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Glenwood Springs airport future balances on edge of two ballot questions

The fate of the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport rests squarely on the voters’ shoulders.

Voters are being asked whether or not to raise Glenwood Springs’ property taxes by four mills for 20 years, generating approximately $1.2 million a year to pay for airport improvements and a tunnel under the runway, which could connect South Midland Avenue to the South Bridge Project.

A second ballot question asks voters if the city should take on $8 million in debt to fund the South Bridge tunnel, new airport hangars, a new Fixed Base of Operations (FBO) and bringing the airport’s fueling facilities up to code.

If approved by the voters, about $5.5 million raised through taxes and bonds could be used to fund the runway tunnel, and approximately $7 million could go to airport improvements, such as a new FBO, hangars, a fuel farm, perimeter fencing, taxiway lighting and seal coating for the runway every five years for the next 20.

If the voters approve the debt question without the mill levy, the city could have the authority to borrow for the purposes described in the question, but it would not have access to additional airport revenues to repay the debt, Glenwood Springs City Attorney Karl Hanlon said in an email. The outcome would reduce the amount that could be borrowed, Hanlon explained.

If the voters approve the mill levy but not the debt, the city could collect the revenue stream and use it for the projects outlined in the tax question, including repayment of debt; however, Glenwood Springs would not have the authority to issue debt as defined by the TABOR amendment, he said.

‘Poison pill’

The ballot questions, however, don’t explain that voting no on both could be the end of the airport as most users know it.

Without funding for a tunnel under the runway, the city might cut the runway short to build traffic lanes to connect South Bridge with South Midland Avenue and 4 Mile Road — which council members have acknowledged publicly.

During a City Council meeting Sept. 2, Mayor Pro Tem Charlie Willman said, “If you want to keep the airport runway, then vote for this.”

For a majority of council members, the futures of South Bridge Project and the airport are intrinsically tied.

Airport users, on the other hand, want the funding questions kept separate from determining the facility’s future. Often using terms such as “our airport” and “the city’s bridge project,” many airport users feel overlooked in the process of deciding the city-operated facility’s fate.

So much so, they circulated a petition to amend the city’s charter, making it impossible for the city to make major decisions about the airport without consent from the voters. The petition was ultimately rejected by City Clerk Ryan Muse on the grounds it did not have enough valid signatures to meet the statutory requirement for holding a special election, according to city documents.

When Mayor Jonathan Godes pitched the idea of airport improvements funded by a proposed tax, which would need voter approval, he did so without consulting the city’s airport commission, on which he serves as council liaison.

Several airport commissioners said they learned about the proposal only after the council decided to move forward with adding the tax questions to the November ballot — 60 days before the election was scheduled.

“The first time I heard about the tax and bond questions was the day after it was presented to council,” said Dave Merritt, the Glenwood Springs Airport Commission chair. “I was blown away. It was not needed or wanted by anyone at the airport.”

Council Member Tony Hershey said leaving the airport commission out of the ballot question proposal process was a bad-faith measure by council, and he called the ballot measures a “poison pill” for the airport.

Business or pleasure?

Some people view the airport as a hobby hub for retirees with money and time to spare, but for some airport users, the runway is as integral to their business model as a computer or phone.

Pinedale Natural Gas owner Steve Shute, 65, started his natural gas-distribution business in Glenwood during the ’90s. After working for a large natural gas company, he discovered a niche market in rural communities commonly overlooked by large corporate distributors.

His first customers were in Wyoming, and he spent a considerable time driving for work. During one such trip to Pinedale, Wyoming, Shute’s car was totaled in a collision with a Black Angus bull that had entered the roadway.

Shute’s 34-year-old son, Joel, was a child at the time, but he remembers the incident as the turning point from flying being a passion for his father to a business necessity.

“If you had looked at the car, you wouldn’t have believed he survived the crash,” said Joel Shute, who now works and flies with his father.

Nowadays, the Shutes serve about 10,000 customers scattered throughout Kentucky, California, Wyoming and Colorado. While they have employees at some of their distribution sites, they are a small business and do much of the work themselves.

Joel Shute said they wouldn’t be able to continue doing business if they had to rely on commercial flights, which don’t connect to the small, rural communities they specialize in. And driving is not a feasible alternative, he explained.

“Most of the pilots out here use their planes for business in some way,” Joel Shute said. “We probably only have 3-4 people who do it solely as a hobby.”

