| PostIndependent.com

Lead grows to 80 votes for Ramirez in Roaring Fork school board election

Roaring Fork school board challenger Jasmin Ramirez now has an 80-vote advantage in her bid to unseat incumbent District D representative Shane Larson, based on the latest reports from election officials.

Garfield County election officials have also clarified that the potential for some rejected ballots to be cured, plus another 154 ballots that are being held in reserve to be counted next week, aren’t likely to change the outcome of the race.

As of Thursday, the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, which is reporting the multi-county results from Tuesday’s off-year election, gave Ramirez a 2,565 to 2,485 advantage in the balloting over Larson.

A third candidate who was vying to represent District D (north and west Glenwood areas) on the five-member school board, Amy Connerton, had 1,527 votes at last count.

Garfield County election officials further explained the process for any of the 107 ballots that were rejected for various reasons to be cured and added to the tally.

Voters whose ballots were rejected for lack of a signature, a signature discrepancy or improper ID have been advised that they have until Nov. 13 to cure their ballot and have it be counted.

If that happens, the county has held 154 completed ballots in reserve, with an equal mix based on geographic-area ballot type. That way, officials can protect the privacy of voters who seek to cure their ballots by mixing in some of the same type of ballot from the reserve stack, Garfield County Clerk and Recorder Jean Alberico explained.

In any case, all of the outstanding ballots are to be processed and scanned on Nov. 14, after which there’s a formal statewide risk audit done.

“Once the audit is complete, the local canvas board can certify the election results,” Alberico said.

How Garfield County voted


Roaring Fork School Board Dist. D (GarCo only)

Jasmin Ramirez — 1,936 (40%)

Shane Larson — 1,840 (38%)

Amy Connerton — 1,034 (22%)

*Including the Eagle and Pitkin portions of the school district, as of Thursday, Ramirez held an 80-vote edge

CMC Board of Trustees Dist. 2

Marianne Virgili — 5,130 (52%)

Mary Nelle Axelson — 4,684 (48%)

*Districtwide, Virgili held a 53%–47% advantage

Garfield Re-2 School Board Dist. A

Tom Slappey — 2,359 (60%)

Seth McMillen — 1,562 (40%)

Garfield Re-2 School Board Dist. B

Kirk Wilson — 2,057 (53%)

Chris Miller — 1,835 (47%)

District 16 School Board

Lynn Shore — 657 (36%)

Brittany Van Teylingen — 541 (29.37%)

Diana Lawrence — 530 (28.77%)

Garfield County Libraries mill levy (6A)

Yes — 7,359 (53%)

No — 6,511 (47%)

Glenwood Springs tobacco tax (2A)

Yes — 1,462 (61%)

No — 928 (39%)

New Castle tobacco tax (2B)

Yes — 786 (67%)

No — 393 (33%)

New Castle mill levy reauthorization (2C)

Yes — 688 (59%)

No — 486 (41%)

According to the final unofficial results from the Nov. 5 election released by Alberico’s office on Wednesday, the county saw a 38% return (14,077 completed ballots) on the 37,342 ballots that were mailed out to registered voters in the county this fall.

Statewide, the return was about 41%, with roughly 1.6 million voters completing and returning ballots out of 3.8 million registered voters in the state, according to Secretary of State Jena Griswold’s official website.

Since Colorado moved to 100% mail balloting eight years ago, turnout has been significantly higher than in the old days of going to the polls on Election Day to vote — especially in off-year elections.

But that has also introduced some new rules and regulations to ensure election security, which has made getting the returns out on Election Night more challenging.

Alberico said local election officials were inundated with more than 4,000 ballots in the final hours before voting concluded Tuesday.

As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, they had recorded 10,441 ballots received. After voting closed and by the time ballots came in from the outlying balloting locations, they had received over 14,000 ballots.

“Since we started sending out the ballots by mail in 2011, it’s become pretty standard that we get 30-40% of them back on election day,” Alberico said. “I just don’t know that we’re ever going to get everything done on election night anymore, because of people dropping them on us at the last minute.”

The state is also using a different vendor this year for reporting vote tallies to the Secretary of State, which slowed the reporting process some on Tuesday night, she said.


Ramirez holds lead in contested Roaring Fork school board race over incumbent Larson

UPDATE — A Thursday morning update in the latest multi-county vote tallies now has Jasmin Ramirez up 80 votes over Roaring Fork school board incumbent Shane Larson for the lone contested seat in Tuesday’s election.

