2021 in Review: The ballot measures
In some of the most contested corners of Moffat County’s election cycle, two ballot measures were brought to voters to ask residents to decide whether or not they wanted to raise property taxes for services in the county.
In one, voters would have added approximately three mills in order to fund improvement to Moffat County School District’s buildings. Some funds would have been matched by a state Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant to raise a total of $45 million. The other measures — twin ballot initiatives 6A and 6B — would have created a tax-funded health services district that would fully fund emergency services in the county.
Early in the year, there was a possibility for a third: a measure that would have created a recreational district to fund a recreation center to serve Moffat County. The district would have financed, constructed and operated a recreation and aquatic center in or near Craig. The district could have also acquired, developed and managed other park and recreation facilities and programs within the area. That measure was kept off the ballot by the county commissioners in July.
Over the course of the campaign season, the two measures that made the ballot brought in over $50,000 in contributions. Both measures failed to pass come Nov. 2, so what happens now?
Where they started
Though the early stages of Moffat County School District’s bond campaign were initially put into motion before 2021 began, much of the bond’s campaigns geared up as Craig headed toward its 2021 election day in November.
In April, the school district released the results of a survey of Moffat County residents about whether or not they support the bond measure, what their concerns were and what it would take for skeptics to vote yes. In the meantime, the school district created a page on its website to release where exactly each of those dollars would go and what improvements they believed were absolutely necessary to be done over the next few years.
By June, the state of Colorado awarded MCSD $6.4 million in BEST grant money to match what would come in from taxpayers. Superintendent Scott Pankow said in June that when asked about positivity toward the bond, that number in favor of the bond jumped to 67%. When school began, school board members and other administrators began ramping up campaigning for the bond, including newspaper and radio advertisements.
For the health services district, discussions surrounding the plan for the district began in late 2020, as well. A taskforce was assembled, and many of those meetings continued into the beginning of 2021. Currently, Memorial Regional Hospital controls much of the emergency services in Craig, and hospital board members have repeatedly stated that the costs to run EMS are not sustainable. MRH says it loses about $600,000 each year to run it, and the district was an option to relieve the hospital of that responsibility while appeasing skeptics that do not necessarily want the hospital to control emergency services. The measures would have also bought the town of Dinosaur an ambulance, something it currently does not have. Dinosaur relies on ambulances from Vernal, Utah.
As Election Day approached, groups opposed to 6A and 6B met to discuss their issues with the measures while also formulating ways to convince county residents to vote against it. Their issues stemmed from distrust of MRH administrators, the reluctance toward using property tax dollars and creating a taxing district, and what they perceive as a lack of transparency in the way the measures were created. A sizable contingent from the county-funded Maybell Ambulance service also wanted to maintain control of its roughly fifty-year program.
Both measures — for the school district and the health services district — failed, meaning there would be no increase in property tax in the county as a result. However, shortly after Election Night, organizers of all three measures — including the recreational district — told the Craig Press that measures will likely appear again in the future, though perhaps not in their current forms.
Entering the new year, school district administrators are working on identifying what capital projects need to be completed first. Though the bond did not pass, those improvements and maintenance projects still need to be done. Early in 2022, the first (and most important) of those projects will be presented to the school board in order to acquire supplies as quickly as possible. Because of supply-chain shortages and backorders, the board anticipates materials will need to be ordered soon in order to receive them by the summer, when most of the work will be done.
One of the larger projects that would have been targeted with bond money and grant dollars was improvements to sewage, irrigation and drainage in the school district. In December, Moffat County High School had to shut down for a day as a result of plumbing issues within the school building, keeping students home for the day. The culprit, it turned out, was tree branches encroaching on underground pipes.
Moffat County will continue to pay off its previous bond for the school district, which will end in 2028. After that, the total mills levied by the school district will reduce back to 33.019.
In November, members of the group that opposed the EMS ballot measure met again with the Moffat County Commissioners to see what potential solution could be created after 6A and 6B failed. The group was joined by stakeholders of EMS services across Moffat County, including several members of the yes campaign.
As a result of that meeting, the commissioners agreed to help build a nine-member taskforce to discuss further solutions that benefit everyone in the county. The nine members will be chosen in January — with representatives from various areas and stakeholder groups to be on the force.
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Back in classes and back in competition, the wintertime athletes of Moffat County High School are making up time from the holiday hiatus.