Flying out of the Rifle Garfield County Airport is not an option for Glenwood users, either, Steve Shute said.

“There are about 60 planes here,” he said. “We have several hangars and more than 30 tie-downs (for storing planes outdoors). Rifle has zero hangars and about 22 tie-downs.”

A recent airport commission appointee, Joel Shute said the ballot initiatives — specifically the improvements they propose to fund — did not reflect the users’ needs or wants.

“This tax proposal is a ruse,” he said. “It’s only purpose is to kill the airport.”

Weaving in South Bridge

Merritt does not own a plane, nor is he a pilot, but he’s lived by the airport for decades and currently serves as the airport commission chair.

“Living out by the airport, I appreciate it,” Merritt said. “I wanted to serve on the commission, because I want it to be a good organization and amenity of the city.”

A self-described “govvy geek,” Merritt is an engineer, who is passionate about encouraging good governance through serving on boards and commissions. He served on the Glenwood Springs City Council from 2001-09 and dedicated 12 years to the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

For Merritt, improving the airport and funding the South Bridge Project are both important and beneficial to Glenwood Springs residents, but he said they should be approached separately.

“The tunnel is supposed to be a piece of the South Bridge Project, not the airport,” Merritt said. “As an enterprise fund, the airport is self-sufficient. It does need some of the items on the city’s list, but we have a number of options for funding those.”

During the council’s Sept. 2 meeting, airport commission members suggested letting private donors build hangars at the airport. Merritt also said Classic Air Medical has expressed an interest in building a new FBO at the airport and sharing space with city staff.

Gary Vick, a pilot and part-time Glenwood Springs resident, said the city is putting the cart before the horse by trying to fund a tunnel under the airport before securing the rest of the money needed to complete the South Bridge Project, which is estimated to cost about $57 million.

The city reserved $20 million in bonding capacity from the Acquisitions and Improvements Fund for South Bridge, Glenwood Springs spokesperson Bryana Starbuck said in an email. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority committed $4 million in Destination 2040 funds for construction, but Glenwood Springs is requesting the funding be shifted to right of way acquisition. If the RFTA request is approved, Starbuck said approximately $37 million in commitments will still be needed for the South Bridge, Starbuck said.

If approved by voters, the mill levy could raise about $1.2 million annually for the airport, based on current property values, for 20 years, or about $24 million — nearly double the estimated $12.5 million needed for the proposed improvements, repairs and tunnel construction. Vick said the math doesn’t add up.

“As the properties increase in value, it will generate even more money,” he said. “It seems like an undefined way to get some extra tax money, but the question language doesn’t really define what they would use it for.”

The tax question states the increased mill levy would be used to fund the airport’s operational and capital costs, listing some projects. While the tax question language indicates it would be used for airport projects and the South Bridge tunnel, it also states the additional monies would not be limited to the projects listed in the ballot question. The bond question states the city could increase its debt to pay for one or more of the following: South Bridge tunnel, new airport hangars, a new FBO and a fuel farm.

“The city is going to say if the tax doesn’t pass, the people don’t support the airport, so they can do whatever they want,” Vick said. “I can’t speak to the motives of the council, but I can say what I think the result will be. The citizens are going to reject (the tax increase), and the city is going to use that as justification to close (the airport).”

‘Do you want to keep the airport?’

Although a majority of council members voted to put the tax and bond questions on the ballot, multiple members spoke against the move.

Council Member Ingrid Wussow said she did not support the ballot questions, because she didn’t think they were worded honestly.

“The way the questions are written, we’re asking people if they want to fund airport improvements, and in turn, the South Bridge,” Wussow said. “When really, we’re asking, ‘Do you want to keep the airport?’”

By not including the airport commission in the process of selecting improvement projects and putting together a funding plan, she said the council missed an opportunity to serve both the airport users and the community at large.

“I’m disappointed,” Wussow said. “We on council are not subject matter experts in every field. We have boards and commissions so that we can have passionate community members helping to inform our decisions.”

Godes said he voted for the tax and bond questions because airport maintenance and improvement have long been neglected.

“We have always treated this airport differently than any other city facility, because the users have a private club and have always hung their hat on the idea that the airport doesn’t cost the city money — until now,” he said. “The South Bridge tunnel and the airport are interrelated, because if we did not have to have a runway that can accomodate small, private aircraft, we would not need a tunnel that costs $5.5 million.”

