It's election day! But what does the 2021 election actually mean for Southwest Colorado?
It’s election season in Colorado, and ballots for the 2021 election are due today - that’s today, Tuesday, November 2. KSJD’s Lucas Brady Woods has a run down on the questions and races being posed to voters right here in Southwest Colorado.
For all Colorado voters, ballots have to be in an official dropbox by 7:00 this evening in order to be counted - that’s today, Tuesday, November 2. And here in Southwest Colorado, there are a number of dropboxes scattered across the region. Those include locations at cortez city hall, mancos and dolores town halls, and the Ute Mountain ute Tribal complex.
Almost 19,000 ballots went out to voters in Montezuma County, according to election deputy Miranda Warren. As of Monday, the county clerk’s office said there were about 4,900 of those ballots returned, 63 of which were rejected due to no signature or a signature issue.
But what exactly are voters looking at this year in regard to the election? And what could the election’s outcome mean for voters on the ground in Southwest Colorado? Let’s break it down a bit and take a look, starting with the really local stuff.
That includes two local ballot measures for Mancos voters, and school board elections for both the Montezuma-Cortez RE-1 School District and the Dolores County RE-4A School District.
Mancos Ballot Questions
Mancos voters are being asked two questions.
Measure 6A asks voters to increase the mill levy, which increases property taxes. That would be an increase to the mill levy of 6 mills. The revenue raised from that will go to upgrading fire trucks, firefighter equipment, and operations in the Mancos Fire Protection District.
District Fire Chief Tony Aspermonte says that a lot of the vehicles and equipment they’re using are out of date.
“We’ve got quite a few vehicles that are thirty to thirty-five years old, that need to be replaced,” he says.
That leads to the second question being posed to Mancos voters: 6B. 6B asks voters to allow the Mancos Fire Protection District to increase or decrease the mill levy in the future in order to keep their revenues stable.
Chief Aspermonte says changes to tax rates change at different levels of government, such as on the state level, can affect the local fire district’s revenue. He says if approved, 6B would give the district independent power to adjust the local tax rate, to make up for those possible changes in revenue.
At the end of the day, Chief Aspermonte says it’s all about providing the best fire protection possible for the people of the district.
“We’ll continue to respond and be able to continue to respond,” says Aspermonte. “And not have to worry about paying for our insurance and paying for our fuel and trying to keep outdated vehicles.”
There are approximately 2,800 voters in the Mancos Fire Protection district.
Local School Board Elections
The other big ticket election items, locally, are two school board elections. In the Montezuma-Cortez RE-1 School District, there are six seats up for election.
Only one of the seats is actually contested, though.
In district E of the Montezuma-Cortez District, Ed Rice is running against incumbent board member Tammy Houten. It’s worth noting that two of the districts, district B and district G, were formerly held by Jack Scheunemeyer and Chris Flaherty, who both resigned last month in protest of the Board’s decisions and decision-making process. As a result, Jeanette Hart is running unopposed for District B, and Layne Frazier is running unopposed for District G.
And over in the Dolores School District RE-4A, there are four candidates running for two open seats on the board. Those with the two highest vote-counts after today will be elected.
There are also three statewide ballot measures being posed to voters this year. Statewide Amendment 78 aims to give the state legislature control over emergency spending that the Governor currently has.
For example, during the pandemic, the state of Colorado received a bunch of money from the federal government to address COVID-19 in the state. Currently, Gov. Jared Polis has control over how that money should be spent, and he was able to spend about one billion dollars of it with the stroke of a pen.
Amendment 78 would move that control over to the state house and senate. The amendment is conservative-led and proponents say it would give lawmakers a say in how emergency funds are spent.
But critics say the bill would make funding for local services less accessible for providers, like those that treat physical or behavioral health issues. The Colorado Providers Association, which represents many of those providers, says Amendment 78 would add unnecessary and expensive bureaucracy and risks significant unintended consequences. The organization says that could create delays in state-funded services.
Next, Colorado voters are being asked to vote on Proposition 119, which would gradually raise pot taxes to pay for after school tutoring programs.
This idea was originated by a democratic state senator who helped implement a website for parents and school districts to prevent learning loss during the pandemic. Supporters of that effort want to go even further with Prop 119, which aims to spend millions of dollars on helping low-income students access tutoring outside of school. It would get that money from additional taxes on the marijuana industry.
But Drew Sanders, city manager in Cortez, says it’s not that simple. He says the city council has considered additional pot taxes in the past, but has hesitated after hearing from members of the local marijuana industry. Sanders says it sounds like additional taxes would really affect their businesses.
“In a sense, we're kind of choking out the golden goose, you know?” he says. “So taxing ours more is not necessarily the way to go on this. I know it's an easy one to shoot for. We can, you know, push them past their ability to compete and actually make money on this.”
He says that additional state-imposed marijuana taxes might prevent the city of Cortez from imposing them in the future, to raise local revenue. Sanders also says there are considerations that have to be made specifically for Southwest Colorado.
“We're already now competing on that front with Arizona and New Mexico,” he says. “And that competition is only going to go up.”
The last state-wide question for Colorado voters is Proposition 120. Prop 120 would permanently cut property tax rates for owners of commercial properties and multi family homes.
Shak Powers is the Montezuma County Administrator. He says, even if prop 120 passes, local residents probably won’t see much of an actual reduction in their tax bills. At least for the short term, he says, that’s because property values will continue to inflate at the same time.
But property values will reset at some point, and that’s when people will see property taxes go down. And when that happens, there will be an effect on the revenues of local counties, municpalities, and special districts - like Montezuma County, the City of Cortez, and the Mancos Fire Protection District.
“It'll be decreased revenue for the county, for the municipality for the special districts, such as, you know, fire cemetery districts, whatever, those types of things, the school district,” he says.
Powers also says that might not be all bad.
“At that point, those entities will have to make a choice to try to increase the mill levy, in the case of the county, potentially, to seek a sales tax,” he says. “Which would actually be more fair let some of the tourists help pay for the revenue loss, or to have a cotton service.”
The County gets about 30% of its revenue from property taxes. Powers says, at the end of the day, that’s not that much. Cortez City Manger Drew Sanders says the city gets even less revenue than the county does from property taxes. And at the end of the day, neither Powers or Sanders are particularly concerned about the local loss of revenue from Prop 120.
Regardless of the questions being posed, both Powers and Sanders want to get out the vote. They both encourage voters to participate, and let their voices be heard whatever their opinion may be.
“I would like to just encourage everybody to get out and make your voice heard and go out and voice your opinion, because that's how our process works,” says Powers. “You can drop it off at the ballot drop boxes…So just get out and make your voice heard.”
Remember voters - the deadline to submit your ballots is today, by 7:00 pm. That’s today, Tuesday, November 2. There are official election drop boxes at multiple locations across the region, including cortez city hall, mancos and dolores town halls, and the Ute Mountain ute Tribal complex.
More detailed drop-box information is available on the Montezuma County Clerk’s website and facebook page.