “We want the Aspen voters to know that there is a better way to fund affordable housing, one that is sustainable, one that is representative of the impacts of tourism on our community, and one that will fund greater revenue for affordable housing for the long term.”

The increase will put Aspen’s STR tax rate at 21.3% for STR-Cs and 16.3% for STR-LEs and STR-Os, among the highest in the state. 

Voters in other Colorado towns face STR tax-related ballot issues this year, including Steamboat Springs, Dillon, Grand Junction, and, just miles away, in Carbondale. 

The tax increase is meant to level the field between hotels and STRs. Hotels and traditional lodges pay a commercial property tax rate of 29%. Owners of STRs, like Airbnbs or Aspen’s condominiums, pay a residential property-tax rate of 7%. 

The tax increase will go into effect on May 1, 2023. 

Gustafson, Marolt, Madsen win in Snowmass

Incumbent William (Bill) Madsen won the Snowmass Village mayoral race over challenger Reed Lewis, and Town Council candidates Britta Gustafson and Susan Marolt took the two open positions.

As of 1:50 a.m., Pitkin County election officials have counted nearly all ballots apart from military/overseas ballots and ballots that need to be cured.

They all noted the prospects for the Snowmass Village Town Council to have a majority of women on the board.

Madsen said such a majority “is going to be really good for Snowmass Village.”

Gustafson and Marolt both agreed that a majority female Town Council is an exciting prospect, especially when it is the first in Snowmass history.

“More women in leadership roles, every small town and up to national levels and global levels is so meaningful. It’s a big step,” Gustafson said.

Bill Madsen leads the race for mayor of Snowmass Village.
Courtesy Photo

Mayoral Race

Madsen first ran for the Town Council in 2014, where his focus was development of the base village and balancing the line between resort and community in Snowmass Village. He was elected to his first mayoral term in 2020.

As with all the races in Snowmass, town character remained an important point in the mayoral election. He defined the community character as “evolving” and emphasized the importance of providing for the people who live in Snowmass full time.

He was born and raised in Aspen and has been in Snowmass for the past 30 years. He grew up as a Aspen Valley Ski Club ski racer and now runs NASTAR ski racing program.

“It looks pretty encouraging,” Madsen said. “It’s great to see that folks in Snowmass Village came out in support. I think that means I’m doing a good job.”

He secured 60.95% of votes by the 1:50 a.m. update, and Lewis had 39.05%.

Town Council

Preliminary results show the two open Snowmass Town Council seats going to challengers Britta Gustafson and Susan Marolt. Both lead over incumbent Tom Goode and challenger Matt Dubé, who had 20.06% and 14.15% of the votes, respectively.

Marolt led Gustafson by 5% in the race for the four-year term on Snowmass Village Town Council after the 9 p.m. update, however after 1:50 a.m., Marolt held 34.76% of votes to Gustafson’s 31.03%.

Susan Marolt leads in the Snowmass Town Council race after 50% of votes.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Marolt and her family have lived in Snowmass Village for 30 years. Her three children were born and raised in Snowmass. She works as a certified public accountant and partners in Marolt, LLP CPA Firm with her husband, Roger.

She recently completed eight years serving on the Aspen School District Board of Education, as well as serving as Board of Education president for two years. She has also served on a variety of other boards, such as College Outreach, Little Red Schoolhouse, and Action in Africa.

Throughout her campaign, Marolt drew on her experience as an accountant and on the board of education. She believes her background in finance gives her a strong foundation and understanding of budgeting and project-cost analysis, while her time on the board of education helped her understanding of the governing process.

Like her opponents, she felt strongly about the importance of the town’s character and ran for council to help preserve the qualities that make Snowmass so unique.

“I just think it was a good group of candidates, and I’m happy to serve and honored to be in that group,” said Marolt. “I think we had some really good conversations during the campaign. And, I think it’ll be great to continue those with the entire community moving forward.”

Snowmass native Gustafson has the second most votes, putting her in the lead for the second seat on the council with 31.03% of the votes.

Britta Gustafson leads in the race for Snowmass Town Council after 50% of votes.
Courtesy photo

She was born and raised in Snowmass Village and still lives here with her two children. She currently works as the communications director at The Farm Collaborative and creative director for EdibleAspen magazine and writes a column for the Snowmass Sun.

Her campaign was run on the “just big enough” slogan, but she believes it needs to be more than just words. At Squirm Night, she stated how development has always been a part of the plan for Snowmass Village and that it is more than just an aspiration.

Gustafson believes her lifetime of perspective and passion for Snowmass Village gave her a leg up on her opponents. She is in a unique position to represent a new generation on the council while using her extensive knowledge of the roots and character of the town.

