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Affordable housing wins on high-country ballots

A housing market with short supply and high demand does not bode well for a local workforce. That truth is evident in Colorado’s high country, where voters expressed their frustration with the lack of affordable housing and approved a majority of ballot measures aimed at allocating funds to affordable-housing initiatives. 

The high country saw at least 18 ballot measures that somehow addressed the need for affordable housing for local workforces. 

The National Low Income Housing Coalition, a housing advocacy organization, reported that 53% of low income households in Colorado are rent-burdened — or spending more than 30% of their monthly income on housing, as of 2020.

And, Colorado has seen an exponential jump in real-estate prices since the pandemic. According to Redfin, the median home sale price in February 2020 was $403,900. In September 2022, the median price was $549,500.

Both of these statistics feel exacerbated in mountain towns, where the strain on the local workforces is evident in the litany of “help wanted” signs and pleas for affordable housing options in Facebook groups. 

The lack of housing — affordable and otherwise — drives the price hikes. Experts say that the shortage the state is experiencing now started years ago. 

“We saw a 40% decrease in housing production in a decade following the Great Recession. And so, we’re pretty far behind on our housing supply across the board. But, affordable housing specifically has been really negatively affected by that lack of production,” said Brian Rossbert, executive director of Housing Colorado. 

And, even though the Colorado minimum wage will rise to $13.65 in 2023, it does not match the ballooning real estate and rental prices. The NLIHC reported that a minimum wage of $28.64 is needed to afford a two-bedroom unit in Colorado. Both Aspen Skiing Co. and Vail Resorts set their starting hourly wage for non-tipped employees at $20 an hour.

To address the affordable-housing crisis, the government put the issue to voters. Statewide, Proposition 123 passed by a small margin. It will allocate 0.1% of taxable income in Colorado to fund affordable housing programs and assist local governments in increasing their affordable housing stock by 3% each year. 

Many local governments took advantage of HB 22-1117 during the midterm election, or the Use Of Local Lodging Tax Revenue bill from March 2022. It permitted the re-allocation of revenue from the marketing and promotion tax in local marketing districts and lodging tax in counties to fund housing and child care for tourism-related workforces, with voter approval. 

But, most high-country counties, especially those with ski resorts, saw an increase on short-term rental taxes on the ballot. Here is a breakdown of some of those ballot measures:

STATEWIDE 

Proposition 123: The state proposed reallocating 0.1% of taxable income to affordable housing programs and initiatives — 60% of funds to affordable housing financing programs and 40% to programs that support home ownership, support people experiencing homelessness, and support local planning. Local governments that receive funds from Proposition 123 must increase their affordable housing stock by 3% annually. It passed 52.19% to 47.81%.

Ballot Initiatives in high-country counties:

PITKIN COUNTY

Aspen Issue 2A: The city proposed a sales tax increase on STRs. Lodge-exempt (condominiums) and owner-occupied STRs faced a 5% tax increase. Classic STRS (Airbnbs, etc.) faced a 10% increase. Voters approved it 62% to 38%.

Snowmass Issue 2C: The town proposed re-allocating a portion of its marketing and lodging taxes to workforce housing. It passed 82.7% to 17.3%.

GARFIELD COUNTY

Carbondale Issue 2A: The town proposed imposing an additional tax of 6% sales tax on STRs to fund affordable-housing initiatives. It passed 71.7% to 28.3%.

Glenwood Springs Issue 2C: The city proposed an additional 2.5% sales tax on on lodging, including STRs, to fund affordable-housing projects. It passed 55.2% to 44.8%.

EAGLE COUNTY

Eagle County Issue 1A: The county proposed a 2% lodging sales tax on STRs, excluding municipalities Avon, Minturn, Red Cliff, Basalt, and Vail. The funds will go to child-care programs and affordable-workforce housing, breaking that down to 10% of tax revenue to tourism marketing and 90% to the housing and child-care programs. It passed 59.56% to 40.44%.

Town of Vail Issue 2I: The town proposed collecting the excess revenue from a 2021 0.5% housing sales tax increase to fund housing initiatives. It passed 73.55% to 26.45%.

MESA COUNTY

Grand Junction Issue 2A: The city proposed increasing the lodging tax from 6% to 7% to support nonprofit and governmental partnerships, plus affordable housing for households that make 80% or less of the area’s median income. It failed with 32.08% of votes in favor to 62.92% against.

Grand Junction Issue 2B: The city proposed an 8% tax on STRs to fund affordable-housing initiatives. It failed with 26.4% votes in favor to 73.6% votes against.

SUMMIT COUNTY

Summit County Referred Measure 1B: The county proposed a 2% lodging tax on STRs on unincorporated areas of Summit County to fund “quality of life” initiatives for locals like affordable housing and child care. It passed 72.7% to 23.7%.

Town of Dillon Issue 2C: The town proposed increasing the town’s debt up to $20 million to support the acquisition and maintenance of workforce housing. It passed 54.8% to 45.2%. 