Without a runway, Godes said the airport could still serve as a helipad and refueling station for firefighting efforts and Classic Air Medical, a privately owned medical transport company that serves hospitals around the Roaring Fork Valley.

“Unequivocally, this council, the citizens, the hospital and the firefighting community understand the absolute necessity to always have helicopter operations at the Glenwood airport,” he said.

Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at ifredregill@postindependent.com.

Colorado River Fire Rescue response times could hinge on upcoming mill levy vote

A Colorado River Fire Rescue engine is parked in a station bay in Rifle on Saturday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Colorado River Fire Rescue’s service capabilities were dealt another blow last week — and another is expected soon.

“We just sold an ambulance yesterday,” CRFR Chief Leif Sackett said Friday. “Within the next week, we will have one of our reserve engines that we sold to a department in Ohio leave as well.”

On Nov. 2, district voters will be asked to support a mill levy increase that could help the financially strapped fire district recuperate from substantial losses. A combination of a declining oil and gas industry and decreases in property valuations in 2016 led to CRFR’s budget shrinking by about 35% or about $2.4 million.

Rifle City Council member Brian Condie said the mill levy increase is needed.

“I think they’ve done a great job with what they’ve been given, and if they can get some more money, that service will go up for sure,” Condie said. “But if they don’t get the money they need, the service will go down. I mean, that’s, that’s obvious.”

CRFR has relied heavily on reserves to temporarily shore up its budget, but is now forced to sell equipment in order to make ends meet. Sackett said the district that covers more than 25,000 residents over a 851-square-mile radius across Western Garfield County has already sold wildland engines, a ladder truck and a hazmat rig, Sackett said.

“It’s tough to do when we used to have the staffing and personnel to keep those apparatus in service,” he said. “It’s a hard thing to do to make those cutbacks, but we’re doing everything we possibly can to help bring in revenue any way possible.”

The mill levy will work in a phased-in funding proposal. If the mill levy passes, voters should see 3 mills added to their property taxes through 2026.

Colorado River Fire Rescue firefighters prepare for a shift on Saturday.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

In total, CRFR is asking up to $48.26 per $100,000 of a home’s actual market value.

According to the district, CRFR’s tax-funded budget was $6.61 million in 2016 and decreased to $4.11 million 2017 and has stayed level since. If all three phases of the mill levy are enacted, it would bring CRFR’s tax funded revenues to approximately $7.4 million. That would bring CRFR’s budget back to what it was in 2016 with an additional 12% to account for 2% inflation per year.

In May 2020, CRFR had previously asked district voters to pass another major mill levy, a request that failed by 250 votes. The defeat prevented the district from filling six vacant positions, and Station No. 43 in south Rifle was closed.

Currently, the district deploys 11 personnel per shift, with 33 shift personnel in total, Sackett said.

“We’re looking at reducing staffing further and possibly closing another station,” he said. “If we do that, our response times are going to increase more.”

This could increase CRFR’s average response time by 10 minutes.

CRFR Lt. Landon A. Churchill said further decreased staffing would diminish the district’s ability to respond to larger fires, like box stores or large structure fires.

It takes even more personnel to cover multiple calls at the same time.

“Fires double in size about every 30 seconds or so,” he said. “If you don’t receive medical care within about the first five-ish minutes of a major medical emergency, your chances of surviving or not having long-term damage decrease drastically.”

Churchill said it’s hard to distribute CRFR’s resources wide enough to bring response times under five minutes.

“The greatest challenge that we’ve had is that we are very often called to do a lot of work with very few people,” he said. “Lately we’re very commonly having six, seven or eight people working a day. If a house were on fire, that’s not enough people to really put it out effectively, in the time frame that we need to.”

A Colorado River Fire Rescue firefighter tests out equipment at the start of a morning shift.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Churchill can’t overstate it. Echoing his chief, he said the mill levy failing could mean further closures of CRFR stations. This could lead to five or six full-time staff covering three towns per day.

The results could be catastrophic, Churchill said.

“It’s a difficult, difficult job for everybody,” he said. “The other side of that coin is, it’s exponentially more dangerous for us.”

A SHOW OF SUPPORT

According to a Friday news release, the New Castle Town Council has already officially provided its support for the proposed CRFR mill levy.

