election forum

From left, San Miguel County Commissioner Kris Holstrom; Lisa Eidsmo, a Tri-County Health Network community health worker; Telluride Fire Protection District Chief John Bennett; and Laura Ellison, fire district board president, during an election forum Tuesday night in Rebekah Hall. (Photo by Justin Criado/Telluride Daily Planet)

For voters in San Miguel County, the ballot for the upcoming midterm election can seem confusing, if not intimidating. The ticket is full of local measures that propose tax hikes in order to fund or maintain services such as 24-hour emergency services at the Telluride Regional Medical Center or provide more mental health resources.

The Progressive Women’s Caucus of the San Juans held an election forum Tuesday night in Rebekah Hall to hash out the many measures. Representatives from the Telluride Hospital District, Telluride School District, Telluride Fire Protection District (TFPD), San Miguel County Board of Commissioners, Town of Telluride and the county’s mental health field were on hand to explain their respective measures and answer questions. A smattering of people braved the wintry weather to attend in person. The event was also broadcast live on KOTO Radio.

Joan May, Progressive Women’s Caucus board member, explained the ballot measures are mostly a result of the Gallagher Amendment and Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which are both “designed to severely limit Colorado taxes.”

This has resulted in “each (special) district fighting for their piece of the ever-decreasing pie,” she added.

May said if all of the ballot measures pass, it would be an additional $55 per $100,000 of a property’s value.

“I think we all recognize in our community and across our state that we’re all losing funding,” TFPD Chief John Bennett said.

The TFPD Ballot Issue 6A seeks both a mill levy increase and the ability to “de-Gallagherize,” freezing the percentage of a residential property’s value used to calculate residential property tax rates at 7.2 percent. The proposed two mill increase is about $14 per $100,000 of a property’s value.

Bennett said the additional funds would go toward maintaining equipment, upgrading facilities, and recruitment and retention.

“We’re all talking the same language,” he added.

The entities that are seeking voter approval all work together in some way, Bennett explained. For example, TFPD relies on the medical center’s emergency services in times of crisis.

The hospital district is asking voters to approve measure 6B, which would raise $960,851 in 2019 in an attempt to maintain emergency and trauma services, and update equipment. The cost to the taxpayer would be an additional $9 per $100,000 of a property’s value.

As it stands right now, the hospital district in 2019 expects to lose $400,000 in funding, according to med center CEO John Gardner. He added that services, like welcoming visiting specialists, may have to be eliminated if that’s the case.  

As for mental health services in the county, Lisa Eidsmo, a Tri-County Health Network community health worker, said there’s more that can be done. She cited a recent survey of county students that found one in six considered suicide within the past 12 months.

“Clearly there’s a need for it now,” she said.

Ballot Issue IA proposes a 0.75 mills increase ($5.40 per $100,000 of a property’s value) to fund county mental health initiatives. An Independent Mental Health Advisory Panel would be set up to oversee a San Miguel County Mental Health Services Fund, similar to the Early Childhood Advisory Panel, Eidsmo explained. The funds would help school counseling services and suicide prevention, among other initiatives.

Like TFPD and the hospital district, the Telluride School District is trying to do more with less, including looking out for student’s mental well being. The school district is seeking a mill levy increase, Ballot Issue 4A, that will cost property taxpayers an additional $11.61 per $100,000 of a property’s value. Measure 4A has an if/then provision: If state Amendment 73, which also seeks to plug funding gaps in K-12 education, passes, then the mill levy increase will not be imposed.

If 4A passes, though, the $1.2 million raised annually will help attract and retain teachers, and maintain class sizes, school board president Stephanie A. Hatcher said. She said education throughout the state is “chronically underfunded.”

Attracting people to live and work in Telluride can be tough. Affordable housing is an ever-present challenge for young professionals and families looking to make the move. Telluride Mayor Sean Murphy knows this.

Town of Telluride Ballot Issue 2A is a proposed mill levy, Ballot Issue 2B is a half-cent sales tax question and Ballot Issue 2C depends on 2A, since a separate ballot is required to ask voters to approve bonding (debt) with the money collected if 2A passes.

Murphy said the town’s affordable housing fund will be “substantially depleted” by the end of 2019 (around $700,000). If all ballot measures pass, the fund will increase from approximately $1 million currently to over $2.5 million, he said. That will allow the town to tackle more affordable housing projects at a time.

Residents in unincorporated parts of the county will vote on the Solid Waste Disposal District question, which proposes a 0.4 mill levy increase ($2.88 per $100,000 of a property’s value) to pay for hazardous waste disposal and electronic waste recycling events, holiday tree chipping services, recycling at the Ophir and Placerville post offices, the Norwood Transfer Station, and waste reduction initiatives.