“I have had the opportunity to have amazing conversations with some really different perspectives — people from all different neighborhoods and communities within our town,” she said. “I’ve learned so much, even as a columnist and all the years, knowing people that I know, that this was a bit of a wake up call for a lot of issues that I think have been under-represented, I think, by our leadership. I look forward to bringing some of that to the table.”

Aspen voters support Ambulance tax

The Aspen Ambulance District will receive up to $2,443,901 through a property tax increase that 3,470 voters support and 1,875 voters do not support, according to the unofficial results released at 1:50 a.m. Wednesday by the Pitkin County Elections Office.

The mill-levy rate in the district will increase from 0.501 mills to 1.1 mills, an increase of 0.599 mills. This means that for every $100,000 in assessed property value, property owners would pay $110 in this tax annually. 

A team of 32 EMTs, paramedics, and critical care paramedics comprise the department. Aspen Valley Hospital contracts services with the Aspen Ambulance District, but the district’s role has expanded into prevention, education, and emergency management. They also provide swift water rescue, high angle (rope) rescue, and special-event medical support.

“We’re super excited that the community has chosen to support us in this way. One of the goals of this mill levy was to provide stable funding, and it definitely will achieve that. I think that this vote and the margin of support really is just amazing to us,” said Gabriel Muething, director of the Aspen Ambulance District. 

The funds from the mill-levy increase will go toward continued service, as well as vehicle and equipment maintenance and replacement as needed.

“It goes entirely towards operations … medical equipment like ambulances and cardiac monitors. We really are on the cutting edge of emergency medicine in the field,” Muething said.

According to the TABOR notice, district spending shot up 18.2% since 2018 and is expected to rise. Without funds from 6A, the fiscal spending for 2023 is projected to hit $1,544,321, outpacing the district’s general fund. 

The 24/7 ambulance and emergency service operates in approximately 160 square miles of the Roaring Fork Valley. All of Aspen and unincorporated areas including Ashcroft, the Maroon Bells, Red Mountain, Independent Pass, and Woody Creek benefit from the Ambulance District’s services. 

Between year-long residents, and average numbers of daytime visitors and daytime workers, the ambulance authority serves a population of 24,138 people. 

The Aspen Ambulance District is its own taxing authority, and it is governed by the Pitkin County commissioners. 

Of seven letters to the editor related to ballot issue 6A published in The Aspen Times, only one did not support ballot measure 6A. Mike Maple wrote: “The district and its operator, Aspen Valley Hospital, needs to adjust its operations and/or patient/customer billings to balance its budget rather than seek increases in tax revenue.”

A solid majority of voters disagreed with his assessment.

McNicholas Kury to serve second term on Pitkin Board of Commissioners

Kelly McNicholas Kury will serve another term on the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners.

Running for re-election as a Democrat, Kury won Tuesday’s election over challenger Erin Smiddy, who has no party affiliation, based on unofficial election results from the Pitkin County Clerk & Recorder’s Office.

Vote tallies posted at 1:50 a.m. showed Kury with 5,586 votes, or 69.29%, compared to Smiddy’s 2,594 votes, or 31.71%.

Kury ran unopposed in 2018 but still campaigned and introduced herself to voters back then. This time with Smiddy challenging her, Kury estimated she knocked on 3,000 doors in the county.

“I think I worked really hard,” she said of her re-election. “I think I connected all over the county and have built relationships in our municipalities and in unincorporated parts of Pitkin County.”

As a second-term commissioner come January, she will join Patti Clapper, who ran unopposed and also was re-elected Tuesday, along with Steve Child, Francie Jacober, and Greg Poschman.

There wasn’t much of a learning curve for Kury when she joined the BOCC, and, in 2019, she led the effort to help county-employed parents with newborns by giving them 12 weeks of paid leave. In the spring of 2020, she was aiding the county grapple with the global coronavirus pandemic, helping it get $8 million in relief funding.

Her campaign touched on issues such as revamping the county land-use code to align with its climate goals and working with the Airport Vision committee as it entertains an expansion that could include a new terminal and runway. She she was the lone BOCC member to vote against Aspen Skiing Co.’s expansion of Pandora’s and was part of the commission that approved solar farms in Woody Creek.

She also has advocated for preserving the Crystal River by earning it wild and scenic river designation, which also would keep the water local and not diverted out of state.

“That will be starting in January,” she said. “It’s been a really great conversation bringing these people together and I’m looking forward to it.”

Kury also has taken progressive positions on worker housing, saying she would like to see a program for “right-sizing” homes for individuals and families. Her campaign also focused on her experience, work ethic, and tenacity.

“I want to thank Erin,” Kury said. “I think competition is better for the community, and she caused me to be a better candidate and be more thoughtful.”