“On September 21, the New Castle Town Council approved Resolution TC2021-13 titled ‘A resolution of the New Castle Town Council supporting the Colorado River Fire Rescue district’s ballot issue to be decided by the voters at the November 2, 2021 election,’” the release states. “The resolution notes the value and importance of CRFR to the town and the positive impact that passage of Ballot Issue 6A will have on the health, safety and welfare of the Town and its residents.”

On Aug. 10, 2021, the fire district’s board of directors adopted the following phased-in mill levy increase ballot issue to be submitted to the voters during the coordinated election the Garfield County Clerk and Recorder will conduct on Nov. 2, 2021:

Shall Colorado River Fire Protection District taxes be increased $4,873,747.72 (final 2026 fiscal year amount after all phased-in increases) annually from an additional 6.75 phased-in operating mill levy imposed at a rate of 3 mills in 2021 (collected in 2022), an additional 2 mills in 2023 (collected in 2024), and an additional 1.75 mills in 2025 (collected in 2026), for the purposes of providing fire protection, ambulance, emergency medical response, rescue, safety and support services by the district, including but not limited to:

• Addressing lost revenue and budget constraints on the district’s revenues caused by economic downturn;

• Addressing community growth by recruiting and retaining firefighters and paramedics to maintain emergency response times and emergency services and bring their salaries in line with nearby communities;

• Providing training and life-saving medical, fire and other emergency response techniques to promote firefighter and citizen safety;

• Ongoing maintenance and scheduled replacement of fire, medical and rescue equipment, fire trucks and ambulances to maintain reliability and protect first responders and citizens;

• Ensuring financial transparency and accountability by making the most current district budget and audit available to every taxpayer on the district’s website;

And shall all revenue and any earnings on this phased-in tax constitute a permanent voter-approved revenue change within the meaning of Article X, section 20 of the Colorado constitution and an exception to the limitations set forth in section 29-1-301 of the Colorado revised statutes, and any other law?

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or rerku@postindependent.com.

Glenwood Springs airport mill levy question heads to November ballot

Glenwood Springs residents are slated to be asked in November whether to increase their property taxes to help fund a tunnel beneath Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport runway, connecting Midland Avenue to the South Bridge project.

City Council members approved a resolution Sept. 2 to add a question to the November ballot, which could raise property taxes by 4 mills and allow the city to incur $8 million in debt. The ability to incur debt would allow the city to borrow money based on the projected mill levy revenue. Without the ability to incur debt, Mayor Jonathan Godes said the city would need to fund the various airport projects as tax revenue from the mill levy trickled in over the next 20 years.

If approved by voters, the mill levy could provide the city with about $5.5 million for the South Bridge tunnel and tunnel insulation, which was proposed as an alternative to shortening the airport’s runway.

“The South Bridge project idea was developed after the Coal Seam Fire in 2002. During that fire, I-70 closed. The fire was advancing from the west, and above the Three Mile area in south Glenwood. West Glenwood residents evacuated south on (Colorado) Highway 82, creating a bumper-to-bumper back up extending over Independence Pass,” a presentation from earlier this year on the project states.

The proposed project route would begin at South Midland Avenue and Four Mile Road, where it would follow Airport Road before tunneling below the airport’s runway. The South Bridge would then cross the Roaring Fork River before connecting to Colorado Highway 82.

Additional revenue secured by the mill levy question could be used to fund a number of airport improvements, including constructing new hangars, new fueling facilities and a number of safety upgrades, city documents stated.

Raising property taxes by four mills could increase residential rates by $286 annually for a property with an assessed value of $1 million. Commercial properties with an assessed value of $1 million could see a tax increase of about $1,200 annually.

During the council’s regular meeting, several members of the Glenwood Springs Airport Commission spoke against the mill levy question and suggested it was not being proposed by the council in good faith.

Sean Thomas, who identified himself as an airport commission alternate, told council members that many of the commissioners had not seen the mill levy question proposal until just days before the council’s Sept. 2 meeting.

“You guys crammed this in without our knowledge, and I think that’s unethical,” Thomas said.

Glenwood Springs resident and airport patron Gregg Rippy said the mill levy would fund more than airport patrons needed.

“We’re happy to see you’re interested in improving the airport,” Rippy said. “But, you’ve given us a Range Rover when all we needed was a Corolla.”

Private investors would like the opportunity to fund several of the improvements listed in the mill levy question, Airport Commission member Alan Arnold said.

