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Aspen Times Editorial: Voters in Pitkin, Eagle counties should continue trend of tobacco taxes

When the Aspen City Council first upped the age to purchase tobacco products and then local voters agreed to add a stiff tax to those products, we applauded those moves.

One or both of those changes continue to be approved by municipalities (including Basalt) and counties across the state, and we encourage the same for Pitkin County and Eagle County voters Tuesday.

Pitkin County’s Question 1A would mirror the tax in Aspen, starting with $3.20 tax per pack of smokes (which is what it will be in Aspen in 2020) and 40% on all other tobacco products, including vaping devices and chewing tobacco. It is estimated it will bring in as much as $700,000 annually. The county tax, like Aspen’s, would increase 10 cents a year until it hits $4 per pack.

The Eagle County Ballot Issue 1A starts with the tax at $4 a pack and the 40% hike on other products. It is seeking to gain up to $4.5 million each year. Garfield County commissioners decided not to ask for a tax this year because of administrative costs associated with collecting it.

As we stated before Aspen’s 2017 tobacco tax vote, our goal in supporting these taxes against the deadly products is to address the teen vaping crisis as well as motivate smokers to quit. We believe the higher cost can be a catalyst for current smokers to finally make that jump to quit.

Having the tax in places across the Roaring Fork Valley will help keep people from finding the products cheaper with a short drive, thus supporting both efforts.

Also on Tuesday, Aspen voters will decide what to do with the extra funds collected from the first year of its higher tax. The city estimated the collection at $325,000 a year, but in 2018 the new tax brought in $436,600. We encourage voters say “yes” to Question 2A and let the city keep the extra $111,600 in taxes. We challenge the city to move quickly to use the money to find ways to better the educational efforts in our schools.

One of the more significant allocations from the city will be the partial funding of a full-time mental health clinician in the school district.

As the election nears, we’re taking this time to remind voters of our endorsements we’ve published previously on the local questions:

SCHOOL BOARD

The community is fortunate to have a choice among six well-meaning, well-intentioned candidates who have a deep interest in the district, with either children enrolled now or graduates of the district in recent years. For the two open seats (due to term limits), The Aspen Times endorses Jonathan Nickell and Katy Frisch to help the district move forward in a positive and effective way.

The Times attended all three candidate forums last month, and members of our editorial board have had sit-down discussions with each of the six candidates in the past few weeks.

We have found that each candidate brings fresh ideas to improve on what is in place. They see the challenges ahead, from finding the right leader to being more transparent and open to the community. The three board members not up for re-election have made strides in some areas, and the addition of Nickell and Frisch will help further those efforts.

ASPEN VALLEY HOSPITAL

We support AVH’s proposition to extend the mill levy 10 years instead of the traditional five, largely because of uncertainties in the health care industry in the coming years.

Because voters have thrown their support behind the hospital five times by renewing the mill levy, extending it a decade when most of AVH’s obligation bond debt will be retired is good timing.

When the mill levy expires in 2030 after voters approve Ballot Question 6A this election, all of AVH’s debt will retired. At that point, the AVH board and administration have the opportunity to re-evaluate the needs of the hospital and how much mill levy support will be necessary in the future.

BASALT MILL LEVY RATE

If voters don’t approve establishing the levy at 5.957 mills, it must drop to the lowest level since TABOR was approved. That would reduce the tax rate to the 2.562 mill levy set in 2009. Basalt would be forced to cut an estimated $700,000 from its annual budget.

Basalt voters should approve the 5.957 mill levy. First, it’s needed for essential services. Basalt’s town government would be down to bare bones without the higher mill levy.

Second, the current administration has demonstrated fiscal responsibility. Finance director Christy Hamrick and Town Manager Ryan Mahoney discovered the TABOR violations and brought them to the attention of the council. As a result, Basalt is issuing nearly $2 million in property tax refunds to current taxpayers for overcollections that occurred in the past four years.

Third, approving the 5.957 mills will not increase property taxes above last year’s level.

And finally, as the ballot question promises, Basalt cannot raise property taxes in the future without voter approval — and this time everyone will be paying attention.

For more on our endorsements, go to aspentimes.com/editorials.

The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause and reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.

Aspen Times endorsement: Katy Frisch and Jonathan Nickell for Aspen School District Board of Education

For more than a year, the Aspen School District has taken its lumps.

While the teachers and school administrators worked to keep our children focused, the top leadership struggled on the campus and in the community.