Smiddy ran on a platform of having endured the challenges of being a working local. She moved here when was 6 years old and has been in the area mostly ever since, having been a deputy and former chair of Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority.

“I’m not surprised,” she said of Kury’s apparent victory. “I knew running as an independent in Pitkin County is a risky thing, but it was worth a shot, and I hope we got the message out as far as regular citizens are concerned.”

She said she hopes the BOCC “gets more serious” about addressing the worker-housing crisis.

Kury and Smiddy showed mutual respect at candidate forums. Issues like child care, housing, and working locals was a focus of their campaigns as well.


Aspen voters cement half-cent open space tax

With 50.34% of votes counted at 9:04 p.m., the city of Aspen will almost certainly continue to collect the 0.5% sales tax that funds the purchase and maintenance of recreational space with 2,028 votes for ballot issue 2B and only 755 votes against. 

The tax was set to expire Dec. 31, 2025, but will now in all probability extend in perpetuity. The city will continue to collect a total of 1.5% sales tax designated for parks and open spaces, as it has been since 2001. 

More than 30 parks and playgrounds and 2,100 square acres of open space and trails fall under the purview of the city of Aspen’s Parks & Recreation department. Smuggler Mountain Open Space, Tiehack Bridge and Sky Mountain Park are just some of the spaces that receive funds from what is known as the “half cent” tax. 

The city also operates the Aspen Snowmass Nordic Trail System, one of the nation’s free cross-country ski trails with over 90km of maintained trail.

“From a Nordic perspective, it validates all the hard work the staff of the parks and open spaces have put in over the years. Since it’s a continuation of an existing tax, it makes it more stable for budgeting for what they want to do, which I’m hoping will be more expanded access to trails in summer and winter,” says John Wilkinson, president of the Aspen Nordic Council. He has held that position for at least a decade.

The estimated fiscal spending for the city of Aspen in 2022 is $188,580,000, up 58% from 2018. Spending is expected to continue the upward trajectory into 2024.

Pitkin County also has a property tax that funds Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. In 2016, voters reauthorized that tax through 2040. Critics of 2B say that tax, in combination with Aspen’s existing 1% sales tax for parks and open spaces, meet the community’s needs for recreation space funding.

Voters first approved the 0.5% sales tax in 2000, when 63% of votes cast were in favor of its adoption. It went into effect in 2001. The city implemented the 1% sales tax designated for parks and open spaces when voters approved it in 1970.

2C: Snowmass OKs workforce-housing measure

Snowmass residents voted to approve a ballot measure that diverts a portion of the revenue generated from the town’s separate marketing and lodging taxes to worker housing. The current 2.4% town lodging tax and 2.5% town sales tax are no longer restricted to marketing, special events, and group sales purposes.

The existing tax rate has not been raised. However, it has added workforce housing to the list of potential uses. The expanded use of the taxes includes, “acquisition, construction, rehabilitation, operation, and maintenance of town-owned, controlled, or sponsored workforce housing,” as stated on the ballot.

The goal of the tax expansion is to address workforce housing needs without raising any taxes. The current taxes promote tourism in Snowmass and with tourism comes workers who need a place to live.

“The relationship and correlation between tourism and the need for workforce housing is such
that expanding the potential uses of these tax funds seemed obvious,” Town Manager Clint Kinney wrote in a Sept. 6.

Currently leading in the Snowmass Mayoral race, incumbent Bill Madsen voiced his support for 2C.

“2C is really important for Snowmass because, like everywhere, Snowmass is needing employee housing, and one of the best ways to build community is to have people living close to where they work; and, if we can provide that opportunity, Snowmass is really winning,” he said.

The state of Colorado requires the repurposing of voter-approved taxes to be approved by voters. In 2002, voters approved the 2.5% sales tax to fund marketing efforts. In 2004, the 2.4% lodging tax was approved for group sales by voters.

In 2021, the two taxes generated $8.5 million and are predicted to generate $10 million this year. If patterns continue, Kinney said the taxes should generate $11 million next year.

The Marketing, Group Sales, and Special Events Board, also known as the Tourism Board, originally suggested adding language to the measure that would give 80% of tax revenue to their original intent of marketing, special events, and group sales, and the other 20% would go towards workforce housing. Council decided against this language because they said they would prefer to have flexibility with how funds are used and the 80-20 split would limit their ability to do that.

The Aspen Times received hundreds of letters to the editor this election season and almost none dealt with Snowmass ballot issue 2C. Longtime Snowmass resident Mike Sura is the lone letter writer to criticize the measure, stating that Snowmass already has more than enough revenue.

“Employee housing should be paid for by the employers, not the taxpayers — unless specifically for town employees, teachers, or first responders or through some kind of shared participation,” he wrote.

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Last updated: Nov. 10 at 10:30 a.m.