“If you could’ve brought this up to the airport board, I could’ve saved you a couple million dollars on a few things that are already in place,” Arnold said. “What the airport actually needs, we’re down to about $1 million.”

Many of the commissioners expressed concerns about a proposed operations facility, which could cost $2.5 million, listed in the projects to be funded by the mill levy.

Commissioners also said they didn’t understand why the South Bridge tunnel proposal was tied to an airport-improvement mill levy.

“That tunnel is not an airport issue — it’s a South Bridge issue,” Rippy said. “I support the South Bridge, but I can’t support a resolution to tax the people of Glenwood Springs for something we don’t need.”

Mayor Pro Tem Charlie Willman said the tunnel was an effort to save the airport’s runway, which might need to be shortened for the South Bridge project if funding for the tunnel cannot be secured.

“South Bridge is a safety issue for this whole community,” Willman said, emphasizing the airport serves a small percentage of Glenwood residents. “If you want to keep the airport runway, then vote for this.”

On the flipside, Council Member Ingrid Wussow said she didn’t feel the council should seek money for the tunnel before the rest of the South Bridge project was funded. She added that she would like the council to discuss airport improvements with the commission before moving forward with a ballot question.

Godes said funding the South Bridge Project required fitting all the smaller pieces together first, so the council could present community buy-in as a factor in securing large portions of funding through other avenues.

Council Member Tony Hershey said he could not support the mill levy question.

“I was as surprised as anyone else by this proposal,” Hershey said. “I look at this as a poison pill designed to kill the airport.”

Godes made a motion to approve two ballot questions: the first asking the voters to approve a 4 mill increase for the next 20 years, and the second asking voters to allow the city to incur a debt of up to $8 million with a maximum repayment amount of $14 million — both of which could allow the city to fund the South Bridge tunnel, improvements to the airport and airport operational costs. Council member Steve Davis seconded the motion.

Council approved Godes’ motion 4-3, with Willman, Hershey and Wussow voting against.

Estimated costs

If approved by voters in November, a proposed mill levy increase and ability to incur debt could fund the following improvements and upgrades to the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport:

Tunnel underneath the runway: $4.7 million

Reconstructed runway, taxiway and lighting: $484,000

Redesign of the tunnel to accommodate tunnel insulation: $295,000

Safety improvements needed at the airport within the next year regardless of the South Bridge project:

New fuel farm: $450,000

Communication upgrades and new weather station: $185,000

Perimeter fencing: $120,000

New fixed base of operations: $2.5 million

Seal coat and runway painting and striping (every three to four years): $150,000

New city-owned hangars: $2.4 million

Covered and powered tie downs: $675,000

Bobcat or maintenance inspection vehicle: $30,000

Picnic /camping grounds improvements: $20,000

Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at ifredregill@postindependent.com.

Roaring Fork School District approves mill levy override ballot question

Roaring Fork School District voters will decide on a property tax increase to source funds for employee wages this November.

The Roaring Fork School District Board of Education’s five members voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve and place ballot language on a mill levy override for the primary focus of raising employee wages to assist with recruitment and retention.

The district is currently in the midst of a staffing crisis that is “the worst it’s ever been,“ said Roaring Fork School District Chief of Student and Family Services Anna Cole, with more than 50 positions — and several roles within some of those positions — unfilled as the school year enters its third week.

Passing the ballot measure will generate a maximum of $7.7 million from the community through a property tax increase. This figure was previously reported at $6.8 million, but updated enrollment and budget projections have been released since the last Board of Education discussion on the topic. Currently, Roaring Fork receives nearly $1,600 annually in per-pupil mill levy override funding, less than each neighboring district and just over half Aspen’s $3,025.

Roaring Fork has the third-highest cost of living in the state, but teacher wages reportedly rank 37th, according to the district.

Housing and even gas prices have caused some to decline to apply, rescind job acceptances or walk away after having established a role within the district, Carbondale Middle School principal Jennifer Lamont told the Post Independent.

Earlier in the meeting, the board also unanimously approved a critical staff shortage resolution, allowing the district to hire back retirees as teachers, drivers and food services workers for a temporary tenure.

It’s a regular measure every year, but the situation is more dire than it’s ever been, Cole said.

“I don’t know the last time we’ve started the school year with schools and some of our early childhood positions not filled,” Cole said of the Family Resource Center in the board meeting. “It’s because of a lack of applicants.”