There was the no-confidence vote in the superintendent whose contract was not renewed in October 2018, the revelation that the district’s human resources director had a criminal conviction and was disbarred as a lawyer before moving to Colorado, and the abrupt resignation of the district’s finance director after 11 years. Not to mention a heavy undertone of faculty distrust in the administration and concerns over reading scores at the elementary level. It seemed so dire that a third party was brought in to do an in-depth study on the district’s climate and culture.

This brings us to the Board of Education election, which the results will be known Nov. 5. Ballots have been mailed out and should have arrived in voters’ mailboxes by now.

Who fills the two open seats will play a vital role in selecting the district’s next superintendent, working on the district’s strategic plan, and wrestling with an abundance of issues ranging from teacher compensation to mental health at the schools.

The community is fortunate to have a choice among six well-meaning, well-intentioned candidates who have a deep interest in the district, with either children enrolled now or graduates of the district in recent years. For the two open seats (due to term limits), The Aspen Times endorses Jonathan Nickell and Katy Frisch to help the district move forward in a positive and effective way.

The Times attended all three candidate forums this month, and members of our editorial board have had sit-down discussions with each of the six candidates in the past two weeks.

We have found that each candidate brings fresh ideas to improve on what is in place. They see the challenges ahead, from finding the right leader to being more transparent and open to the community. The three board members not up for re-election have made strides in some areas, and the addition of Nickell and Frisch will help further those efforts.

At one forum, Nickell suggested floating a bond issue to voters for funding to build or acquire housing for teachers. We are not sure whether that’s possible, but municipal bonds can be used for capital projects such as building schools and other public buildings, so why not look at it for building teacher housing?

Just being bold enough to suggest that major of a step shows Nickell is open to looking at all options.

The Aspen Times endorsed Nickell in 2017 when there were three open seats. He finished behind current board members Dwayne Romero, Susan Marolt and Susie Zimet.

His commitment is demonstrated through his work on the District Accountability Committee and his role with the teachers’ association in their salary negotiations. Nickell, the CFO of an international company, has a strong command of the numbers, from finances to standardized-test scores. We also appreciate his level-headed approach to divisive issues — his calm yet firm demeanor would be an asset to the board.

Frisch brings with her a no-nonsense approach to school matters and a background that more than qualifies her for the BOE. Her local board experience includes her current role on the executive committee of the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, of which she once was president, vice president and treasurer. She also sat on the board of the pre-K Wildwood School in Aspen and is a current member of Aspen Public Radio’s board of directors.

Frisch runs her family’s manufacturing business and understands finances, demonstrated by her 10 years on the district’s Financial Advisory Board. Worth noting, however, is that board met just once in the past two years.

Frisch explained to the Times editorial board that behind the scenes, she brought her concerns about the board’s near-dormancy to the district’s elected leaders but they did not gain any traction. The situation was indicative of other issues at the district that senior management wasn’t addressing, Frisch said.

That’s part of the reason Frisch is running for the board — to root out problems that have frustrated members of volunteer organizations such as the District Accountability Committee and the Financial Advisory Board.

As members of those committees, both Frisch and Nickell experienced ongoing difficulties accessing basic information, like finances, from the district. As future BOE members, the two will be able to relate with district stakeholders who have experienced those same challenges, including getting the board’s attention on matters of importance.

We’re confident that Nickell and Frisch at the table will be most beneficial in making one of the board’s biggest decisions in decades. Finding the right superintendent in the next year is critical. Nickell and Frisch’s business background — both have MBAs — make them ideal for these two board openings.

If you haven’t mailed in your ballot, make sure to do that sooner than later. Remember, Election Day is Nov. 5, and vote Katy Frisch and Jonathan Nickell for the Aspen School District Board of Education.

The Aspen Times editorial board is comprised of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause, managing editor Rick Carroll, and reporters Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.

Aspen Times Editorial: Keep the lifeline connected to AVH: vote yes on 6A

Voters within Aspen Valley Hospital’s special taxing district are being asked this fall to extend a 1.5 mill levy that will ensure the continual operation of this vital community asset.

By voting yes, voters will be continuing a property tax that was established in 1995 to help support the hospital’s operations. Residents have renewed it every five years since.

The mill levy generates roughly $4.6 million each year and represents about 4% of AVH’s overall budget. It’s an important 4% because it’s essentially the hospital’s operating margin.

As Dave Ressler, AVH’s executive director, has explained, the hospital’s operations — patient revenue, minus expenses — resulted in a loss of $4.6 million already this year. That’s before property taxes and philanthropy.

The mill levy helps maintain AVH’s operating margins, but also allows the hospital to invest in equipment and capital needs.

Without the mill levy revenue, the first hit would be AVH’s ability to invest in technologies and equipment, which the hospital depends on to stay modern and state of the art.