After an extra half day of ballot counting Wednesday, Jasmin Ramirez took a 60-vote lead in the election for the District D seat on the Roaring Fork School District Board of Education.

If the margin holds, it would mean Ramirez would take the seat now held by incumbent school board member Shane Larson.

However, a couple hundred rejected and held ballots could still come into play, leaving the school board seat undecided until after Nov. 14, according to Garfield County Clerk and Recorder Jean Alberico.

Ballot counting was suspended Tuesday night until the following morning when more than 2,000 outstanding ballots still needed to be counted in Garfield County. Ballots were also still being counted in the Eagle and Pitkin county portions of the school district Wednesday morning.

By afternoon Wednesday, unofficial final results in the three-way school board race gave Ramirez 2,467 votes districtwide, or 39% of the total, to Larson’s 2,407, or 38%.

A third candidate for that seat, Amy Connerton, garnered 1,474 votes, or 23% of the vote, according to the unofficial final tally.

Alberico said she had 107 ballots that were rejected for reasons such as missing IDs, no signature on the ballot or a signature discrepancy.

“These voters have all been sent a letter with instructions on how to cure the deficiency,” Alberico explained. “Voters have until 5 p.m. on Nov. 13 to return the affidavit so their ballot can be counted.

Any cured ballots received by the deadline will be processed and scanned on Nov. 14, after which the results will be audited and Canvass Board can certify the election results.

Ramirez ran on the message of bringing greater diversity to the school board and representation in a district where more than 50% of the students are Latino.

Regardless of the final outcome, Ramirez thanked voters for participating and listening to what she had to say.

“I’m really grateful that a lot of our district community saw a need for diversity and representation for students and families with different life experiences,” Ramirez said late Wednesday.

“I do have the ability to connect with the families of the valley, and to listen and share those experiences, because I’m bilingual,” she said.

With the final outcome still uncertain Tuesday night, Larson said he heard a strong message from school district voters that, while the district is moving in the right direction, there’s still work to be done.

He said the contested race, “made me stop and think about why I want to be on the board, and why I’m running. But at the end of the day I think I have some things to contribute.

Two other Roaring Fork school board seats were decided Tuesday.

Joining current board members Jen Rupert and Jennifer Scherer will be Natalie Torres for the District B seat, and Maureen Stepp for the District C seat.

Torres and Stepp were the only candidates listed on the ballot in this fall’s mail ballot election, though a pair of official write-in candidates did garner some votes for those seats.

According to school district officials, the current school board will preside over the next scheduled board meeting on Nov. 13. Once the election results are certified, the new members would be sworn in come December.


Colorado Proposition DD to allow sports betting to fund water projects squeaks by

Colorado voters have narrowly passed a measure that will legalize sports betting and use the taxes raised to fund projects outlined in the Colorado Water Plan.

As votes trickled in Tuesday night, the measure remained too close to call; at some points, the margin was just a few hundred votes. By just after noon Wednesday, with all 64 Colorado counties reporting, the “for” votes had pulled decisively ahead.

The unofficial results from the Colorado Secretary of State website show that 50.62 percent of voters supported Proposition DD and 49.38 percent were against it — a difference of more than 17,000 votes.

Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties passed the measure, with 61 percent, 59 percent and 58 percent of voters, respectively, supporting it. Fifty-two percent of voters in Garfield County voted against Proposition DD.

Beginning May 1, 2020, the state is authorized to collect a 10 percent tax up to $29 million (but probably closer to $15 million) a year from casino’s sports-betting proceeds. The money will go toward funding projects that align with the goals outlined in the water plan, as well as toward meeting interstate obligations such as the Colorado River Compact.

The funds would be administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a statewide agency charged with managing Colorado’s water supply.

District 5 State Sen. Kerry Donovan, who was a sponsor of the legislation behind Proposition DD, said going into Election Day she wasn’t sure whether it would pass. With Colorado’s growing population and the looming threat of climate change, the Western Slope will see an increasingly large burden when it comes to water supply, she said.

“As a rancher and a Western Slope native, I am really excited the state has decided to invest in the future of water in Colorado,” she said.

Funding the water plan could mean a number of things. Outlined in a 567-page policy document, the water plan does not prescribe or endorse specific projects, but, instead, sets Colorado’s water values, goals and measurable objectives. According to the water plan, there is an estimated funding gap of $100 million per year over 30 years, but CWCB officials have said that number is an estimate and not precise.