ROUTT COUNTY

Steamboat Springs Issue 2A: The city proposed a 9% tax raise on STRs and to put that revenue toward “affordable and attainable” workforce-housing projects. It passed 62.3% to 37.7%.

GUNNISON COUNTY

Gunnison River Valley Local Marketing District Issue 6A: The district proposed re-allocating up to 40% of revenue from the marketing tourism tax on lodging toward affordable and workforce housing. It passed 68.5% to 31.5%.

CHAFFEE COUNTY

Chaffee County Issue 1A: The county proposed re-allocating up to 60% of the 1.9% lodging-tax revenue to affordable housing and childcare for the local workforce. It passed 63.8% to 36.2%

LARIMER COUNTY

Estes Park Local Marketing District Issue 6A: The district proposed raising the lodging tax by 3.5% to fund workforce housing and childcare. It passed 60.85 to 39.15%.

PARK COUNTY

Park County Issue 1B: The county proposed a 2% lodging tax on STRs, excluding Fairplay, which already has its own lodging tax, to fund housing and child care for the tourism-related workforce and marketing within the county. It failed with 41.7% of votes in favor and 58.3% of votes against. 

GRAND COUNTY

Fraser River Valley Housing Partnership Issue 6A: The partnership proposed imposing a mill levy at the rate of 2.0 mills to fund and maintain affordable workforce housing. It passed 56.6% to 43.39%.

Town of Grand Lake Issue 2A: The town proposed an additional sales tax not exceeding 15% on recreational marijuana, with half of the revenue to general funds and half to support ‘attainable housing.’ It passed 53.02% to 46.98%. 

GILPIN COUNTY

Gilpin County Issue 1A: The county proposed a 2% lodging tax on STRs, excluding the cities of Central and Black Hawk, with 10% of the revenue to fund marketing and tourism and 90% to fund a broad swath of initiatives, including workforce housing. It passed 54.8% to 45.2%.

With many local governments preparing for an influx of tax revenue earmarked for affordable housing, advocacy groups like Housing Colorado will be watching to see how the money is spent. 

“We can’t talk about health policy or education policy without talking about housing policy,” Rossbert said. “And so, we really encourage local housing advocates to communicate in ways that root all policy discussions in housing.”

Only in Colorado did an affordable-housing ballot measure appear on the ballot statewide, according to reporting from Colorado Public Radio, despite the housing crisis existing nationwide. But, Colorado’s affordable-housing ballot measures performed well from the state to local levels this election, which heartens Rossbert. 

“These investments send a message to our state and federal elected officials that communities who are affected by this housing crisis, which I would argue are all (communities), are taking steps themselves,” he said. “And now, the impetus is on state leaders and federal leaders to take steps to address the crisis.

2C: Glenwood Springs’ lodging-tax increase passes

With a lead of roughly a few hundred votes, Glenwood Springs’ ballot measure to increase the lodging tax for affordable housing development looked likely to pass on Tuesday night.

Shortly before midnight, 2C was passing with 1,948 votes in favor and 1,611 votes against.

“I’m happy for our community,” said campaign leader Clark Anderson. “While it’s not a silver bullet, the resources and capacity this creates are meaningful. We can make a dent in our workforce housing needs and that’s awesome.”

Garfield County has had a growing need for affordable housing for the local workforce with few outlets to support that need, said Anderson.  

“I’m extremely proud of the committee and their ability to get the word out to the community,” said Mark Gould, a member of the Glenwood Springs ad hoc committee, Ballot Question 2C supporter and local business owner.

Ballot Question 2C aims to fill some small portion of the need for housing with an investment plan that will retrieve funding from a short-term rental tax on the local lodging community which includes hotels, motels and Airbnbs. 

“You can’t ask every person to come from out of town to work for us,” Gould said. “It’s so important that the committee and community got the support from the hospitality community for this.”

The measure proposes to bring $1.3 million to $1.6 million to the city of Glenwood Springs to invest in workforce housing through a 2.5% lodging tax increase. That funding is aimed to use an assortment of different ways to provide housing including utilizing hotel conversions and accessory dwelling units. 

“The only surprise is the fairly close margin compared to similar ballot issues in other municipalities, indicating the lack of trust in Glenwood Springs City Council to effectively administer this housing proposal,” said Zac Parsons, a member of the opposing group Citizens Concerned About City Council. “We will be watching closely to see whether the city government responsibly handles this increase to their already record tax revenues.”

Council Member Tony Hershey said the vote shows a community willing to take a leap of faith, and hoped that it would be managed respectfully and wisely.

“The people of Glenwood Springs have put a great deal of faith in the Glenwood Springs City Council,” Hershey said. “I hope they can fulfill their trust.”

Mayor Jonathan Godes said the vote shows the community recognizes the importance of taking action to help make housing more attainable for residents.