We don’t want to see AVH having to re-evaluate and possibly eliminating what’s called “negative margin services” — specialty services that the community relies on having access to through AVH’s physicians and those who are on contract.

We support AVH’s proposition to extend the mill levy 10 years instead of the traditional five, largely because of uncertainties in the health care industry in the coming years.

AVH faces significant reimbursement pressure because of escalating costs and premiums becoming affordable.

The second significant uncertainty is consumers with high deductibles can’t afford the increasing health care costs and are unable to pay their bills.

We hope to see reforms on the federal and state levels that address those uncertainties.

But in the meantime, AVH is doing what it can locally by better managing the health of the local population and total costs of health care through the Valley Health Alliance, which is addressing chronic conditions, social determinates and lifestyle to get us all healthier.

Because voters have thrown their support behind the hospital five times by renewing the mill levy, extending it a decade when most of AVH’s obligation bond debt will be retired is good timing.

Voters passed the bonds in 2010 to help fund AVH’s facilities expansion to the tune of $50 million. Another $60 million is being raised philanthropically.

The general obligation bonds will be paid by 2030, and nearly all of AVH’s other long-term debt, estimated at around $16 million, also will be repaid by then.

When the mill levy expires in 2030 after voters approve ballot question 6A this election, all of AVH’s debt will retired. At that point, the AVH board and administration have the opportunity to re-evaluate the needs of the hospital and how much mill levy support will be necessary in the future.

With the debt completely retired, it will be a clean slate for AVH. That gives them the flexibility to determine how to fund ongoing capital and facilities needs, and meet the challenges of whatever the future brings.

The tax is set to expire in December 2020. By extending it for another 10 years, it sends a clear message that the Aspen and Pitkin County community supports its rural hospital.

It’s important to note that the tax revenue doesn’t go to AVH’s ongoing expansion, which is estimated to cost $60 million; $13 million of which still needs to be raised through private donations.

The 1.5 mill levy means a property owner pays roughly $12 annually on a property with an assessed value of $100,000, and so on.

It’s a small price to pay to know that we have a hospital that operates in the black, and is proactive in improving the health of locals and is providing the necessary services for this unique population.

The loss of the mill levy revenue would result in the significant curtailment of services and capital investments in order to preserve adequate cash reserves.

Vote yes on ballot question 6A. We believe your money is in good hands.

The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause and reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.

Roses and Thorns: Goodbye to another local joint, and good riddance to you manic SUV drivers

A rose to Annette and Fino Docimo, who gave locals free slices of homemade pizza to celebrate the last day of their Mountain Bake Shop on the Hyman Avenue pedestrian mall. The longtime locals had to close up shop because the building they were in is scheduled to be torn down. The loss of Annette’s, coming on the heels of Taster’s closing Aug. 31, is a blow to the affordable lunch scene in Aspen, and we’re hoping the couple can find a space they can afford in the near future. But as the owners of Taster’s can attest, there’s a fat chance of that happening here in Fat City.

A big, fat, pokey thorn to you out-of-town, rental-plated angry SUV drivers attempting to get to the airport in a huge hurry (lest it takes more than 6.2 minutes to get through security) who careen out of the roundabout into the far right lane to show all of us law-abiding locals whose boss and then you realize it’s a bus lane, so you irritatedly have to cram back into line having gained one or two positions in a line that isn’t going to go any faster no matter how much East Coast juju you put on it. Relax, it’s Aspen.

A shout out from all the couch potatoes who care about local democracy: A rose goes to Grassroots TV, one of the valley’s oldest nonprofits, for continuing to provide public access to government and community meetings on a shoestring budget. Their presence allows hundreds, if not thousands of people, to watch what our elected officials are doing without having to physically be at the meetings.

Only a mildly injurious thorn to the city officials who wanted to make improvements to the safe crossing for pedestrians on main street between the Aspen Police Department and Original Curve. There are now so many flashing crossing signs that drivers risk episodic epilepsy and lapses in sanity trying to figure out which set of flashing lights indicates a pedestrian in which crosswalk. We don’t know how to properly thorn the people who think that the button for the crosswalks work for East/West traffic the same as North/South, so cars are stopped for six blocks on Main Street while pedestrians cross a completely different street.

A rose goes to the gentleman outside of the Art Base in Basalt who helped our circulation director unload a surprisingly heavy newspaper rack from the back of his truck last week. Good looking out for us, and thanks for keeping Jake’s back from getting jacked.

Have a rose or a thorn? Send them to letters@aspentimes.com.

Aspen Times Editorial: Basalt voters need to keep mill levy at current rate

The town of Basalt’s overcollection of property taxes is, for sure, a messy and complicated issue.

