Town Council

Telluride Mayor DeLanie Young appears onscreen at Tuesday’s special Town Council meeting held via Zoom. (Photo by Suzanne Cheavens/Telluride Daily Planet)

In its special meeting Tuesday, Telluride Town Council took steps to further research the feasibility of an informational booth that would be established just west of town off the Spur. Should it become reality, it would be located at the turnout used by Telluride Bluegrass Festival for its barricade. 

Council directed town manager Ross Herzog and staff to provide information such as potential costs (such as a tent and staff t-shirts), hours of operation, and staffing and scheduling. Staff was also asked to reach out to other communities that have similar facilities and to approach San Miguel County’s public health director, Grace Franklin, with questions regarding potentially taking visitors’ temperatures and asking about travel itineraries.

The decision to look into researching the particulars of a COVID-19-related information booth specifically for those visiting town was not supported by all on council. Council member Tom Watkinson was blunt in his disagreement with the direction.

“This is the most ridiculous conversation,” he said. “It’s a waste of time.”

Council member Geneva Shaunette countered, “It’s not a waste of time. It’s for the public safety of the community.”

Tuesday’s work session was focused on three areas: education, enforcement and the information booth. Driven by council member Jessie Rae Arguelles to have yesterday’s special meeting, the topics stemmed from concerns fielded by many on council that this summer’s number of visitors — mostly those visiting for just a day — did not seem to take the public health orders seriously. 

“Telluride is a mecca,” Arguelles said. “It’s where people want to be.”

Council member and mayor pro tem, Todd Brown, urged council to explore ways of increasing educational opportunities for those visiting from places where pandemic health guidelines might be more relaxed.

“I’d like to push us toward education,” Brown said. “ … in a Telluride manner to remind people to wear a mask and maintain a safe distance.”

Referencing feedback she and other council members have received from residents — particularly those working on the front lines of the tourist economy — about Telluride’s ability to attract visitors despite a summer without festivals, council member Geneva Shaunette noted that living during a pandemic was new for everyone, including for government officials.

“No one has been trained for this,” she said. “The most scary part for most people is the amount of bodies coming into town every day.”

Shaunette added that, depending on the metrics that reflect the number of cases and other factors the county uses to assess public health orders, town may want to “regulate how many people we allow in town. How much is going to be too much?”

The topic of quarantining visitors, or even locals who leave town for extended periods, was dismissed as unwieldy, as the manpower associated with tracking those on quarantine would be significant.

“I don’t think we’ve got those resources,” Brown said. “It’s just not feasible.”

Watkinson agreed.

“We can’t even enforce facemasks,” he said. “How can we enforce quarantine?”

Council spent time discussing hiring a street team, a contingent of trained, paid ambassadors that could potentially serve as a bridge between educating the public and calling for law enforcement presence should a situation become confrontational. There have been numerous reports of visitors verbally assaulting retail or restaurant workers when asked to abide by local and state public health orders requiring face coverings in public spaces and on public transportation.

Both Watkinson and council member Lars Carlson were skeptical about the length of time it would take to recruit, hire and train a team before the season winds down. Watkinson said he believed the job was that of the Telluride Marshal’s Department.

“Step out of the vehicle and walk Main Street,” he said. “They have the employees that can fulfill those duties.”

Carlson concurred.

“It’s too late in the summer to hire someone to go around and patrol,” he said. “Everyone’s going home as of August 10. I think we’re doing a fairly effective job (of educating visitors).”

Brown disagreed saying, “It’s not too late,” and reminded council that Tri-County Health Network’s volunteer pool was a good place to start looking for “part-time seasonal educators.”

Though the town is currently in a Phase 3 financial management plan, a plan that calls for spending cuts and implementing a hiring freeze, there could be funding available should an ambassador street team — or any costs associated with an information booth — come to fruition. Town finance director, Kailey Ranta reported that this year so far, Real Estate Transfer Tax collections have already exceeded the figure budgeted for 2020 by approximately $280,000. And while RETT monies are directed to the capital fund, a mid-year budget adjustment in August could transfer a portion of RETT into the general fund.

An informational booth, Shaunette said, would help impart the gravity of the pandemic to visitors.

“If nothing else, it sends a message we’re serious about our public health orders,” she said.

Though not as a unanimous voice, council directed staff to prepare material for further discussion on the information booth for next Tuesday’s meeting.

And, in regards to enforcement, Mayor DeLanie Young clarified that while council explores a street team as well as an information booth, she told Chief Marshal Josh Comte that the majority of council supports seeing local law enforcement issue citations for violating public health orders.

“Don’t necessarily shy away from that,” Young said.

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