“The people have spoken and have said that in order for our economy, and the city to thrive, we need a workforce housing program,” said Mayor Jonathan Godes. “Tonight the community voted to preserve the diversity and vibrancy that makes Glenwood a great place to live, work and run a business.”

Multiple studies conducted by the city of Glenwood Springs have found that more than a quarter of homeowners and more than half of the city’s renters are cost burdened or paying more than a third of their income on housing. 

“Our community gets it,” Anderson said. “People know housing is a critical challenge, they just needed to understand how 2C can help. We were lucky to have an amazing group of people working to inform voters — knocking on doors, visiting with businesses, talking with community groups — and get the word out. It was truly a big tent and team effort.”

With the local median income at $70,700 for a two-person household and $88,300 for a four-person household, an affordable home for a family of four making the area’s median income would be $298,000 to purchase and about $2,200 a month to rent, according to the ballot question fact sheet. 

“I think this is a big win for the Glenwood Springs workforce. It couldn’t be any more important for the people,” Gould said. “Our committee got it done and I’m thrilled with the hard work.” 

The average sales price of a single-family home in Glenwood Springs last year was $769,000, and the average sales price for a condo in the city last year was $401,500. The typical rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Glenwood Springs ranged from $1,900 to $2,700, but vacancy rates remain at all-time lows, according to the sheet. 

“It’s clear that our community wants action,” Anderson said. “Now we’ll have the resources and capacity, so we need to act. Our community deserves results.”

Colorado ballot issues roundup: Voters vote on property tax extension and healthy school lunches, split on magic mushrooms, changes to liquor laws

Amendment D (Judges in new 23rd Judicial District)

Early election results Tuesday showed Coloradans voting in favor of a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would allow seven judges to move from one Front Range judicial district to a neighboring district.

About 68% of votes tallied by 9 p.m. Tuesday were in favor of the amendment, with about 32% voting against, according to unofficial results from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.

If approved by 55% of voters statewide, the amendment creates a one-time exception to the constitutional process of appointing judges in order to let seven judges who are currently working in the 18th Judicial District keep their jobs and continue working when the district is split in two in 2025. – The Denver Post

Amendment E (Property tax extension for qualifying seniors and disabled vets)

Colorado voters showed strong support Tuesday for a proposed amendment to the state’s Constitution that would extend an existing property tax exemption to the spouses of servicemembers who died in the line of duty or from a service-related injury or illness.

About 88% of the votes tallied by 9 p.m. Tuesday were in favor of the amendment, with about 12% voting against, according to unofficial results from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. About a 1.5 million votes had been tallied by 9 p.m.

If approved by 55% of voters statewide, the constitutional amendment would exempt Gold Star spouses from 50% of property taxes on the first $200,000 of a qualifying resident’s home value. A home valued at $150,000, for example, would be taxed as if it were worth $75,000 under the exemption.

According to the state blue book, approximately 490 Coloradans would become eligible for the exemption next year should it be extended. – The Denver Post

Amendment F (Charitable gaming activities)

So far, voters in Colorado aren’t in favor of Amendment F, a measure that opens up bingo and raffle games for charitable purposes to newer nonprofits.

More voters are against the initiative, with 61% of the votes — or 890,403 votes — at 8:34 p.m. MST, according to unofficial results posted on the Colorado Secretary of State’s website.

Nonprofits must operate for five years before they can apply for bingo-raffle licenses of their own. With the measure in place, that time frame would shrink to three years — with the added ability to pay an employee working the game up to minimum wage. — The Denver Post

Proposition FF (Healthy school lunches)

Colorado voters are in favor of Proposition FF so far, which would provide the state’s students with free school meals — no matter their families’ incomes. With tax deduction limits in place, the price tag would fall on wealthy Coloradans.

About 55% of voters back the measure, with 870,388 votes, as of 9:01 p.m. MST, according to unofficial results on the Colorado Secretary of State’s website.

The initiative would establish and fund the Healthy School Meals for All Program. It would boost taxes for households with incomes higher than $300,000 by curbing state income tax deductions. The move would impact about 114,000 joint and single-filer tax returns, or about 5% of those filed in Colorado. – The Denver Post

Proposition GG (Decease state income tax rates)

Proposition GG, which sought to place more detailed tax information tables directly on petitions and ballots for citizen-initiated measures, maintained a solid lead and is expected to pass.

There were 1,073,290 votes in favor of the measure and 443,046 against as of 8:45 p.m.  Democrats in the Colorado legislature referred the measure via the passage of Senate Bill 222, which Republicans opposed. Supporters went that route because Gov. Jared Polis has voiced opposition to legislative measures that would change ballot language on citizens’ initiatives.

The measure had no impact on tax rates and the information was already calculated and reported in the state’s ballot book. What it sought was to include that tax table with any measures that changed tax rates. Before and after changes in average taxes across eight different income brackets were shown. – The Denver Post

Proposition 121 (Reducing state income tax to 4.4%)

A measure to cut Colorado’s state income tax rate from 4.55% to 4.4% for both individuals and corporations starting with the 2022 tax year was coasting to victory by a nearly two-to-one margin Tuesday night.

