Keeping county seated in Aspen worth the price
January 25, 2007
Pitkin County will stay seated in Aspen.The county commissioners opted this week to keep most of the county government offices in Aspen rather than move them to an unincorporated plot of land near Sardy Field. The commissioners were able to reach a consensus despite the fact it will cost taxpayers considerably more – $10 million – than it would to build a new campus near the Aspen Business Center.It’s a good decision. Historically, economically and politically, Aspen is the heart of the county, so it makes sense that it remains the county seat. Certain businesses and institutions simply belong downtown, and one of them is the local government.The county government is running out of space in its existing complex on East Main Street.According to Public Works Director Brian Pettet, it would cost roughly $35 million to move everything out to the ABC and build anew, versus $45 million to stay in Aspen and rebuild (that cost includes a temporary relocation of the county offices during construction). This is a big difference and a lot of money, but it’s still the right choice.Although a move would be more convenient for downvalley residents and county employees, most of whom commute from outlying communities, the out-of-town location would decentralize county government and possibly add to the upper valley’s woeful traffic problems.The move would mean 6,000 or so Aspenites would have to drive out of town to do county business. It would be yet another ill-advised move toward suburbanization.Because of space constraints in town, the county will probably have to put some new buildings out near the airport anyway. Public Works is already out near the airport, and other departments that don’t have much interaction with citizens will likely move there, too. But the commissioners wisely decided to centralize as many of county functions as possible in Aspen, where a significant proportion of county residents live.We were also happy to learn that commissioners are planning to put a satellite office in El Jebel to serve the northern and western parts of the county.Eventually the county will have to go to voters for bonding authority to carry out its plans. It’s much too early for an endorsement of those plans, but the decision to stay is a promising sign.