Cole said the resource center is currently short three employees. She added that all of the schools located in Basalt, among others, are without a health aide, which is additionally straining during COVID-19. A district nursing position has sat unfilled for more than a year.

Three early childhood education programs are understaffed, even with reduced services due to the pandemic.

Jeff Gatlin, the district’s chief operating officer, said there are five vacant custodial positions across the district’s schools. Food and nutritional services are understaffed by three, transportation is down five bus drivers and a mechanic, maintenance is understaffed by two plus an HVAC position. Two ground staff positions are also empty, which is 40% of the staff.

The operations department is being forced to triage and reduce services for the first time in Gatlin’s tenure.

“We’re being forced to make really hard decisions where we’re picking the lesser of two evils,” Gatlin said. “It’s not fun, and it doesn’t seem like there’s a good outcome from there.”

In direct academic impact, Roaring Fork started the school year with 2.5 unfilled special education positions and has not filled 16 paraprofessional roles, or half the desired staff count, according to Chief Academic Officer Rick Holt.

Some holes have been plugged with parents or staff taking on additional duties, but all three department heads expressed concern over the sustainability of that approach, citing burnout and a lower quality of services to begin with.

District voters have previously passed mill levy overrides, which allow the district to source additional tax revenue higher than the state rate based on the assessed value of property. The maximum allowed amount is 25% of the district’s annual total program funding.

Should the ballot measure pass, it would bring Roaring Fork School District to its cap and permit it to draw roughly $16 million through mill levy revenue.

The election is on Nov. 2.

Roaring Fork school board plans mill levy override ballot vote


The Roaring Fork School District Board of Education is expected to consider a mill levy override ballot proposal following discussion at Wednesday’s meeting.

The ballot measure, if approved by both the school board and then voters, would primarily go toward increasing staff salaries.

The override will max out what the school district can source via mill levies — a roughly $6.8 million property tax increase.

Discussions on an override began early in 2020 but were tabled during the pandemic. The committee reconvened in March this year. It is composed of board representation, educators and community members. After district and community outreach in the spring and summer, the official recommendation for an override proposal came in late July.

Current board members, including Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein, Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes, Carbondale Town Trustee Ben Bohmfalk and others unanimously supported the recommendation.

The committee determined low salaries and a high cost of living has resulted in high turnover and an inability to fill vacant positions. In a presentation to the board during the meeting, Basalt parent and exploration committee member Ellen Freedman said three out of four applicants who are offered positions decline them because of the financial complications.

“We’re not trying to stop a looming staff crisis that might happen some time in the future,” Freedman said. “We’re having the staffing crisis now.”

Data from the 2019 Cost of Living Index for Colorado School Districts shows that Roaring Fork has the third-highest cost of living in the state. Data from the Department of Education shows the district’s teacher pay ranks 37th.

Roughly 75% of the mill levy pool would go to salary increases, 12% would go to retention and recruitment and 13% is mandated to go to the district’s charter schools, of which Roaring Fork has only Carbondale Community School.

The proposed $6.8 million override would bring a rough total of $15.6 million to the school through mill levies, or 25% of district’s total program funding from the state, which is the cap under Colorado law. Previous mill levy overrides, the latest of which the district passed in 2011, give it an additional $8.8 million.

The funds would be sourced from a local property tax increase. Mill levies factor from assessed property value. Homeowners could expect a monthly tax increase of $3.50 per $100,000 of home value.

Stein introduced the presentation with the hope that the board can take the next step at its Aug. 25 meeting.

“Tonight, we have a formal recommendation to the board,” Stein said. “We’re asking the board to discuss it tonight, and then we will present a more formal proposal to the board to approve ballot language at the Aug. 25 meeting.”

If the board does vote on creating a ballot question on Aug. 25, the public comment item on that agenda will be the public’s last chance to speak on the override before a decision is made. Those who wish to make a comment during the Zoom meetings must fill out a public comment form before the meeting begins, which is available on the school board’s website.

Note: the words “proposed $6.8 million” have been added to the 10th paragraph for clarity.

Colorado River Fire Rescue opens discussions on possible mill levy

Firefighters with Colorado River Fire Rescue return to the scene of a fully engulfed structure fire on Railroad Avenue in Rifle in 2019.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram file

Colorado River Fire Rescue will be hosting two informational webinars to seek community input on a proposed new mill levy, the district announced Wednesday.

The webinars will be held virtually from 7-8 p.m. on June 16 and June 23, it states in a news release.

