With Election Day less than a week away, local citizens and public service hopefuls filled Rebekah Hall Wednesday evening for a candidates forum hosted by the Telluride Association of Realtors. While attendees submitted questions and candidates squared off on a variety of issues, the three candidates vying for two Town Council seats and the three candidates for mayor Telluride seized the chance to explain their visions for Telluride’s future.
The forum opened with representatives’ statements for two of the ballot measures. John Wontrobski, the president of the Library Board of Trustees, spoke in favor of Ballot Issues 6A, which asks voters to approve a .75 mill levy increase, which equates to $5.36 per $100,000 of assessed property value. Wontrobski explained the effects of the 1982 Gallagher Amendment, a piece of state legislation that has caused the library’s revenue to decrease steadily over time.
“Given the current structure of taxation at the state level, our funding is diminishing at a time when the cost of operating is increasing,” library director Sarah Landeryou added.
As measure 6A is a San Miguel County ballot issue, residents within the entire library district, which extends Down Valley to Placerville, Telluride and up to Lizard Head Pass, are eligible to vote on the measure.
Next up were local citizens Pepper Raper and Rosie Cusack, who spoke in favor of and against Ballot Issue 300, respectively. The measure proposes a 2.5 percent excise tax on short-term rentals, which would apply only to residential properties, not hotels or commercial properties. The funds raised from this measure would be applied toward the future creation of affordable housing for the local workforce.
“Ballot Issue 300 will provide Telluride with the necessary resources to start working towards solving the affordable housing crisis,” Raper said, citing Crested Butte’s two-year-old similar tax of 5 percent as an example of the ski town’s strategy for raising money for affordable housing without harming their tourist economy, according to her conversations with town officials there.
Cusack, however, while agreeing on the importance of creating more affordable housing, differed on the approach.
“We need a tax that’s more reliable and spread out, not just targeted in the Town of Telluride,” Cusack said, citing concern for visitors’ willingness to stay elsewhere in the area to avoid the tax.
Following the ballot issue discussions, the three Town Council candidates — Adrienne Christy, Lars Carlson and Luigi Chiarani — joined the panel.
The three candidates expressed many similar core values, including the ability to work together, the urgent need to address the workforce housing crisis and a reluctance to add more festival days to an already packed summer festival schedule. They each cited their years of experience as community members and contributing employees of the local workforce.
Carlson, the incumbent vying for re-election, summed up his attributes as a council member.
“I’m a good listener, a moderate, I look at issues from as many angles as possible, and I know the history of Telluride over the last 35 years here,” he said. “I’m experienced to handle the complex issues, especially with the last four years of being with a great group of people on Town Council.”
Chiarani, a year-round resident since 1987, stressed the importance of living and working among the hardworking residents of the southwest corner of town for the past 30 years.
“I’ve watched the children grow up, I’ve helped the residents cross the street, I’ve helped them carry their groceries,” he said. “They do everything from plow the snow to poach your eggs. I want to represent them.”
Christy, meanwhile, noted her history of involvement in local nonprofits and her work at Tri-County Health as a window into the needs of the community.
“I’ve built my career around service to the greater good,” Christy said. “Serving the underserved has always been a passion of mine, and I would like to add that as a member of Town Council.”
Lastly, the three candidates for mayor — DeLanie Young, David Oyster and current mayor Sean Murphy — took the stage to introduce their perspectives and field questions from each other and the audience. Personality differences were more evident as the mayoral candidates debated hot button issues.
When asked how they will be voting on Ballot Issue 300, arguably the most divisive issue on the ballot, candidates took a different approach.
Murphy answered decisively, “I plan to vote against it. The issue at heart, for me, is the inequity of taxing 14 percent of our gross domestic product here in order to fund something that really all of us should be paying for. I continue to favor a broad-based sales tax.”
Young responded in favor of the tax, stating, “I am voting for this. I have been asking for over a year-and-a-half for any kind of hard data from anyone that will show me that this will truly negatively affect the lodging economy, and I have yet to receive any hard facts from anyone.”
Oyster underscored the need to vote thoughtfully and not respond with knee-jerk emotion on the issue, stating that he had not yet decided how he would vote on the issue.
The candidates also discussed the need to explore various solutions for creating more affordable housing, including public-private partnerships, land banking and collaborating with other regional entities.
Before closing remarks, the mayoral candidates answered a final question from moderator Kate Wadley: Is recreational drug and alcohol use a problem for the community? All three candidates responded that it was, expressing their support for local mental health services and the need for multi-faceted solutions to support a healthy community.