By the time town clerk April Hessman locked the doors to the Pagosa Springs Town Hall at 7 p.m. on April 23, thus closing the polls for the town’s special election, a total of 384 ballots had been cast — nearly one third of the 1,161 registered voters and almost half of the 776 active voters in town.
The ballots were tallied by 7:45, and in the end 291 people had said “Yes,” thereby changing the town’s Home Rule Charter so that town council would not be able to put amusement rides on Reservoir Hill without getting approval from the electorate. Ninety-three people voted “No.”
Of the 384 ballots, 96 were from citizens who showed up during the day to cast their votes in person, while 288 were mail-in ballots.
In an April 2012 election that picked three council members and approved three amendments to sections of the town’s Home Rule Charter — 261 people cast ballots, 123 less than on Tuesday.
“I am pleased with the amount of people who came out to vote,” council member and election observer Kathie Lattin (also a member of “The True Friends of Reservoir Hill political action committee that favored a “No” vote) commented after the votes were tallied. “I hope this many people come to voice their opinion at every town council meeting, and I look forward to working together with the town residents to figure out what we want, where we want to go and what means the most to them. I hope they continue to get involved. More than anything I wanted people to get out and vote. Now I just hope that this can bring an end to this fighting and I hope we can start to work together.”
“Fantastic!” was the response election observer Mat DeGraaf (a member of the “Pagosa Votes” political action committee favoring a “Yes” vote) gave when asked how he felt about the outcome of the vote. “It was a great turnout. It’s great to see people showing up to the polls and casting their vote. The results say something, and I hope the message isn’t overlooked. The fact that nearly seventy-five percent of the vote was cast in favor of ‘power to the people’ speaks volumes about what the people want, what they have been seeing and the changes they want to see occur.”
In an interview Wednesday, Mayor Ross Aragon said, “Clearly the people have spoken. I accept the vote on the referendum with civility and dignity. The bottom line is people do not want development on the hill. Case closed.”
In a statement made earlier this month in a series of debates published by The SUN leading up to the election, council member Don Volger explained, “The general public needs to know that if this Town Charter amendment is approved by the voters, the proposed development will not be pursued by the Town Council because another election will cost our taxpayers more money, the time it would take to prepare for another election would significantly delay the project, and we will conclude that the majority of our constituents oppose having these types of mechanized amenities on Reservoir Hill.”
The question on the ballot asked, “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?”
Since a majority of the town’s electorate answered “yes” to that question, a section will be added to the Home Rule Charter that reads, “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.”
Neither town manager Mitchem nor Christine Funk of The Friends of Reservoir Hill had responded by Wednesday’s deadline to a SUN staff request for comments on the election results.