Colorado Proposition 121 had received 1,020,451 votes for and 545,697 against as of 9:10 p.m. It follows a 2020 ballot measure that cut the state income tax rate from 4.63% to 4.55%.

The measure will reduce the money the state collected for its general fund by $412.6 million in the budget year 2023-2024, which represents a 2.4% reduction to the general fund. About 68.4% of the general fund last year came from the $10.7 billion the state collected in income taxes. – The Denver Post

Proposition 122 (Magic mushrooms)

Colorado voters were split on a measure to legalize medicinal psychedelics while ballots were still being counted Tuesday night.

Proposition 122, Access to Natural Psychedelic Substances, was supported Tuesday with about 51% of the vote as of 9:19 p.m., according to polling tallies. That’s with about 44% of votes tallied, according to the Secretary of State, making the vote too close to call by press time.

The measure seeks to legalize psilocybin and psilocin, two compounds found in “magic mushrooms,” for use in therapeutic settings and pave the way for the establishment of “healing centers” where adults 21 years old and up can use the substances under the supervision of licensed professionals.

Additionally, Proposition 122 would decriminalize the personal growing, use and sharing of psilocybin and psilocin, as well as ibogaine, mescaline and dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, for adults. – The Denver Post

Proposition 123 (Earmark state tax revenue surplus for affordable housing)

A ballot measure to redirect 0.1% of state income tax revenues toward a range of affordable housing efforts maintained a small lead Tuesday night but has seen its margin of support shrink as more votes are counted.

Proposition 123, a citizens’ initiative, had 780,297 votes in favor and 751,985 opposed, which works out to 51% for and 49% against as of 8:42 p.m. The proposal seeks to generate $145 million in the 2022-23 state budget and $290 million in the following year to provide funding for downpayment assistance, homelessness prevention, and eviction defense as well as to support land purchases for affordable housing developments. Tenants in those taxpayer-funded projects would receive a share of the profits coming from the development. – The Denver Post

Proposition 124 (More liquor licenses for retail liquor stores)

A statewide measure to allow Colorado liquor license holders the ability to expand the number of storefronts they can operate was trailing Tuesday night after the initial batches of vote were counted.

More than 1.1 million votes had been tabulated as of 8 p.m. — with 61% of voters rejecting Proposition 124, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. Nearly 39% of ballots have been cast favoring the measure.

Current law says stores can have three locations. Proposition 124 would expand that to eight by 2026 and eventually end the limit altogether in 2037. – The Denver Post

Proposition 125 (Wine in liquor stores)

A vote to allow Colorado grocery and convenience stores the ability to sell wine was nearly even as the state counted ballots Tuesday evening.

Those in favor of Proposition 125 accounted for 50.1% of the more than 1.1 million votes counted as of 7:56 p.m., according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. Voters deciding against the measure accounted for 49.90%.

Under Proposition 125, any store that already can sell beer (or other malt beverages such as hard seltzer or lemonade) would be allowed in March to start selling wine. That would mean grocery stores such as King Soopers and Safeway — which can only sell beer now — would be able to stock their shelves with whites, reds and rosés.

Colorado law currently only permits stores with a broader liquor license to sell wine and other vinous liquors (wine coolers, sake, cider and mead). – The Denver Post

Proposition 126 (Third-party delivery of alcohol sales)

Proposition 126, which would amend the Colorado Liquor Code to allow home alcohol delivery from third-party services, was leading by nearly 100,000 votes as of 9:30 p.m.

“The delivery has to be from a licensed retailer, and the driver must be at least 21, but it could arrive on your doorstep through a third-party service like Grubhub,” 9 News reports. “It also would make permanent the current ability — set to expire in 2025 — for bars and restaurants to sell takeout and delivery alcoholic beverages.”

The effort saw opposition from a group of stand-alone liquor stores which said they would be crippled by the legislation.

A late tally of votes saw 870,052 voters in favor of the legislation and 772,993 against.

Carbondale vacation rentals tax for workforce housing passes easily

A question before Carbondale voters in Tuesday’s election to impose a 6% excise tax on short-term vacation rentals to bolster the town’s affordable housing funds passed easily.

Partial unofficial election results reported by the Garfield County Clerk and Recorder’s Office on Tuesday night had the measure passing with more than 72% of town voters in favor.

“This is our first dedicated source of revenue for affordable housing and was kind of our first look at some of the options to begin to really address that,” Mayor Ben Bohmfalk said. “We’re really thrilled that the community supported it.” 

The town’s Board of Trustees earlier this year heard from a group of residents that wanted the town to both regulate short-term rentals (STRs) and impose a tax on them, for fear that STRs were cutting into the available long-term housing market.