Topics covered in the webinars include cost-cutting measures taken following the unsuccessful mill levy election last year, the impact of a recent fire station closure on response times, and details of a new phased-in proposal, the release states. Plenty of time will be made available to address questions from the community.

“CRFR seeks your thoughts and recommendations on a phased-in funding proposal,” CRFR Chief Leif Sackett said in the release. “You have the final word on how we protect response times and emergency services.”

The webinar is open to all district residents. For more information and to access the Zoom link, visit the Colorado River Fire Rescue page on Facebook or the district’s website, www.crfr.us.

The district invites residents to share comments or questions with Sackett by email at leif.sackett@crfr.us or by phone at 970-625-1243, ext. 25.

Roaring Fork School District begins plans for mill levy override, discusses a board member’s influence on decisions

How much input a school board member should give when it comes to the district budget was a matter of debate during Wednesday’s Roaring Fork School District School Board meeting. Board Member Jasmin Ramirez requested at the beginning of the meeting to add language access, concerning translations of documents for the district’s families who don’t speak or read in English, as a budget line item for the upcoming school year.

“Truthfully, since the pandemic exacerbated all these inequalities, I think we all can see without really a recommendation that this is something our district needs,” Ramirez said. “I definitely want us to be very strategic as well to make sure that we are taking all of that into account because it’s word from our staff, but I also think that there’s immediate needs that should be at the forefront of our decision right now with the budget.”

The way the recommendation process for the budget is currently set up, the school board and executive team would hear presentations from staff members after the budget deadline from the state. Superintendent Rob Stein expressed his frustration at the two dates being out of sync, but said that foregoing a recommendation would make it difficult to determine how much the district should set aside for language access resources.

“I don’t think there’s a single line item for those things. We already have a lot in our budget, or a lot of activities that we engage in around those things, including an interpreter in tonight’s board meeting, translating materials like newsletters from the district. But we’re going to want to expand that so we’re going to want to pay for that expansion,” Stein said.

Ramirez agreed to meet with Chief Financial Officer Nathan Markham, and Stein at a later date to discuss adding language access to the budget. President Natalie Torres also said it should be added to the board’s document of items to return to at future board meetings.

Mill Levy Override Exploration

Stein gave a presentation explaining how a mill levy override would benefit the district’s schools, students and families, emphasizing the executive team is still in the “exploratory phase” of the process.

“Here’s how a mill levy override works: according to state statutes, local school districts may ask their taxpayers in their community to approve a mill levy override real estate tax for up to about 25% above the base per pupil funding,” Stein said.

He described the current staffing crisis in the district as being due to the lack of competitive wages for teachers paired with the high cost of living in the schools’ communities. RFSD is the third-most-expensive school district to live in in the state of Colorado and ranks 37th in average teacher pay, Stein said. Based on mill levy overrides from the past, the district could collect a total of $6.8 million from local taxpayers, but would only be able to use $5.1 million after setting aside the designated amount by the state for charter schools.

“We know that our teachers enjoy working in our schools, and the vast majority of staff want to stay in the Roaring Fork School District and think it’s a great place to work. The challenge is that without more competitive wages we’re at risk of losing our most valuable asset — our people,” Stein said.

Campaigning for the mill levy override won’t happen until closer to the election date, but the board was in support of its implementation overall. Board member Jennifer Scherer asked Stein what his outreach methods would be for educating the public about the impact the override could have and disseminating the information. Stein replied with a simple answer — by just showing up.

“I think we’ll talk to anybody who will listen. … chambers of commerce, major employers, rotary clubs … and if anybody were listening and wanted to have a presentation and are willing, it could even be a church group or something, I think this is going to be a major part of my work from now until November,” Stein said.

 

Reporter Jessica Peterson can be reached at 970-279-3462 or jpeterson@postindependent.com.

Second effort to recall Gov. Jared Polis in as many years fails after group doesn’t turn in signatures

The long-shot bid to recall Gov. Jared Polis, the second in as many years, has fizzled after organizers didn’t turn in signatures that were due Friday to force a special election to oust the Democrat.

Recall Polis 2020 needed to collect 631,266 signatures in 60 days to force a recall election. The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office says it received no signatures by 5 p.m. on Friday, the deadline.

The group raised little money and its efforts received no backing from big-name political leaders in Colorado, making its unlikely bid even more so. No group in Colorado has ever amassed the number of signatures that were needed to recall Polis.

