Next Monday, March 25, is the deadline for residents of the town of Pagosa Springs to register in order to be able to vote in a special election that will be held next month, on April 23.
Residents may register at the Archuleta County Clerk and Recorder’s Office. To register, the person must be at least 18 years of age, a U.S. citizen, and they must reside within the town boundaries of Pagosa Springs for at least 30 days immediately preceding the election.
Registered voters can request an absentee ballot from now through April 19 from the town clerk at Town Hall. Those ballots can be picked up in person or will be mailed. Absentee ballots will likely be mailed out the week of April 8 and must be returned to the town by mail at P.O. Box 1859, or in person by the close of polls at 7 p.m. on April 23. Already registered, permanent mail-in voters should check with the county clerk to ensure their address is correct. If a registered voter plans to be out of town for the election, they are encouraged to pick up a ballot at Town Hall.
“We are simply encouraging every town resident to register to vote,” local attorney Matt Roane explained, “regardless of how they might ultimately cast their ballot in April. The entire purpose of the special election is to determine what role town residents want to play in the future development of Reservoir Hill. In order to get a clear answer to that question, it is important that everyone votes, and that process begins with the simple act of registration.”
Roane represents a group of five concerned citizens who successfully circulated a petition late last year calling for a special election to amend the Pagosa Springs Home Rule Charter.
The question on the ballot will read, “Shall the town of Pagosa Springs Home Rule Charter be amended to require an affirmative vote of a majority of the registered electors of the town voting thereon approving the construction or operation of any amusement ride in the Reservoir Hill Recreation Area, as set forth in ordinance no. 781?”
If a majority of the town’s electorate answer “yes” to that question, a section will be added to the Home Rule Charter that will read, “No construction or operation of any amusement ride shall take place in the Reservoir Hill Recreation Area unless the question of doing so has been submitted to and approved by a majority of the town’s registered electors voting thereon. ‘Amusement ride’ shall be defined as any mechanized device, or combination of devices which carry or convey persons along, around, or over a fixed or restricted course for the purpose of giving passengers excitement, amusement or pleasure. Amusement rides include, but are not limited to, roller coasters, Ferris wheels, go-karts, chairlifts, gravity-propelled rides and rope-tows. Amusement rides do not include non-motorized playground equipment or personal recreation equipment such as skis and bicycles.”
Christine Funk, who stressed that her role as a board member for the recently formed “Friends of Reservoir Hill” group is separate from her role as one of the five petition sponsors, explained, “It is not about the rides; it is about who decides.”
Earlier, fellow Friends board member Jeff Greer described the April 23 election as, “A vote so that we can have a vote.”
The controversy surrounding the development of Reservoir Hill came to a head last summer at the Aug. 21 town council meeting, when town manager David Mitchem and Town Tourism Committee Director Jennie Green presented a plan that included several amenities designed to attract tourists to the area. The proposed amenities included a chairlift, an alpine coaster, and a treetop zip-line course, among several others, and in a 5-2 vote the council decided to authorize town staff to continue exploring funding options for the project.
Audience participation at that meeting, both in support and in opposition to the presentation, became so heated that at one point Mayor Ross Aragon had to ask police chief William Rockensock to escort an audience member out of the building. The Friends group formed as a reaction to that meeting and the belief that those who opposed the plan were ignored.
“The TTC does not have a stance regarding the ballot issue,” Green stated in a recent e-mail. “The Town Tourism Committee was tasked by Town Council with developing a plan to add recreational amenities on Reservoir Hill with the goal of increasing tourism. Until tasked further by Town Council, our efforts with Reservoir Hill have concluded. We hope the voters will educate themselves on the proposed plan and its goals and make the decision that they believe is best for the community.”
At a recent town council meeting, council member Kathie Lattin explained that one of the reasons she preferred holding the election on April 23 was to make sure there was plenty of time to educate voters on both sides of the issue. At that meeting, she also complained that news coverage of the issue has been one-sided. TTC chairman Bob Hart recently expressed a similar opinion in a series of letters to the editor.
SUN staff, in order to provide readers a more complete and unbiased explanation of what is at stake, has sent out a request for comments to all key figures, from both sides of the issue, including the mayor and town council members on one side and the Friends group on the other.
Several people from both sides had responded and offered their viewpoints on the issue as of press time on Wednesday, but not all, so readers should look for an article next week outlining the arguments both for and against making a change to the Home Rule charter.