Trustees had considered both a new tax on STRs and an increase in the existing lodging tax but settled on the STR tax alone.

“STRs, because they are not classified as commercial properties like hotels, are not taxed at the higher rate,” Bohmfalk said. “This was also a way to level the playing field a little bit.”

Homeowners who rent out all or a portion of their homes for vacation stays are now required by the town to obtain a special license to do so.

Carbondale has been looking at ways to address the increasing demand for more workforce housing. The new STR tax was seen as one small step toward that effort.

The tax is only expected to bring in about $150,000 a year given the current number of licensed STRs. So, the new tax alone won’t make a huge dent, Bohmfalk said.

Instead, he said it’s extra money in the bank to leverage state and federal grant possibilities and look at programs such as buy-downs and single-home purchases to add to the town’s deed-restricted housing stock.   

The STR tax was also seen as a way to address the issue without impacting local taxpayers directly since it’s paid by the vacationers who rent the properties.

The excise tax will be on top of the town’s lodging and regular sales taxes, which are also imposed on vacation rentals.

The trustees have been having regular monthly meetings to talk about next steps in tackling the housing shortage. A big part of that is expected to be the development of the town-owned Town Center parcels along Colorado Avenue across from the Carbondale Recreation Center, a proposal for which is forthcoming.

Midterm voters to take on Colorado’s soaring housing costs

DENVER (AP) — Bloated housing prices in the past few years have crept into every corner of Colorado. In Rocky Mountain resort towns, wealthy newcomers gobble up the dwindling housing supply. In Denver, tenants owe an estimated $32 million in back rent. And in mobile home parks, the state’s last bastions of affordability, out-of-state investors are buying the land and hiking up lease prices.

Fed-up Coloradans have taken the crisis into their own hands and will vote Tuesday on a host of local and statewide ballot measures intended to rein in the soaring cost of housing.

The U.S. Census Bureau found that over half of all Colorado tenants are considered rent burdened, spending more than 30% of their income on rent in 2020. Colorado housing prices rank among the nation’s highest when accounting for how much its residents earn. The Denver metropolitan area alone saw home prices shoot up by 35% over the past two years, which was a larger increase than those in New York City and San Francisco, according to data from the real estate company Redfin.

Tyler Randolph, an eighth grade teacher in Denver, said that if an affordable housing solution isn’t coming from those he elected, “it has to come from somewhere else.” He voted for Proposition 123, a statewide measure that would direct an estimated $300 million in state tax revenue to low-cost housing each year. It’s the only statewide affordable housing measure in the country that will be decided in Tuesday’s midterm election.

Voters in at least 13 Colorado communities or counties are considering measures that would increase taxes on short-term rentals such as those booked through Airbnb and Vrbo or redirect existing taxes on them to help toward housing costs, at least partly.

In Colorado’s largest city, Denver, residents are considering levying a fee on most landlords that would bankroll attorneys for tenants facing eviction, which would expand free representation that lower-income renters can already receive.

The housing referendums arrive as the last dregs of pandemic-era rental assistance that acted as a bulwark against eviction for tens of thousands of Coloradans disappear.

“People are struggling with dire need and the immediacy of displacement, of gentrification, of the high cost of living,” said Zach Neumann, executive director of Colorado’s COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, which has endorsed the statewide ballot measure. “They are saying: ‘What can I do right now in my community to address the real consequences of that?’”

On Tuesday, Edna W. Williams, 91, stood behind her screen door speaking to a cheerful canvasser trying to persuade her to vote for the ballot measure. Formerly a nurse in senior care, Williams told the canvassers that she’s watched the inexorable rise in rents push older folks reliant on fixed Social Security incomes out of their homes. She said she supports the initiative so that struggling seniors “can die knowing that people cared enough.”

The statewide proposition wouldn’t raise taxes, but it would eat into a tax refund Coloradans receive every year under a constitutional amendment called the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Opponents say the proposition would take too big of a cut out of the popular TABOR checks.

The state should cull burdensome building regulations and fees instead of chipping away at Coloradans’ refunds, said Michael Fields, senior adviser for a conservative advocacy group called Advance Colorado Action that opposes the measure.

“The whole market is out of whack,” Fields said. “We have to build more, not tax more.”

The Denver measure would force most of the city’s landlords to pay $75 annually to fund lawyers for every tenant facing eviction. Backers of the measure say it would help with disproportionate representation in the courtroom.

Between July 2017 and June 2021, Colorado landlords had legal council in 77% of eviction cases while renters were represented in only 1.3%, according to an analysis by Enterprise, a national affordable housing organization.

Tenants without representation were less likely to come to an agreement with their landlord and more likely to be forced out, the report found.

The Denver Metro Chamber of Congress opposes the measure, arguing that the fees will be passed along to the tenants in the form of higher rents. Adam Burg, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs, argued that the existing protections for low- and moderate-income tenants, along with nonprofits offering legal council, are enough.