Some of the projects outlined in the water plan stand in opposition to one another — for example, stream-restoration projects with an emphasis on environmental health and building or expanding dams and reservoirs that would divert and impound more Colorado River water.

CWCB director Becky Mitchell highlighted that the money could indeed go toward many different types of projects.

“I think the most exciting thing for us is that we will have a more permanent pool of funding and it will support all types of projects,” Mitchell said. “So, whether it’s a watershed health or agricultural project or storage project or recreational project, the benefit of a more permanent source of funding is to have secure funding for all types of projects.”

In addition to being distributed in the form of water-plan grants, the revenue could also be spent to ensure compliance with interstate compacts and to pay water users for temporary and voluntary reductions in consumptive use. That could mean a demand-management program — the feasibility of which the state is currently studying — in which agricultural water users would be paid to leave more water in the river.

The measure had received broad support from environmental organizations, agriculture interests, water-conservation districts and even Aspen Skiing Company.

Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District also supported Proposition DD. While the estimated $15 million a year is a good start, river district community affairs director Jim Pokrandt stressed it’s not enough to implement all the projects outlined in the water plan.

“What this does is creates a funding stream,” he said. “And it’s really only a down payment. What we don’t want to see is the other funding streams diminish because everybody will say ‘Oh, you got (Proposition DD).’”

Although there wasn’t much organized opposition to Proposition DD, the measure asked voters to consider three complex topics in one question: a new tax, legalizing sports betting and funding the water plan.

Political Action Committee Yes on Proposition DD spent more than $2.3 million, which came mostly from casino and gaming interests, on its campaign. The only registered group in opposition was small-scale issue committee Coloradans for Climate Justice, which argued that fossil-fuel companies should pay for the damage to water-supply systems caused by climate change.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of rivers and water. For more, go to aspenjournalism.org.

Garfield County school board races hang in balance as ballot-counting continues

The winners of two school board seats in Garfield County are yet to be determined after local election officials had to stop counting operations after midnight and resume counting to start the business day Wednesday morning.

As of the last tally in the race for the only contested seat on the Roaring Fork School District Board of Education, District D incumbent Shane Larson had a mere seven-vote lead over challenger Jasmin Ramirez.

That number included the latest tallies from not only Garfield County, but the portions of Eagle and Pitkin counties also included in the school district.

When the counting concluded for the night, officials in Garfield County still had 2,100 ballots to scan, according to Garfield County Clerk and Recorder Jean Alberico. Similar numbers of ballots were still outstanding in Eagle County, which also was still counting ballots this morning.

Alberico said Garfield County should have the final ballots tallied by early afternoon, and will report the results to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office to be included in the statewide count.

Statewide, numerous counties, including some of the most populous counties, were also still counting. That could affect the outcome of other elected offices and ballot initiatives around the state.

Locally, the school board race between Larson, Ramirez and a third challenger, Amy Connerton, won’t be determined until those final ballots are counted.

The three-way race to fill two seats on the Garfield District 16 school board in Parachute/Battlement Mesa is also close between Brittany Van Teylingen and Diana Lawrence.

Other results could also change, but are less likely to swing, including the Garfield County Libraries Question 6A. The questions asked for a 1.5 mill levy increase to fund restored and expanded hours and services in the six-branch library system.

As of the latest tally, the tax question was passing by more than 500 votes.

Alberico said election officials were inundated with more than 4,000 ballots in the final hours before voting concluded Tuesday.

As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, they recorded 10,441 ballots received. By the time ballots came in from all the outlying balloting locations in the county, they had scanned a total of 14,111 ballots, with more than 2,000 still to be scanned, she said.

“Since we started sending out the ballots by mail in 2011, it’s become pretty standard that we get 30-40% of them back on election day,” Alberico said.

The state is also using a different vendor this year for reporting of the vote tallies to the Secretary of State, which slowed the reporting process some on Tuesday night, she said.

“I just don’t know that we’re ever going to get everything done on election night anymore, because of people dropping stuff on us at the last minute,” Alberico said.

As of the latest tally from late Tuesday night, Garfield County had counted 11,952 ballots. The county sent out 37,342 ballots to registered voters in the county this fall.


Basalt Issue 3A: Setting property tax rate gains widespread support

Basalt officials were finally breathing easy Tuesday night after a year of budget uncertainty.

