2021 Election, Elections, Featured, Original Report, Sherrie Peif, TABOR, Taxes

Eagle County voters to decide multiple tax and debt asks, recall questions on ambitious November ballot

EAGLE COUNTY — A packed ballot in Eagle County is asking for everything from expanded term-limits to multiple tax hike and debt spending questions to recalls with no one willing to replace a mayor or a councilwoman if they are successfully removed from office.

Ten ballot measures and 11 public office elections will make their way to voters throughout Eagle County in November, with likely the most politically charged measure being a recall attempt against two members of the Avon Town Council.

Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes and councilwoman Tamra Underwood are both facing recall for what proponents call actions “contrary to Avon residents’ desires.”

Proponents say the two women did not listen to several hundred residents who expressed their opposition to using tax money to move a more than 100-year-old historic barn that needed to be torn down or moved from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District property to make room for a new water treatment facility.

They also point to the two women’s failure to remove a 2 percent real estate transfer tax they say results in an added $20,000 cost for buyers and sellers on every $1 million in property value, even if the value of the property declines.

The recall attempts have been ongoing for nearly a year, including a legal battle that eventually came down on the side of the recall petitioners.

However, neither seat has garnered interest from anyone to replace them. Both recall questions leave the ability to write in a candidate. It is unclear what happens if they are recalled, and no one is chosen to supersede them.

Both women were allowed statements on the ballot. Hymes said she has called Avon home for 28 years and believes she has made choices in her seven years on the council that are in the best interest of all constituents, adding policy differences should not be grounds for recall.

“I have lead (sic) in COVID response, water management and drought planning, affordable housing, climate action, public lands access, transportation and collaboration,” she said. “I listen to all voices in our diverse community and embrace transparency and outreach to all neighborhoods.”

Underwood echoed Hymes’ remarks, adding it is important to set a good example for future leaders and candidates.

“Being brave and bold in our debate and decision making should not be viciously attacked or subject to a recall demanded by a small but vocal minority,” Underwood said. “The work I’ve carried out alongside my fellow council members is far greater and more substantive than the issues I’m being attacked for.”

Although no one was willing to run for the replacement seats of the two councilwomen, plenty of people stepped up to run for other offices.

  • Eagle Town Council has three open seats with seven candidates to choose from.
  • Vail Town Council has four open seats and 10 candidates to choose from.
  • All of the seats for the Eagle County School District Re-50J are contested, as are the Roaring Fork School District seats and the West Grand School District #1-JT, which has five open seats and nine candidates.

Voters will also decide on several tax increases, most of which are proposed to help with what officials call “affordable housing,” which some define as taxpayer-subsidized housing.

Vail is asking for a 0.5 percent increase to non-food sales taxes to fun housing initiatives, developments and programs. It would raise an estimated $4.3 million in the first year and includes language that sets aside any limits under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

Avon is asking for $1.5 million the first year and an unspecified amount every year after with a 2 percent tax on short-term rentals within the town limits. The tax increase would ‘fund community housing,’ according to the ballot language.

Basalt is asking for an extension of an existing tax to borrow $18 million in bonds for construction, repair, and improvement of the Basalt Forward Program, which includes “affordable housing,” street and sidewalk improvements, and “green” projects such as solar development and vehicle charging stations.

Basalt’s ballot question starts off with “Without imposing any new tax.” However, the new debt would be paid for by extending previous tax increases that would expire at some point in the future if this initiative failed. Therefore, taxpayers are actually getting an increase in taxes by continuing bond elections from 2001 and 2013.

The West Grand School District #1-JT Ballot Issue 5A would increase property taxes by a minimum of $550,000 per year through a new mill levy override to be used on school security improvements, maintenance, technology, recruiting new teachers, training and retention of new teachers, among other things. It also asks voters to set aside any revenue or expenditure limits under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, meaning the district could keep all money collected in perpetuity without ever having to go back to voters for approval to retain excess revenue.

The Roaring Fork School District is asking for a mill levy override that would generate a maximum of $7.7 million in the first year and an amount adjusted for inflation each year after for increasing teacher salaries and student, teacher and staff retention and recruitment.

The Mountain Recreation Metropolitan District is asking to increase taxes by nearly $4 million per year through a mill levy override for renovating and expanding recreation facilities in Edwards, Eagle and Gypsum, among other recreational improvements. It also asks voters to set aside any revenue or expenditure limits under TABOR.

Finally, the Downtown Development Authority for the Town of Eagle is asking for $27 million to finance development and redevelopment projects undertaken by the authority. It also asks voters to set aside revenue limits under TABOR.

At the county-level, voters will also decide whether to allow Eagle County Commissioners to hold office for three consecutive terms instead of the current two.

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