West of Denver, between the crags of the Rocky Mountains, at least 13 communities or counties have ballot measures that would increase taxes on short-term rentals or redirect existing taxes on them to, in part, help toward housing costs.

When asked about the measures, Tom Martinelli, Airbnb’s senior public policy manager, said, “experts agree the affordable housing issue in communities across the U.S. can be boiled down to simply not building enough affordable housing.”

Martinelli added that Airbnb supports Colorado’s statewide housing ballot measure.

The sweeping movement to raise taxes on short-term rentals seeks to counter dramatic shifts in the housing market brought on partly by the pandemic’s remote-work revolution. In six popular Rocky Mountain counties, a wave of pandemic-era newcomers — most making more than $150,000 a year — outbid locals in a record frenzy over scarce homes, according to a survey from the Colorado Association of Ski Towns.

In one of the counties, Pitkin County, the city of Aspen saw median home values spike by nearly $1 million since the start of the pandemic, according data from Zillow. Bedroom communities in neighboring Eagle and Garfield counties saw similar percentage housing cost increases.

City Councilmember Rachel Richards said the high costs have throttled Aspen’s most basic services. Faced with a critically undersized police force over the summer, the city purchased two condominiums for $1 million each in order to entice two more officers to join the force, she said.

In response to the crisis, the City Council added a ballot initiative that would raise taxes by 5% to 10% on short-term rentals based on whether the units are owner-occupied. Slightly more than two-thirds of that revenue would go toward affordable housing projects in the community. Neighboring Carbondale and Glenwood Springs are also seeking tax increases on lodging and short-term vacation rentals to try to address workforce housing needs.

“You have to participate in your own rescue,” said Richards.

Ben Wolff, general manager of Frias Properties of Aspen, a company that manages short-term rentals, worries that a hike in taxes would impede the resort city’s ability to lure vacationers. His organization instead proposes a lower tax across all sectors of the economy.

“It’s the right problem but the wrong solution,” Wolff said.


Jesse Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Silt seeks to change three parts of its home rule charter via Nov. 8 ballot question

An effort that would continue coordinated elections with Garfield County while still allowing Silt the ability to hold its own elections, if it chooses, is a question going before town voters on the Nov. 8 ballot.

According to a Silt news release, local town voters will be asked if they would like to change three parts of Silt’s Home Rule Charter regarding its town elections.

“The town of Silt Town Clerk would still play a key role in the election process by providing ballot content and following the guidelines as provided for in the election laws of the state,” the release states. “The county would take on the responsibility of including our candidates/questions on the ballot, mailing out ballots and TABOR notices and counting and tabulating results of those ballots returned.”

Many town/cities throughout the state have been making this same change to coordinate local elections through their counties, the release states. Some of the benefits from this change would include:

  • A reduction in the overall cost to the town of Silt since the county will already be holding an election;
  • Less in-house town staff time required as the county already has an election team that’s well-versed in the process;
  • A more streamlined process with the use of the county’s voting machines, judges and staff members who do elections on a continuous basis; and,
  • A potential overall increase in voter turnout which has been a struggle for many years in Silt. The thought is that people would be more engaged in voting on Silt questions if there are other issues of interest on the same ballot.

In addition, “The terms for the Mayor and Trustees which currently end in April of 2024 and 2026 would be extended and staggered to match the new election date in November of odd-numbered years beginning in 2025 and 2027 based on the end of each member’s term,” the release states.

Ballot debate pits hope against skepticism over workforce housing proposal in Glenwood Springs

The proposed 2.5% lodging tax to help workforce housing, or ballot issue 2C, was debated at Wednesday’s Glenwood Springs Issues and Answers Forum with the opposed party being Citizens Concerned about City Council (CCCC).

Clark Anderson — the head of the Glenwood Springs Ad Hoc Housing Committee that conducted months of community outreach and research to create solutions for workforce housing — spoke in favor of the measure, while Zac Parsons was opposed, representing CCCC.  

Anderson opened with how the rising cost of housing has impacted the ability for the local community and workforce to live in Glenwood Springs.  

“Ultimately, it’s hurting the fabric of our community; 2C provides us as a community of Glenwood Springs with an opportunity to create much needed resources to really begin tackling this issue,” he said. “2C provides us with a practical and proven solution.”

If approved by voters this fall, the ballot measure will add a 2.5% tax to all short-term lodging in Glenwood Springs and generate an estimated $1.5 million to assist in creating and assisting in workforce housing for people who live or work in Glenwood Springs. 

Parsons said, repeatedly, that Glenwood Springs City Council should not be trusted with additional money, and the measure would increase control over private-sector industries, like housing, though city council would ultimately not be the ones to decide how the money is spent. 

That would be decided by the independent board. Who decides the board members is not decided yet. 

“We have to make sure, as a town, we’re holding our elected officials accountable and, in particular, our members of city council accountable; and, the way to do that is to make sure that we’re not giving them blank checks,” Parsons said.

