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Weiler resigns, few candidates for town election

With just over a month before elections in the town of Pagosa Springs (Tuesday, April 6), council member Mark Weiler resigned from his seat at the start of Tuesday’s council meeting.

Stating that he had recently moved out of the district he was representing and so, could no longer represent his constituents, Weiler thanked each of the board members and the town for his opportunity to serve.

Speaking to Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon, Weiler said, “Ross, I consider you the biggest gift to the community.”

Weiler had represented District 1 in Pagosa Springs since being appointed to his seat in March 2008, filling the seat after the resignation of John Middendorf from the board.

Town Planning Commissioner Kathy Lattin is running unopposed to fill Weiler’s seat. So far, only Lattin and council member Don Volger have been certified as candidates for council seats (Volger represents District 2). Council member Darrell Cotton, representing District 3, while having taken out a petition to run for re-election for his seat, had not turned in his petition as of press time. Likewise, neither Aragon (running for re-election as mayor) nor Bill Hudson (also running for mayor) had submitted petitions for certification as of press time.

The submission deadline for petition certification is tomorrow at 5 p.m.

If candidates run unopposed, council seats will be awarded by default, with no council seats listed on the ballot. In that scenario, only the mayoral race and Ordinance 745 (asking voters if current Big Box regulations should remain in the Land Use and Development Code or be removed) would be on the ballot.

While council had hoped to put another ordinance on the ballot — Ordinance 751 (another referendum asking voters if Big Box regulations in the LUDC, regarding developments over 100,000 square feet, should remain in the code) — an 11th-hour objection by local attorney Matt Roane put the future of Ordinance 751 in question.

Just prior to adjournment, Roane asked if he could address the council, saying, “I don’t think there’s been a proper reading (of the ordinance),” adding that, due to council violating its own charter, the vote passing the first reading would be invalid.

Roane had previously been a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the town, arguing against the acceptance of Ordinance 743 (which scrapped Big Box regulations in portions of the LUDC) based on procedural mistakes.

According to Roane, the charter states that a reading of an ordinance’s title only is sufficient only if copies of the ordinance’s full language are made available to the public; otherwise a full reading of the ordinance at the council meeting is required (Section 3.9.A).

On Feb. 18, council heard and approved Ordinance 751 after hearing only a reading of the title.

Countering Roane’s argument, Town Manager David Mitchem said, “The ordinance was made available to the public upon request.”

However, Roane said that “upon request” did not seem to satisfy the requirements set forth in the charter. “I know to go to (the clerk) to ask for a copy but does the general public know that? I don’t think so.”

Reading the portion of referred charter section, council member Shari Pierce seemed to provide some support for Roane’s argument.

Council member Stan Holt made a motion that Mitchem consult with town attorney Bob Cole to see if approval of the first reading of Ordinance 751 was valid. If Cole rules in favor of the town, council would meet March 9 to vote on the ordinance’s second reading. If that second reading is approved, Ordinance 751 would most likely be included on the April 6 ballot — unless a subsequent lawsuit would prevent the measure from going to a vote.

In other business, council considered an ordinance that would change language of the LUDC, allowing county residents who own a business in town and the property for that business to serve on the town’s planning commission. Commission membership would be limited to two non-town residents.

After some discussion about awarding rights to business owners but not county residents in general, Pierce said, “I would consider us not limiting us to this restriction.”

However, Holt pointed out that several county residents currently serve on numerous boards (e.g. Town Tourism Committee, Historic Preservation, etc.) saying, “We do offer opportunities. Next to the town council, the planning commission is the highest responsible board, in my estimation,” he added. “I like what we got, I think it will work fine.”

Council passed the first reading of the ordinance, with Cotton and Pierce voting against.

After approving a proclamation making 2010 Census Awareness Year in Pagosa Springs (in order to raise awareness regarding the importance of accurate census data), council heard an appeal from town resident Cheryl Bowdridge regarding the school district’s pending budget crisis.

Facing $1.35 million in budget cuts for the 2010-2011 school year (due to funding shortfalls from the state), the district has been scrambling to decide where to make those cuts, calling on the community for input and asking various taxing entities to come to the table with ideas or solutions.

“Our community is facing a crisis,” Bowdridge said, raising the possibility that draconian cuts in the budget could lower education quality in the area. “Families will leave to seek better education, businesses will close.”

To those ends, Bowdridge appealed to the council to attend a work session to be held tonight at 5 p.m. in the Pagosa Springs Junior High School library. At the work session, the school district is hoping to bring together officials from Archuleta County, the town, the fire protection district and the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District to brainstorm what the various governments and districts can do to mitigate the funding shortfall for area schools.

Finally, Mitchem presented some good news for rafters and kayakers, stating that improvements will be added to the river this year. As early as this month, work will begin to complete a structure slightly downstream from the “play wave” structure installed last year. Unable to complete the so-called cross-vein structure due to rising water levels last spring, crews should be able to complete construction on the structure this spring. According to Parks Superintendent Jim Miller, the structure should, “add to the maximum effect of the play wave.”

Furthermore, the town could be adding another two wave structures in the stretch of river between the Hot Springs Boulevard Bridge and the Veterans Memorial Bridge. Contingent on approval of an amended permit with the Army Corps of Engineers, construction on one structure could begin within the month. Similar in design to the structure installed last year, the newest wave structure would enhance existing whitewater features in the river.

While Mitchem said he felt confident that the Corps would approve the amended permit, the town awaits final approval. Of course, behavior of the river (and subsequent water levels) will be the final determination in whether construction will begin this spring.

A second planned structure will have to wait until fall due to displacement of the USGS monitoring station by the second structure. Currently, the USGS is relocating monitoring equipment to the pedestrian bridge located behind the Archuleta County Courthouse. However, the new monitoring equipment requires calibration in tandem with measurements taken from the existing monitoring station — a process that requires about six months in order to achieve accurate sample data.

If the town’s attorney advises, council will hold a brief special meeting next Tuesday, March 9, at 11:30 a.m. to consider a second reading of Ordinance 751 which, if passed, will go on the April 6 ballot. Council’s mid-month meeting will be Thursday, March 18, at noon in council chambers.

jim@pagosasun.com