election 2021

Election Results 2021: Clear Creek road and bridge funding passing in early returns

Just a one-vote difference on two Idaho Springs tax measures

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Several tax measures on the Nov. 2 ballot have early support from Clear Creek County residents.

Ballot Issue 1A, a proposed a 1% countywide sales tax to fund the county Road & Bridge department, has 55.88% of the vote  on election night.

"I really view it as a vote of confidence in our Road and Bridge department," County Commissioner Sean Wood said on election night. " ... We're a small county, and the public tends to have a personal relationship with the (Road & bridge) staff who work our neighborhoods."

Without additional funding the county’s Road & Bridge department is expecting a $30 million deficit over the next 20 years, partly because of reduced production at the Henderson Mine.

If passed, the new tax would generate about $1.7 million in its first year. It would also raise the county’s sales tax rate from 1.65% to 2.65%, making the combined sales tax rates in some municipalities to jump to 10% or more.

The ballot question includes language stating that 25% of revenues would go toward the municipalities’ road and bridge operations.

According to County Attorney Peter Lichtman, of the municipalities’ share, 80% will be allocated proportionally based on motor vehicle registrations and 20% proportionally by lane miles. This is the same methodology the Highway Users Tax Fund uses for its allocation.

Idaho Springs ballots

In Idaho Springs, there are two tax proposals on the ballot. The first is a city-specific tax on recreational marijuana. The 5% excise tax on marijuana products sold in the city would not change, as it's already in place at the county level. However, if the city's excise tax passes, the revenues will go to Idaho Springs instead of the county.

The measure was up by 30 votes in the early evening, but by midnight, the yes margin had narrowed to just one vote (270-269). 

If successful, the marijuana tax would generate about $50,000 for the city in 2022, and revenues would be dedicated for recreation amenities.

Second, Idaho Springs proposed a 1% sales tax measure to bring in an additional $750,000 annually to fund water and wastewater operations and projects.

The election night totals had the the tax losing, by the slimmest of margins:  268-267.

The sales tax revenue would partly offset rate increases for residents and businesses. Potentially, by 2030, it could save a residential user about $690 annually, city officials have said.

The ballot question doesn’t include a specific end-date for the sales tax, although City Attorney Carmen Beery has clarified that the council can eliminate it without asking voters.

City Council members have pointed out that if the city’s and the county’s sales tax initiatives both pass, Idaho Springs’ combined sales tax rate would climb to 10.65%.

Another big item on the Nov. 2 ballot for Idaho Springs voters is the mayoral race. With current Mayor Mike Hillman term-limited, current Councilman Chuck Harmon and longtime resident Mike Kowalewski are vying to succeed him.  Harmon leads in early returns, 211-187.

"I can't tell you how positive I feel," Harmon said of his presumptive win. "... I'm looking forward to making Idaho Springs an even better place." 

MORE: Housing and parking among issues of note at last Idaho Springs candidate forum

Harmon, who joined City Council in 2019 and previously worked in the aerospace industry, said Idaho Springs is at a crossroads and he believes it needs responsible and limited growth.

He also described how he wants Idaho Springs to be competitive for grants, particularly infrastructure-focused ones from the federal government. Harmon’s also excited to see Virginia Canyon Mountain Park completed and wants to ensure it’s properly maintained.

Kowalewski, who challenged Hillman in the spring 2020 recall election, likewise stressed a need to balance the old with the new regarding the city’s economic growth, culture, and quality of life. He said one of his goals as mayor would be improving the residents’ quality of life by spending more on services and less on administration.

Along with the mayoral race, Scott Pennell and Kate Collier are running unopposed for seats on City Council. Both have served on council before, and are looking forward to tackling Idaho Springs’ parking and housing challenges, among other items.

Idaho Springs’ clerk and treasurer offices are also up for grabs in this year’s election, with incumbent Diane Breece and challenger Phyllis Adams running in both races.

Election night results show Breece winning the clerk race, but Adams winning the treasurer one.

Breece, who’s retiring as a city employee, has held both offices for several years. Adams has held elected and appointed positions in Idaho Springs before, and said she saw an opportunity to serve her community again.

Given that both offices’ main responsibilities have been outsourced to city staff members, the candidates said that, while important, being clerk and/or treasurer won’t require a large time commitment.

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