Take the biggest stock market crash in history, still unfolding, with no clear bottom in sight as these words are written. Add a local failure over the last decade to develop a sustainable tourism infrastructure, namely in the form of hotel rooms.
Why now, in these most troubled times, would residents of the Telluride region vote to pay more in property taxes?
They may not. But perhaps it makes sense to fight back against our economic fear and support the four measures on the November ballot that would each produce valuable public benefits. The counter to the compelling argument that we can’t afford the public investment at this time is that public investments and public services are all the more important when times are tough. A rational voter can easily come down on either side of this divide.
What tilts us in favor of yes votes is that all four of the proposals before us have been well conceived. What’s more, each resolves a problem that simply won’t go away by ignoring it. And while the tax bite will hurt, it’s not as big or as deep as many fear, as was documented in a story by Gus Jarvis and Karen James in Friday’s Watch. On balance, the projects and services that will be funded by the four tax measures represent good value to taxpayers, even to the owners of commercial property who unquestionably bear a grossly unfair share of the burden.
We endorse all four proposals with this caveat: that we will continue to fight for main street and our frail local economy by urging recognition from local residents and elected officials that the Telluride region has one single source of economic sustainability, and that is tourism, whether it is tourism in form of hotel guests or second homeowners or even residents who are independently wealthy and choose to live here. All of us depend on the amenities and infrastructure of tourism. Very simply, if we don’t finally comprehend that we must provide hotel rooms for visitors, our commercial sector will continue to whither away and local businesses won’t be able to pay their unfair share of property taxes, they won’t be able to collect meaningful amounts of sales tax, and we will spiral further down economically, with reduced ability to survive the global economic turmoil.
If that seems like a tangent to the questions of whether we need a sustainable clinic, more public school classrooms, to maintain safety on our main highway artery, and to support early childhood education, it’s not. The fundamentals of the Telluride economy are not sound, making the proposed investments on the ballot frightening. But we support them anyway, if only because of our faith that together we can and will continue to work to make those fundamentals sound.
Let us take the proposals before us, one by one.
Yes on 200 & 201 on the Telluride ballot and Yes on 5A on the San Miguel County Ballot to Move Ahead With a New Medical Center
A yes vote on all three of these questions is necessary to move forward with a carefully developed plan by the Telluride Hospital District board of directors to achieve sustainability for the sustainable provision of health care services in the region. The two town questions would secure the site, a portion of uplands adjacent to and slightly encroaching on the Pearl Property. The second would float $15 million in bonds to cover about half the cost of a new clinic, with the remainder to come from fundraising.
Because health care issues are complex, it has not been easy for the district to develop its plan, but it has been done right. The district found itself in crisis a few years back after severing ties with the Montrose Memorial Hospital, and responded by embarking on a strategic plan.
The plan asked the right questions: What is the demand for medical services in the region? What can be provided reasonably? How should it be paid for?
First, the hospital district made the right decision to remain in the town of Telluride, both for purposes of efficiency and good land use and planning. The Society Turn area, the only other possible option, is central to everyone and convenient for almost no-one, virtually guaranteeing unwelcome traffic impacts and representing another step away from clustered urban development toward suburban-style sprawl.
Second, the district rightly rejected more ambitious plans to offer services such as orthopedic surgery as a way of bolstering activity. Weighing numerous factors, the district has arrived at a plan that is supported by numerous studies showing how much local medical care we need, not more and not less.
Third, the district is moving responsibly in asking Telluride voters to allow the use of land that is currently used as a parking lot, with only a small encroachment on the Pearl, none of it wetlands. While prohibiting development on every square inch of the Pearl may have been defensible before the town’s successful acquisition of the 572 acres of the Valley Floor immediately adjacent and to the west, it certainly makes no sense now, not when we are so short of places to locate vital services.
Finally, there are lingering questions about whether it is wise for the district to abandon its current location, which it occupies under the terms of a virtually no-cost lease with the Idarado Mining Co. through 2032. But the Hospital District doesn’t own that land, and Idarado, currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the town over water rights, has not been willing to enter into talks to sell it, making it unwise to pour money into improvements there.
A yes vote on these three questions will help put to rest one of the major planning questions that has hovered over the region for years. There is no reason to believe a better solution to our long-range health care needs will present itself.
Yes on Question 3A on the San Miguel County Ballot for School Improvements
In at least one key respect, the Telluride R-1 School District has the easiest argument to put to voters. Yes, the district seeks $18 million for an addition and renovations to the Telluride Middle/High School, renovations the Telluride Elementary School, and affordable housing for staff, but at the same time it is retiring bonds issued in 1999, meaning that taxpayers will actually see a decrease in the total they pay to the district. Of course, taxes would decrease even more if they vote no, and yet the tax reduction even with new bonds suggests that the district is growing at a measured pace.
Unfortunately for the school district, this addition to the current middle/high school will not put to rest the question of where a future school can go. Like the Hospital District, the School District has looked hard for land, but at this juncture has been able only to build out its current site. That solution won’t work much longer.
But it’s a reasonable stopgap, and one that will prevent overcrowding in the schools and thus support the one aspect of our local economy that is manifestly robust: providing a hometown to the young families who, one way or another can afford to be here.
The district is also being prudent in providing some teacher housing with this bond.
Yes on 2A and 2B on the Telluride Ballot to Repair the Spur and Provide Funds for Ongoing Road Maintenance
How painful it is to fail to find any solution to the $12 million problem of the Hwy. 145 Spur other than to say yes to bonds to rebuild it! Adding insult to injury, the Town of Telluride is also seeking a .75 percent increase in the sales tax to pay for ongoing road and alley maintenance.
Yes, it’s painful like a root canal, but what’s our alternative? Our basic good health requires it. Nobody who drives in or out of Telluride needs to be convinced that the two miles of the Spur that have not yet been improved are simply dangerous. Somebody will likely be killed or maimed if we don’t fix it. That’s just not acceptable. Even if we irresponsibly decide to run that risk, the costs of fixing the Spur will only go up if we put it off now. Short-term fixes, like another overlay of asphalt, will only increase the eventual total cost of addressing the problem properly.
The sales tax should prevent us from finding ourselves in this situation again, so far behind in basic road maintenance that only a large bond issue can raise enough funds to pay for it.
So, with a philosophical shrug: yes to fixing the Spur.
Yes on San Miguel County Question 1A to Raise Money for Early Childcare
The smallest of the new taxes, which will amount to no more than a few dollars a month for even commercial real estate, is the easiest to endorse. The estimated $670,000 that the new .75 mil levy will raise the first year will go for aid to young families and daycare providers. Fact is, local taxpayers are already helping this cause through annual appropriations from our town governments. This fund will eliminate that funding pressure.
Proponents of this measure do not need to convince us that early childhood education and daycare are essential to our working class, and require subsidy in our high-cost region. But their best argument is that this is both a community-preservation measure and an assist to the economy by enabling workers to stay in the region.
Finding money for child care has been a constant struggle in the region. A yes vote on this simple measure will end it.