TELLURIDE - Telluride voters on Tuesday rejected a controversial tax on sugar-sweetened beverages; approved the concept of allowing a public facility, most likely a new Telluride Medical Center, on an uplands portion of the Pearl Property; and elected two new members to the Telluride Town Council, returning two incumbents.
Council incumbents Ann Brady and ‘Glider’ Bob Saunders took the most votes in the council election, with 586 and 522 votes respectively. New to council for four years will be local business consultant Todd Brown, who captured 466 votes, and longtime local Jenny Patterson with 487. Voters turned back bids by two former members of council, David Oyster and Mark Buchsieb to return to office.
Ballot question 2A, which asked voters it they should place a one cent per one fluid ounce excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in Telluride, failed considerably, by a 69%-31% margin. Despite the lopsided margin, 2A was by far the most controversial ballot question, attracting outside interest from philanthropists and industry lobbying groups bankrolling campaigns for and against the ballot question.
But 2D passed with 61 percent of the vote, paving the way for development on the RV parking lot of the Pearl Property, a 7.3-acre rectangular parcel located west of Mahoney Drive. The ballot question lists multiple public uses that would be allowed on the property, but the most talked about is the development of a new Telluride Medical Center, whose proponents campaigned hard for the measure. At the same time, voters rejected allowing greenhouse agriculture on the northern uplands on the Pearl, with 55 percent of the voters opposed.
San Miguel County voters turned down 1A, with 65 percent opposed to a ballot question that asked if the county should impose a sales tax on residential use of utilities to fund carbon emission reduction programs throughout the county.
Along with Brady and Saunders, the newest members of the Telluride Town Council, Brown and Patterson will join incumbents Kirsten Permakoff, Thom Carnevale and Mayor Stu Fraser.
“I’m pleased to have support of the voters,” said Saunders, currently Telluride’s Mayor Pro Tem, after hearing the results. “I hope to make things better and work with HARC to maintain the historic character of the town,” he added.
Todd Brown was also excited to hear the results, celebrating with friends at There tavern in Telluride. “I’m looking forward to working with the council and the town. I hope to be inclusive, not divisive,” Brown said.
“Big thank you to all the voters that came out and made a difference in our community,” said Jenny Patterson. “I am pleased to be part of these next four years on our council, and I am grateful for everyone's support.”
Ann Brady, who ran as an incumbent, said her work as a councilor has been rewarding, and is pleased she can continue working for the town. “I will continue to try my best to serve Telluride well. It is regarding and challenging work,” she Brady.
The hotly debated “soda tax” would have generated an estimated $200,000 annually, which would have gone to fund a series of scholarships and youth-oriented educational and physical fitness programs aimed at promoting the benefits of healthy lifestyle choices. The funding would have helped replace money from a three-year grant the Telluride and Norwood School districts received from the U.S Department of Education to fund their Physical Education Program, PEP, which will run out in October 2014.
While proponents argued that regular consumption of sugary beverages significantly raises the consumer’s chances of developing serious health problems later in life, opponents successfully argued that question 2A would place significant compliance costs on local businesses, which are already encumbered by enough local, county, state and federal taxes.
2A critics also said that 2A would tie the financial future of the educational and physical fitness programs to a dwindling funding source. Perhaps most persuasively, critics denounced the proposed tax as a broad overreach by a municipal government in trying to influence consumer behavior.
The idea of taxing utility bills in San Miguel County to fund greenhouse gas reduction measures also lost handily, by 741 votes out of 2,507 that were cast.
"We just didn’t have a committee or the resources to adequately explain what was kind of a complicated concept of how this could effectively reduce energy use. The grassroots, word-of-mouth campaign wasn’t enough," said San Miguel County Commissioner Joan May, who supported the energy tax.
The cost to consumers would have been just one cent on every dollar of utility bills and would have applied to residential utility use only because commercial entities already pay the same tax. Revenues generated by the new tax – estimated at $170,000 annually – would have been used exclusively for regional greenhouse gas reduction efforts.
Tuesday’s election did bring some clarity, perhaps, to the ultimate destiny of the much debated Pearl Property in Telluride, since the vote in favor of 2D, allowing a medical center to be build on the southern end of the property passed handily. The same measure will convert the northern 6.778 acres to be incorporated into the Valley Floor conservation easement.
The defeat of Question 300 by Telluride voters would seem to put an end to the dream of a group of gardeners who wanted to develop urban farming on the northern 1.5 acres of the Pearl.
Telluride Grown, a local non-profit had hoped to use aquaponic-based greenhouses to grow vegetables, fish, fruits, eggs and vegetables for local consumption to reduce the town’s carbon footprint and attempt to lower the cost of produce in town. The question, however, lost by 90 votes.