By a surprisingly wide margin, Elbert County voters gave the thumbs-down to Ballot Question 1A, the so-called 51st state initiative.
The ballot question’s defeat was a clear signal from voters to county commissioners to end the secession discussion.
In five of the 11 counties where the secession question appeared on the ballot, the measure passed. But Elbert County voters weren’t so keen on exiting Colorado. Only 42 percent — or 3,810 voters — voted yes, while 57 percent — 5,137 voters — rejected the idea of trying to form a 51st state.
Before election results were announced, Board of County Commissioners Chairman Robert Rowland said he had received more e-mails and calls on the 51st state proposal than any other issue since taking office.
But going forward, Rowland said that he and the other two commissioners won’t spend any more of the county’s time — or money — pursuing the idea.
Voters this year were clearly in a penny-pinching mood, rejecting a handful of measures that would have boosted funding to both county government and local schools.
Two ballot issues — a proposed mill levy increase to help shore up the county’s finances and a repeal of the tool tax exemption — also were defeated by large margins.
Ballot Issue 1B — repeal of the tool tax exemption — failed by a nearly 3-1 ratio, with 73 percent of voters voting no.
Ballot Issue 1C — a plan to increase the mill levy on property taxes — also failed by a wide margin, with nearly 85 percent of county voters voting no.
The rejection of the proposed tax increase puts even more pressure on the county to fund ongoing operations and repair or replace outdated and decaying equipment and infrastructure.
“The bottom line is that it will push us to be as efficient as we possibly can be,” Rowland said about the election result. “We are going to turn over every rock we can to find places to save money and get creative with finding efficiencies.”
Countywide, voter turnout in the vote-by-mail election eclipsed 50 percent, “which is even higher than we were expecting,” said county elections manager Sherry McNeil.
“All in all, I’d say this year’s election went pretty smoothly,” added McNeil, who was hired by the county just three months before this year’s election.
Interviewed in his office two days after Election Day, Rowland was going through the county’s budget, line by line, looking for ways to cuts expenses and increase revenues.
The commissioner was critical of what he called “unfunded state mandates,” which he said continue to rise and will add hundreds of thousands of dollars to county expenditures in 2014 while the county’s anticipated revenues next year, he added, are expected to remain steady at approximately $7.5 million.
“Just mailing out ballots to every registered voter in the county — dead or alive — costs us $97,000 each election,” Rowland said.
Elizabeth voters also failed to pass Ballot Issue 3B, a proposed $3.8 million bond that would have allowed the school district to acquire needed equipment and repair school facilities.
More than 60 percent of voters voted no on that initiative.
And in a hotly contested Elizabeth School Board race, members Carol Hinds and Deb Spenceley were re-elected while Christopher Richardson gained a seat on the five-member board.
According to the unofficial results, Spenceley edged out fourth-place finisher Amilda Heckman by just 15 votes.