In a message on a private Facebook page, the organizers behind the Polis recall said they were asking for an extension to gather more signatures because of the coronavirus crisis, but didn’t say who was being asked for an extension.

Read more via The Colorado Sun.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported news organization dedicated to covering the people, places and policies that matter in Colorado. Read more, sign up for free newsletters and subscribe at coloradosun.com.

It’s official: Voters decide to reintroduce wolves in Colorado

Unleash the hounds. 

Proposition 114 was decided Thursday as votes from heavily populated Front Range counties pushed the wolf reintroduction plan to victory. 

The measure, which tasks Colorado Parks and Wildlife with crafting a plan by the end of 2023 to reintroduce wolves into the Western Slope, was too close to call on Tuesday night and all day Wednesday. The tightest statewide ballot issue in Colorado’s 2020 election, Proposition 114 was ahead by a narrow margin that veered close to triggering an automatic recount. 

Opponents of the measure conceded the race on Thursday. Even though there were more than 300,000 votes yet to be counted, a lead of more than 20,000 votes out of 2.97 million cast appeared insurmountable. 

Coloradans Protecting Wildlife, the group opposing Proposition 114, said in a statement that it believed “forced wolf reintroduction” into Colorado is bad policy that should not have been decided by voters. 

Read more via The Colorado Sun.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported news organization dedicated to covering the people, places and policies that matter in Colorado. Read more, sign up for free newsletters and subscribe at coloradosun.com.

UPDATED: Colorado River District tax hike passes easily

Western Slope voters have overwhelmingly passed a proposal by the Colorado River Water Conservation District to raise property taxes across its 15-county region.

According to preliminary results as of 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, encompassing about 240,000 ballots, about 72% of voters said yes to the measure. Saguache County was the lone county to vote against the measure. 

Pitkin County voters passed ballot question 7A with more than 80% in favor, despite three of five county commissioners and Pitkin County’s representative to the River District board John Ely opposing the measure. Nearly 70% of voters in Mesa County, which has the largest population base in the district, supported the measure.

The River District announced that the measure had received voter approval in a news release at 7:55 p.m. Tuesday, saying the organization is ready to get to work implementing water projects across the district.

River District general manager Andy Mueller said the results prove that water is the one issue that can unite voters in western Colorado.

“It was the one issue that’s not partisan, that was about uniting a very politically diverse region,” he said. “Everybody is so sick of the nasty, divisive, partisan politics. People with (Donald) Trump signs and (Joe) Biden signs voted for the same thing.”

Ballot measure 7A raises property taxes by a half-mill, or an extra $1.90 per year for every $100,000 of residential home value. The measure will raise nearly an additional $5 million annually for the River District, which says it will use the money for fighting to keep water on the Western Slope, protecting water supplies for Western Slope farmers and ranchers, protecting drinking water for Western Slope communities, and protecting fish, wildlife and recreation.

According to numbers provided by the River District, the mill levy will increase to $40.28 from $18.93 annually for Pitkin County’s median home value, which at $1.13 million is the highest in the district. In Garfield County,  where the median home value is $362,797, the mill levy will increase to $12.97 from $6.10 annually.

Property owners can expect to see the mill-levy increase on their 2021 tax bill.

The proposal received wide support among county commissioners, agricultural organizations and environmental groups.

Eagle County Commissioner and River District board member Kathy Chandler-Henry, who also served as vice-chair of the political action committee Yes on 7A, said it would have been nearly impossible for the River District to protect Western Slope water without the tax increase. 

“I’m glad people throughout the district saw the value in that, even though it’s a tough time to be asking for a tax increase,” she said. “I think that’s a huge win and a huge vote of confidence in the work the River District’s been doing.”

The River District, based in Glenwood Springs and created by the state legislature in 1937 to develop and protect water supplies in western Colorado, spans Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Gunnison, Garfield, Rio Blanco, Routt, Moffat, Mesa, Delta, Montrose, Ouray, Hinsdale and Saguache counties.

The River District’s fiscal implementation plan for the revenue that would be raised by the tax hike says 86% would go toward funding water projects backed by roundtables and local communities. Those projects would fall into five categories: productive agriculture; infrastructure; healthy rivers; watershed health and water quality; and conservation and efficiency.

This is a developing story. Check back later for more updates.

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. For more, go to aspenjournalism.org.