The town government’s request to re-establish a property tax mill levy was ahead by a comfortable 191-vote margin with a handful of votes remaining to count. As of 10:15 p.m., there were 594 votes in favor of the mill levy and 345 against. That’s a margin of 63% to 37%.

The vote on the property tax rate was required after town staff discovered in fall 2018 that the government had been violating the Colorado Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights for more than a decade by raising the property tax rate without voter approval. The council responded by approving $2.1 million in refunds for four years of overcharges and placing a question on the ballot to re-establish the tax rate.

“I think we’ve continued to forge ahead to solve the problem,” Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said Tuesday night after the voting trend was clear. “With that came earning the trust from their constituency.”

Issue 3A asked for permission to set the property tax rate at 5.957 mills, the same as last year. Without that approval, Basalt would have been forced to drop to a mill levy of 2.562 — the lowest level it has been since the Colorado Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights was approved in 1992.

The lower mill levy would have forced Basalt to slash about $700,000 from its budget for 2020 and future years.

“The reality is you can slash $700,000 from your budget and you might not feel it in year one,” Mahoney said. But the cumulative effect of the budget cuts would eventually mean infrastructure repairs wouldn’t be made as frequently, vehicles wouldn’t be replaced and special projects couldn’t be pursued, he said.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said she felt many voters understood the implications, despite the complexity of the issue. It was a low-key campaign, but when she went door-to-door, it seemed like voters were informed, she said.

Since the TABOR violation was discovered, the town government took steps to beef up its financial oversight. It added citizen watchdogs to its financial advisory board. It changed budget approval procedures so increase transparency of the mill levy.

“I think the town has really ramped up their game on transparency and financial reporting,” Whitsitt said.

She said the results were a personal relief as well. Whitsitt must leave office in April due to term limits. She didn’t want to leave office with the town facing a dire financial situation.

“It’s great to go out on a high note,” she said.

Mahoney said voter approval of the ballot question means the town can “stay on track” with its strategic plan, which includes everything from regular maintenance of roads and sidewalks to efforts to add affordable housing and assist with affordable daycare.

The ballot measure also gives future town council flexibility in raising and lowering the property tax rate — as long as it stays under 5.957 mills. Any increase above that level requires voter approval.

Despite the stakes, the election didn’t entice many Basalt residents to vote. As of deadline time Tuesday night, there were 939 ballots cast with a small amount remaining to be counted. There are about 2,200 registered voters, so the turnout was about 42 percent.

There were 844 votes cast in the last municipal election in April 2018.

The measure was supported by a comfortable margin in both Eagle and Pitkin counties. Basalt is divided among the two.

In the Eagle County portion of Basalt, the vote was 429 in favor and 267 against as of 10:15 p.m. The margin was 165 in favor and 78 against in the Pitkin County portion of Basalt.


Virgili edges out Axelson for CMC Board of Trustees District 2 seat

Marianne Virgili has been elected to represent District 2 on Colorado Mountain College’s Board of Trustees. 

Virgili earned nearly 53 % of the vote whereas her opponent, Mary Nelle Axelson, had garnered just over 47% as of 9 p.m. Tuesday.  

“I am just so grateful for people who voted for me, wrote letters of support or helped with my campaign,” Virgili said. “I am so grateful to have a chance to encourage affordable education, workforce training and lifelong learning.”

District 2 represents the Roaring Fork School District’s boundaries, which extend from Basalt to Glenwood Springs.

Virgili has lived in Glenwood Springs for 37 years and served as president and CEO of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association for three decades before retiring at the end of 2017. 

Virgili will replace the term-limited Kathy Goudy who represented District 2 since being elected in 2011.

Colorado Mountain College Board of Trustees serve 4-year terms. 


New Castle voters reauthorize 2008 property tax rate

New Castle voters supported Ballot Issue 2C, which will extend a previously approved property tax rate, now, through 2039. 

Out of the 747 votes tallied, 432 residents favored the ballot issue whereas 315 opposed it shortly before 9 p.m.

According to the ballot language, the town’s taxes will increase by up to $86,000 in 2020 and by such amounts generated annually thereafter. 

New Castle voters already approved a similar property tax rate in 2008, however it was set to expire next year, town administrator David Reynolds said.

“It is not an exact reauthorization of the old tax, but it’s a continuation at the same rate of the tax folks have been paying since 2008,” Reynolds said. “That tax is getting ready to expire because we paid off the debt that tax was approved for.”

The new tax will go toward funding New Castle Police Department equipment as well as additional training for officers. The tax will also fund the maintenance and expansion of soft-surface trails as well as an existing Vix Park construction loan. 


