Sunday, November 11, 2007
Time will tell the significance of the 2007 election on the history of Routt County and its communities. What was immediately significant - and telling - were the clear messages given by voters.
Steamboat Springs residents demanded a change in leadership for both the City Council and School Board. And in a vote as lopsided as any we can remember, voters tossed aside a proposal for a taxpayer-funded $34 million recreation center. Routt County voters rejected a permanent exemption from the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, which would have funded county road improvements, capital projects and other unspecified expenses in years and decades to come.
Not all tax measures suffered the fate of the rec center and the "road tax." South Routt School District voters said "yes" to providing additional funds to their schools, both for general operating expenses and the replacement of coal-fired boilers. Hayden voters elected to institute a building materials use tax that will capitalize on the town's continuing growth. North Routt residents increased their taxes to help fund their fire district.
There are lessons in Election Day results for both the winners and the losers.
To the winners, congratulations and good luck. You should be commended for your initiative and passion, and reminded that your responsibility is to represent the best interests of your entire community, not just those who voted you into office. You were given a mandate, but that shouldn't come at the expense of open-mindedness and thoughtful consideration of all points of view.
Incoming City Council members can learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. Steamboat voters sent a clear message that they want a City Council that is efficient and reluctant to overstep its boundaries. And there are relationships to mend, particularly with county government.
Like the City Council, the Steamboat Springs School Board will have a new majority when swearings-in are complete this week. The three new members - Robin Crossan, Lisa Brown and Laura Anderson - ran on campaigns of fiscal responsibility and community accountability. The trio was critical of the outgoing board's decision to buy out the contract of former Superintendent Donna Howell. But the new members must recognize the Howell situation is in the past. Interim superintendent Dr. Sandra Smyser deserves every chance at success, and that starts with the School Board. Smyser can't be faulted for Howell's fate.
To the losers, thank you for adding to the dialogue and debate, for taking a chance and showing your willingness to serve your community in the ways you best saw fit. Don't let Tuesday's results keep you from staying involved. The outgoing City Council tackled some tough issues. Workforce housing now has a good start in our community, and we have a new emphasis on environmental standards. The council started the conversation on smart growth management. Many in our community want to see continued effort in these important areas.
Proponents of the community recreation center must determine how and if to pick up the pieces. Voters left no doubt that, at the very least, the proposed method of funding and total cost of the recreation center wasn't one it was willing to bear. But that doesn't mean the desire for a recreation facility and better space for teens and youths doesn't exist.
Routt County commissioners must determine exactly what they want from taxpayers - six years worth of increased revenues to help pay for needed road improvements, or a permanent tax increase that will enable the county to fund the growing cost of doing business and the growing needs and size of its services. The answer to that question - and input from their constituents - will help them develop a winning ballot initiative for 2008 or after.
Finally, kudos to the Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Office for a smooth Election Day. More than two-thirds of voters took advantage of early voting and mail-in balloting, diminishing the potential for the nightmarish lines that plagued the county's election centers in 2006. But don't let this year's success translate to false optimism for next year, when the turnout will far surpass the 6,000 voters who cast ballots in 2007. Buy more electronic voting machines, train more judges and continue to be a proponent for early and mail-in voting.