Voters OK senior center restoration, hospital expansion
In a decision that will affect western Garfield County families for years to come, voters elected to keep one of the staples of its community, approving of the $89.4 million bond measure to replace Rifle’s E. Dene Moore Care Center and expand Grand River Hospital.
Garfield County voters approved the project with nearly 67 percent, 3,278 in favor to 1,652 against, according to Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ coordinated Colorado election results.
At 50 years old, the E. Dene Moore Care Center needed help, advocates said, or Rifle would soon lose its senior care facility.
Rifle’s E. Dene Moore Care Center will be torn down and rebuilt, expanding its services and providing western Garfield County families with a brand new facility for years to come.
“I’m really proud to be part of a community that wants to take care of its own,” said Grand River CEO Jim Coombs. “This means a lot to the future of Garfield County and Rifle.”
While the construction timeline has not been finalized, Coombs confirmed that architects were already on site on Wednesday. His best guess was it would be at least two-and-a-half years until the project is completed. The tentative plan will see a wing of the new care center built first. There, current residents of the care center will be moved so that the old building can be torn down and rebuilt. Coombs confirmed that there will be enough room in the first wing of the new center to accommodate the existing residents.
“From residents’ perspective, they will be able to watch as their home is built everyday,” he said.
The next phase will see a new center built at the old site, which will include new services such as a memory care area and transitional care for long-term patients.
The 1967 senior center is plagued by obsolete plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling systems and had not received additional support from taxpayers since the original mill levy, Angie Densley, director of nurses at the center, told the Post Independent.
“We’ve reached the limitation of the building,” she added.
While the Rifle Chamber of Commerce hopes to see local contractors used for the project, the replacement care center will protect 86 jobs and create 200 more local ones, supporters said.
Coombs confirmed that the hospital will continue to emphasize using local contractors and one of the first orders of business will be finding a contractor.
“We will begin going through the bidding process,” he said. “We had to wait for it to pass first.”
A new local care center will allow seniors to be cared for alongside their families as it will result in 200 more patients a year and will double the number of beds, from 50 to 90-100.
Four of five prospective patients are currently being turned away due to a lack of space, according to information from election advocacy group Keep Care Local.
Each resident of the new center will have an individual room with a window.
While the senior center renovation remains the larger piece of the overall project, an expansion to Grand River Hospital will better accommodate the growing demands of a population that has grown by nearly three times from 1980 to 2010.
The expansion will increase the number of beds from 12 to 25 and will address critical improvements to its facilities, including additional intensive care unit beds, more inpatient rooms and additional space to provide chemotherapy, cardiac rehab, cancer support, lab work and diagnostic imaging, states information from Keep Care Local.
The estimated tax impact of the proposed $89.4 million bond measure will be $2.83 per month per $100,000 of a home’s assessed value. The term of the bond would be 20 years, with the repayment plus interest totaling $154 million. The supporting mill levy would cease to exist once the bond is paid.
Museum Tax Tanks
Garfield County reports that voters did not approve of a property tax increase to help the county’s historical societies as the final vote was reported to be 5,217 in favor, with 6,347 against.
The property tax was proposed to support seven historical societies that fear for their future without the stable revenue. A coalition of historical societies and museums approached the Garfield County commissioners in July to put the measure on the ballot. Each of the commissioners expressed support for the tax proposal, though they doubted its chances with tax-weary voters.
The county commissioners’ support, while only made in side comments rather than a formal endorsement by the board, was notable considering their usual stance on taxes. Commissioner John Martin, who’s been on the Board of County Commissioners for 20 years, had never before supported a tax increase. Commissioners also recommended that other jurisdictions considering asking for a tax increase, such as the Garfield County Library District, watch the museum tax for an understanding of voters’ feelings on tax increases.
The historical societies wanted to form an advisory board, rather than create a new taxing district, and wanted to leave decisions about how to spend the new tax revenue to commissioners. The historical societies hoped that being linked to the county’s reputation would help sway Garfield County voters.
Historical society leaders advocating for the tax proposal say their future is murky without the stable revenue it would have provided. They projected the property tax would have brought in about $1 million annually.
The historical societies’ tax would have started in 2018 and sunset in 2027. Residential property taxes would have increased by $3.24 per $100,000 of assessed property value, while commercial property would increase by $13.05 per $100,000.
CMC fails to receive new taxes
Colorado Mountain College’s attempt to offset state Gallagher Amendment restrictions failed on Tuesday as 53 percent of the voters said no to the ballot question.