Unofficial results for Western Garfield County are in

Early results are in for Western Garfield County including Re-2 and District No. 16 School Board Directors.

As of 9:07 p.m. Tuesday night incumbent Director — District A Tom Slappey held a 59.90% to 40.10% vote lead over Seth McMillen.

The race for the open Director — District B was tight with Kirk Wilson edging out Chris Miller by a little over 200 votes. (Wilson: 53.76%; Miller: 46.24%)

Katie Mackley and Meriya Stickler both ran unopposed for Director — District C and D respectively.

“As a District, we are grateful for so many Garfield Re-2 citizens willing to throw their hats into the ring, to support kids, and become leaders in their school district. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there and have your name appear on a ballot,” Re-2 Director of Communication Theresa Hamilton said.

“We congratulate the apparent winners and are excited to begin working with this new team.” 

In the Parachute/Battlement Mesa elections early counts for Garfield County School District No. 16 School Board’s two open seats are in with incumbent Lynn J. Shore garnering 37.51% of the votes, with Brittany Van Teylingen not far behind at 31.67%. Duana L. Lawrence had tallied 30.82% of the votes counted.

Voters were strongly in favor of Garfield County School District No. 16 Ballot Question 4A – nearly 63% for and only 37% against. The measure, which wouldn’t increase taxes, allows District 16 to provide advanced services including telecommunications and cable television services for the district.


Tobacco taxes pass in Glenwood Springs and New Castle

Voters in Glenwood Springs and New Castle approved separate tobacco and nicotine tax questions in Tuesday’s election. 

Glenwood Springs

Shortly after 8 p.m. over 60% of voters supported Ballot Issue 2A, whereas under 40% opposed it.

“We took some action on city council a couple of months ago with regards to a flavor ban and licensing,” Jonathan Godes, Glenwood Springs mayor, said. “[This issue passing] kind of validates that we were on the right path with where the community is at, and where we want to be when it comes to protecting our kids.”

Ballot Issue 2A asked Glenwood Springs voters whether or not taxes should be increased by up to $900,000 annually in 2020 and by such amounts which may be generated annually thereafter. The tax, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2020, will impose a new tax of 20 cents per cigarette or $4 per pack on 20 cigarettes sold.

Additionally, The tax will also impose a 40% sales tax on all other tobacco products sold, including e-cigarette devices. 

According to the ballot language the tax’s revenues will go toward drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention, cessation, treatment, enforcement, youth mental and physical health, detox facilities and other related city expenses. 

New Castle

For New Castle, nearly 70% of voters within the town of New Castle supported Ballot Issue 2B whereas a little over 30 percent opposed it as of 8 p.m. 

Ballot Issue 2B asked residents of New Castle whether or not taxes should be increased by up to $65,000 in 2020 and by such amounts, which may be generated annually thereafter. 

The tax, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2020, will impose a new tax of 16 cents per cigarette or $3.20 cents per pack of 20 cigarettes sold.

Additionally, the tax will increase by 10 cents annually for eight years until it reaches 20 cents per cigarette or $4 per pack of 20 cigarettes sold. 

Ballot Issues 2B will also impose a 40% sales tax on all other tobacco and nicotine products, including e-cigarettes devices.

“I am pretty ecstatic. It’s such a major health issue in our area and it’s a great start on inhibiting tobacco and vaping amongst the underage population,” Art Riddile, New Castle Mayor, said. 


Race for contested Roaring Fork school board seat tightens

The three-way race for a Roaring Fork School District Board of Education District D was too close to call Tuesday night as ballots continue to be counted.

With unofficial results still being tallied in Garfield County and the portions of the school district in Eagle and Pitkin counties, as of 10:45 p.m., incumbent District D representative Shane Larson and challenger Jasmin Ramirez were in a virtual dead heat at 38% of the vote each.

Larson had a razor-thin lead of 13 votes over Ramirez. Challenger Amy Connerton was a distant third with 24% of the vote.

There was minimal contest for the two other open seats on the local school board, which governs public schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

Natalie Torres will take the District B seat formerly held by Matt Hamilton, who moved away and stepped down from the seat in June. Write-in candidate Matt Cova did receive a handful of votes in the election.

Maureen Stepp will take the District C seat on the school board, as current board member Mary Elizabeth Geiger is stepping down. A write-in candidate for that seat, Molly Peterson, also garnered some votes.