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It was nearly 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday night when Pagosa Springs Town Clerk April Hessman finally posted the results of the 2014 municipal election on the front door of Town Hall, allowing the anxious but tenacious crowd to disperse.
Don Volger, who garnered 319 votes, will be the town’s new mayor, replacing Ross Aragon who, after 38 years of service to the community, announced earlier this year he would be stepping down.
“I am honored and blessed that the community has supported me in this fashion,” Volger said in an interview with SUN staff early the next morning. “I mean, what can I say? I am amazed that I have received so much favor from this community.”
There were three other people running for the position of mayor. The next closest contender was Shari Pierce, who earned 149 votes. During last month’s League of Women Voters forum, Pierce had promised to change the way town council meetings were conducted, moving the council away from its high bench and down to the work table in the center of the council chamber. It would have been a symbolic gesture, but Pierce said the council needs to move closer to the people it represents.
Mark Weiler, who has a background in finance and currently serves as the president of Parelli Natural Horsemanship, received 85 votes in Tuesday night’s election. While he has participated in many community-related projects, his most recent efforts have been for the community recreation center.
Paul Nobles was the fourth person running for the mayor’s seat, and he earned 26 votes.
Early Wednesday morning, Volger went on to say that he hopes to build on the accomplishments of his predecessor and to continue moving forward in a positive direction. He then mentioned a few particular steps he would like to take to accomplish his goals.
“Obviously, we need to get the whole council together,” Volger outlined. “We need to have an extended retreat and start talking about how we need to do business, and changes we need to make as far as the operation of meetings and that sort of stuff — just some organizational stuff.”
Volger said the new council members will need to be trained and brought up to speed and the town’s comprehensive plan will need to be re-examined. In particular, Volger said the council needs to “start setting priorities and deadlines, and pick a few of them we can really focus on, and see if we can think of ways to get them done.”
Volger also mentioned the need for better communications, and pointed to the town’s website in particular as something that needs to be upgraded. He will suggest hiring someone to update it on a daily basis, responding to comments and suggestions from the public.
“Anyway, that’s a little bit of the broad scope of where I would like to go,” Volger concluded, “but I am only one of seven, and I can only lead in direction some and in setting tone. We’ll just see how it goes.”
Only three town council seats were not up for re-election — those held by Tracy Bunning, David Schanzenbaker and Clint Alley.
While CK Patel and John Egan will be new members of the council, having run unopposed for the two district seats vacated by Volger and Darrel Cotton, the seat held by Kathie Lattin was challenged by Mat deGraaf.
However, Lattin will continue to serve on the council for the next four years, having received 101 votes while deGraaf narrowly lost with 94.
There were also three ballot issues before the voters this year.
First, Ballot Issue A was soundly defeated, with 423 people voting against it and only 159 voting for it. This controversial ballot question would have allowed the town to implement an additional 1 percent sales tax on businesses within the town limits. The additional revenue generated by this tax increase would have been dedicated to the construction and operation of a community recreation center.
“Before the election I said that I was going to vote against it,” Volger commented. “I wouldn’t campaign actively for or against it, which I kept my promise on that, I think, but I also said I would be relieved if it didn’t pass, and I am relieved, because now we have so many more options that we can pursue.
“If the recreation center issue would have passed, it would have had to be the top priority and we would have had to devote untold numbers of hours and resources to make that thing work. It would have been difficult.”
While Volger admitted he is relieved the town will now be free to finish other projects, he also pointed out that a lot of people put their time, energy and passion into advocating for the rec center project, and he expressed his hope that if the proposal came up again in the future, it would be at a better time and be more streamlined and realistic.
“I applaud that effort,” Volger said, “and I just hope they don’t get too bummed right now and discouraged. I hope they can refocus that energy and that passion into something that maybe we can achieve together, instead of having more polarization and division.
“We’ll see. Everybody is different and pulling everybody together is going to be a challenge, but I think it’s possible. People have worked together in the past for different things, and we’ve just got to find those things that we can work together on.”
The next item on the ballot concerned changing the mayor and the town council seats from voluntary positions to salaried jobs, and preliminary results from Tuesday night’s tally showed 292 people voted for it and 291 voted against it.
Hessman told the SUN that, within the next week, there would be a recount on that issue since the outcome was only decided by one vote.
The final issue on the ballot dealt with a legal technicality and didn’t garner much attention or public debate, passing easily by a margin of 80 votes. It changes the town’s home rule charter to specify what matters the municipal court will have the authority to hear.
The new mayor and town council members will be sworn in at the noon meeting on April 17.