In the six-county special college district, voters in Pitkin and Routt counties favored the measure, with voters in Garfield, Eagle, Summit and Lake counties against it by varying margins.
Meanwhile, in the only contested race for a CMC board seat, Peg Portscheller of Battlement Mesa was the voters’ choice over Rifle businessman and former mayor Randy Winkler. Based on the unofficial final vote as of Wednesday, Portschller won with 59 percent of the district-wide vote to Winkler’s 41 percent.
“CMC could not have lost in this board election,” Portscheller said. “Randy and I are both very passionate supporters of the college.
“I look forward to making contributions to the college that will set it on the path for the next 50 years,” she said in reference to CMC’s 50th anniversary celebrations this year.
Portscheller has worked in education for 47 years, including stints as superintendent of schools in Lake County and as a school administrator in Eagle County. She now owns an education consulting company, Pathways to Results.
As for the failed tax question, Portscheller said the college clearly has some work ahead to make the necessary adjustments amid a likely continued loss in revenues due to the Gallagher Amendment, and to possibly consider going to voters again in the future.
“I do think the ballot question was a brilliantly created approach to this challenge that we face, and I’m sad to see it go down,” Portscheller said.
“The fact that we are legally obligated to put forward ballot language with such technical terms, it’s just a hard message to put into simplistic terms,” she said. “I hope the board can look at what happened, and see if it’s something worth putting back before voters and do a better job of educating people to what it means.”
The Gallagher question wasn’t a tax increase, per se. It sought to give CMC trustees the ability to adjust the district’s mill levy in given years and avoid a reduction in property tax revenues. That happened this year with the first Gallagher adjustment to the residential assessment rate in a decade, resulting in a $3 million hit to the college budget.
Passed by state voters in 1982, Gallagher set the state property tax ratio at 55 percent for commercial property and 45 percent for residential. To maintain that ratio, the commercial assessment rate was set at a fixed 29 percent, and the residential rate is flexible, adjusting downward as property valuations increase.
Due to the population explosion on the Front Range and resulting inflation in residential valuations, the statewide residential assessment rate went from 7.96 percent to 7.2 percent this year. At the current rate, it’s expected to drop again in two years to around 6.2 percent.
“I’m proud that our trustees showed leadership and got out in front of this,” CMC President Carrie Besnette Hauser said. “I am disappointed that it didn’t pass. Part of what we do as a higher education institution is bring awareness to these issues.
“For now, we will try to look internally at everything we can do to make adjustments, but there is a real challenge for the college going forward,” she said.
In addition to the CMC board seat won by Portscheller, incumbent Charles Cunniffe of Pitkin County and former trustee Doris Dewton of Eagle County were elected to the board in uncontested races.
New Castle must wait for auto tax vote
In Garfield County’s most tightly contested vote, New Castle residents may have to wait until late November to find out if the town’s proposed car tax passed.
At a count of 438 in favor and 436 against on Wednesday, Garfield County Clerk Jean Alberico confirmed that the vote would require a recount — but just barely.
A recount becomes mandatory if the difference between the margin of victory divided by the winning number of votes is less than one half of 1 percent. Alberico said that if the margin had been three, a recount would not be needed.
However, she said she received as many as seven ballots with missing signatures or signature discrepancies. Those ballots will have to be confirmed through the “cure” process. Any voter who has a signature discrepancy or missing signature will be sent a letter from Garfield County. Voters have until 5 p.m. Nov. 15 to resolve the signature issue on their ballot. Failing to do so means the vote won’t be counted.
Alberico also said that an additional five ballots were not counted as part of the curing process. That is done to ensure that the public won’t able to determine how people with signature issues ultimately vote, since the names of people who receive letters are public record. All of that means that as many as 12 ballots may be added to the official count by next Thursday.
Alberico expects to have the unofficial final results posted by noon Nov. 16, and those numbers will determine if a recount is mandatory.
If the margin of victory divided by the greatest number of votes, yes or no, is less than one half of a percentage point then, New Castle voters will have to wait until after Thanksgiving to hear the final results.
Alberico expects the recount, if necessary, to take place during the final week of November.
The ballot question asked for a one-time, 3.5 percent use tax which would be collected when New Castle residents purchase a new or used vehicle that requires registration. New Castle, whose revenue from natural gas activity has dropped sharply in recent years, is the only Garfield County community that does not already collect this tax, which was projected to raise $330,000 annually for the town.
John Stroud and Ryan Summerlin contributed to this report.