Clark responded by listing multiple checks and balances put in place for why the city council would be held accountable each step along the way and would not be “handed a blank check.

“I think it’s useful to take a look at the implementing ordinance that provides a lot of accountability measures,” he said. “It lays out a lot of these important points.”

Zac Parsons, Citizens Concerned About City Council, addresses Ballot Issue 2C Accommodations Tax at the Issues and Answers Forum at Glenwood Springs City Hall.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

It provides safeguards like establishing a distinct seven-member board, independent from council, to oversee the investments, Clark said. It explicitly says that the funds can only be used for direct program costs, and it explains that there will be annual audits, along with a 20-year sunset, and the expenditures that will be posted online each year for public review

The funding can only be used for Glenwood Springs’ workforce, people who work in local Glenwood businesses, and the funding cannot be moved to any other part of the budget.

“At the end of the day, we are going to be able to, as a community, hold our council members accountable to everything they do,” Clark said. “This is not about the council today; this is about solving long term challenges for our community and creating the resources we need to do that.”

One main concern from Parsons is fear of council creating expensive new city jobs and funding studies with the money instead of spending it on assisting in workforce housing.

“The city is basically going to go out and hire somebody else, pay for another massive study, and, at the end of the day, we’re gonna see $1.5 million basically turn into $600,000 because the city is going to waste half of it,” he said. 

He also pointed out concern for people who move into local hotels and motels during off season or short term having to pay the extra lodging tax, though the ballot measure states that the tax will only be placed on short term lodging less than 30 days. 

“They’re using that or short-term housing in order to get by, but now we’re going to tax them in addition, just to pay for their own housing?” Parsons said. 

Much of the research for spending options has already been conducted, and the independent, seven-person board would be in charge of making decisions in place of hiring a new, singular position through the city. Numerous hotels and motels were included in the research conducted for setting the ballot measure. There are members of the industry who are concerned that it will hurt tourism, but, as Clark reminded Parsons, there will be no tourism with no workforce.

“It’s been used in other communities and can be used effectively here to invest in sensible strategies like motel conversions or incentives for accessory dwelling units or gap financing for workforce-housing projects or down-payment assistance,” Clark said.

Growth would be the highest concern for many residents, and that would be one of his strong suits working as a professional for Community Builders, a company that studies community growth and ways to continue growth sustainably. 

Instead of fueling rapid growth, 2C could help to create a more sustainable future while maintaining a community, he said.

“What this will do is give our community more control over the growth that’s going to happen, so that, when future development comes, we are better able and better prepared to influence how that development occurs and to ensure that more of it is actually affordable to the people who work in our community,” he said. 

For Parsons, however, there’s little reason to have faith that local policy makers will be able to improve Glenwood Springs’ housing crunch when so many at the national and state levels have yet to figure it out, he said.

“All of those people are a billion times smarter than the current city council that we have, and they’re not able to solve the problem yet,” he said. “It’s because it’s a difficult problem to solve. Throwing $1.5 million at it isn’t going to do anything.”

For questions about the Workforce Housing Fund and the city’s workforce housing program, please contact Hannah Klausman at hannah.klausman@cogs.us.

Live starting at 5:30 p.m.: 2022 Issues and Answers Forum

Wednesday, October 5, 5:30 p.m.

The forum features candidates and speakers for Ballot Measure 2C, Garfield County Commissioner, House District 57, House District 8, Garfield County Treasurer, Garfield County Clerk and is presented by the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, Glenwood Springs Post Independent and Colorado West Broadcasting (KMTS). 

Garfield County commissioner candidates talk distinctions, approach to housing needs at Realtors’ forum

The race for the Garfield County District 1 Commissioner seat in next month’s election pits executive experience against an engineers’ problem-solving mindset, in the words of the two candidates vying for the position.

Democrat Ryan Gordon is challenging Republican incumbent Tom Jankovsky for commissioner in the Nov. 8 election, for which ballots are to be sent to registered county voters on Oct. 17.

As a practicing civil engineer and partner in the longtime engineering firm of SGM in Glenwood Springs, Gordon said he hopes to bring his engineering mentality to the job of county commissioner.

“Engineers, for better or worse, we’re problem-solvers,” he said during the Sept. 28 Glenwood Springs Association of Realtors candidates forum at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.

“We’re problem-solvers, and we’re very practical and pragmatic,” said the Glenwood Springs native, who currently is town engineer for Snowmass Village, water engineer for the town of Minturn and was previously town engineer for Parachute.

“I want to bring that mentality to the commissioners’ role,” he said. “Whenever we do projects, one of the first things we do is involve all the stakeholders and talk to everybody who is being affected.

“I really think we need to do that extensively at the county level because our problems are pretty complex and challenging, and they generally need a regional solution,” he said. “That spirit of cooperation and collaboration must be how we move forward and resolve a lot of our issues.”

Jankovsky, who is seeking a fourth term as commissioner, touts his longtime business experience as the former general manager and part owner of Sunlight Mountain Resort and his volunteer work with the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association and Colorado Ski Country USA. 

“What differentiates the two of us is experience, (especially) executive experience and administrative experience,” he said. “I have a lot of executive experience and a lot of public service experience. … You also know who I am, and that I have common sense.”

Both candidates said their attributes can be applied to one of the key issues in the campaign, and the one that happened to dominate questioning from the Realtors’ group — housing availability and affordability.

“When people talk about economic development, housing is our number one concern,” Jankovsky said. “If we can’t house employees, we’re not going to grow.”

Building more types of housing in the county, especially within District 1, which takes in Carbondale and much of Glenwood Springs, will require all sectors to be involved, he said.

That means the private sector, in addition to government and nonprofit agencies, he said.

“The private sector is still going to play the biggest part in that,” Jankovsky said.

Garfield County commissioner candidate Ryan Gordon speaks at a recent candidates forum at the Glenwood Springs Community Center. Gordon is running as Democrat for Garfield County commissioner against incumbent Republican Tom Jankovsky.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

But, Gordon criticized the current Board of County Commissioners for not immediately joining the new Roaring Fork Housing Coalition, which aims to join forces between area governments and other partner organizations to develop more affordable housing in the region.

“This must be a regional solution, and we must all work together,” he said. “I feel we should have taken the first step and be the leaders out there. One of the ways we can work to address affordable housing is being the leaders and stepping up and showing that we care and want to do something.”

Jankovsky noted that he was out-voted 2-1 on the Commission on the question of whether to join the Housing Coalition and provide $10,000 in seed money.

He does have concerns about the regional approach, and that the coalition seems weighted toward Aspen and Pitkin County interests.

“It doesn’t include anything west of Glenwood Springs,” Jankovsky said, offering that New Castle, Silt, Rifle and Parachute should be involved if it’s to be a true regional effort.  

Gordon said he supports Glenwood Springs ballot question 2C that’s also on the Nov. 8 ballot, which would increase the city’s accommodations (lodging) tax by 2.5% to help fund affordable housing efforts.

But, it’s just a drop in the bucket in terms of addressing the broader problem, he said.

“Glenwood alone is not going to solve this because it’s an issue that is affecting everyone from Aspen to Parachute,” Gordon said. “We have to be really creative in how we address affordable housing … and to turn over every stone for how we raise money to do that.” 

Jankovsky said he is neutral on the city ballot question and a similar question before Carbondale voters to tax short-term vacation rentals, also to address affordable housing needs.

However, “I am kind of leaning in support,” he admitted.

“It’s a tax that doesn’t affect the residents of Glenwood Springs, and it will generate funds that are available for affordable and attainable housing,” Jankovsky said. 

Statewide, Proposition 123 on the fall ballot, which would take some dollars out of Colorado’s TABOR refund pool and put it into local grants for affordable housing projects, also has some merit and could bolster those efforts in Garfield County, he said.

Gordon said the county should be careful in allowing developers to transfer their 10% requirement for inclusionary (deed-restricted) housing units to other entities, as happened recently with an Oak Meadows subdivision developer that plans to pay Habitat for Humanity to build those units elsewhere in the county.

“It’s important that we hold land developers’ feet to the fire on this,” Gordon said. “It’s a slippery slope to start to defer that requirement to others.”

Jankovsky said it made sense in that particular case because Oak Meadows and many other rural residential subdivisions are often too far removed from other public services, such as transportation, to work well for residents of affordable housing.

The county commissioner candidates, along with candidates for county clerk and recorder and treasurer, Colorado House District 57 and Senate District 8, meet again at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday for the Glenwood Springs Issues and Answers Forum.

If you go…

What: Issues and Answers Forum, presented by the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, Glenwood Springs Post Independent and Colorado West Broadcasting (KMTS). 

When: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 5

Where: Glenwood Springs City Hall, 101 W. Eighth St.; virtual attendance also offered

Garfield County Treasurer incumbent Carrie Couey speaks alongside challenger Aron Diaz during a candidates forum at the Glenwood Springs Community Center on Sept. 28.

Who: 

  • Elizabeth Velasco and Perry Will, candidates for Colorado House of Representative District 57
  • Dylan Roberts and Matt Solomon, candidates for Colorado Senate District 8
  • Ryan Gordon and Tom Jankovsky, candidates for Garfield County Board of Commissioners District 1
  • Jackie Harmon and Becky Moller, candidates for Garfield County Clerk and Recorder
  • Carrie Couey and Aron Diaz, candidates for Garfield County Treasurer
  • Representatives for and against Glenwood Springs Ballot Issue 2C, “Accommodations Tax for Workforce Housing.”

 Note: Questions are being prepared in advance by a media panel to avoid duplication and to ensure that a wide variety of topics are addressed. Questions will not be taken from the audience during the event.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

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.