The town administration and elected council have been trying for the better part of 2019 to clear up the mess. The Nov. 5 general election plays an important role in the solution.

The town is asking voters to approve a general operating tax rate of 5.957 mills, which is the same amount as last year. It is needed for the town’s basic services: police work, road maintenance, snowplowing, park maintenance, recreational programs and the like.

The town needs its mill levy re-established because of mistakes made by the staff and elected officials going back decades. Colorado voters approved the Taxpayers Bill of Rights in 1992. It limits tax revenue growth and requires voter approval for tax increases.

Basalt town government voluntarily lowered the property tax rate consistently in the 1990s and in the later half of the 2000s. As property values increased, the town was often able to collect the same amount of revenues even by lowering the tax rate. In addition, the town council purposely lowered the tax rate during the Great Recession to lessen the burden on property owners feeling the financial squeeze.

Dropping the mill levy wasn’t a problem, but when the town felt it had to raise the tax rate, it ran afoul of TABOR. Past and present elected officials said in hindsight they believed they could raise the rate as long as they didn’t exceed the levy in place at the time TABOR was approved. That was an incorrect assumption.

The mill levy was increased 10 times since 2005 in violation of TABOR. That included last year, when it was raised to 5.957 from 5.792 mills.

If voters don’t approve establishing it at 5.957 mills, it must drop to the lowest level since TABOR was approved. That would reduce the tax rate to the 2.562 mill levy set in 2009. Basalt would be forced to cut an estimated $700,000 from its annual budget.

Basalt voters should approve the 5.957 mill levy. First, it’s needed for essential services. Basalt’s town government would be down to bare bones without the higher mill levy.

Second, the current administration has demonstrated fiscal responsibility. Finance director Christy Hamrick and Town Manager Ryan Mahoney discovered the TABOR violations and brought them to the attention of the council. As a result, Basalt is issuing nearly $2 million in property tax refunds to current taxpayers for overcollections that occurred in the past four years.

Third, approving the 5.957 mills will not increase property taxes above last year’s level. TABOR requires specific ballot language any time there is a tax question. This question is phrased in a way that makes it sound like it is proposing a tax increase of $740,000. In reality, that’s the amount more than proposed mill levy would raise over what the mill levy would fall to without voter approval.

And finally, as the ballot question promises, Basalt cannot raise property taxes in the future without voter approval — and this time everyone will be paying attention.

Ballots will be mailed Oct. 7. Basalt voters should approve the mill levy request.

The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause and reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.

Roses & Thorns: Councilman Skippy makes a stir; Jerry remember well at Rugger

  • We’re handing a thorn to the Garfield County woman who told Aspen City Councilman Skippy Mesirow “your concentration is so small” during public comments at Monday’s meeting. There’s no room for that type of discourse in Aspen or anywhere else when it comes to discussing gun control, which the city is considering by banning all firearms from municipal buildings.
  • Councilman Mesirow also gets a thorn due to his remarks that set off the woman, who had a gun strapped to her leg. He said he was awash in fear and could not concentrate because of her appearance. Some thoughts are better left unexpressed, and Mesirow really stepped in it this time, coming across as somebody who hasn’t been west of the roundabout since it was built in 1999. Let’s hope cooler heads prevail when the proposed ordinance comes up for a second reading Oct. 8.
  • Roses to everyone who voted in “Best of Aspen & Snowmass” contest. We’re tabulating the results and putting together our annual magazine, which will come out in the end of October. We had a record amount of nominations and votes. Here’s to the more than 6,300 people who voted and the 90,8181 votes cast, which is more than double last year’s that were cast.
  • Thorns to Judge James Boyd for signing an order that sealed the case of former Basalt High School choir and music teacher Brittany von Stein. While the court hearings will be conducted it public, it appears, the judge approved sealing all motions and paperwork involved in the case. Von Stein was arrested on suspicion of having sexual relations with a student. The alleged victim is a minor. We get it and agree that the identity shouldn’t be revealed, but there are ways to protect the identity without sealing the case.
  • Roses to the crews working on Wagner Park before and after Ruggerfest. The field was in great shape (thanks to Ma Nature as well) for all those matches because of their work and the weather. And coming out of the pounding the field took for four days, the park looks like it will have a few weeks to recover before winter sets in.
  • A crown of mixed roses and thorns for Basalt Town Council for its decision Tuesday night to eliminate meat from future meals during its meetings. There is no doubt that reducing meat intake can improve personal and planetary health. For that, the council gets roses. However, symbolic gestures aren’t worth much without explaining why they are being taken. Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer, who suggested going veggie, should have given a quick, concise explanation of why the action was being taken. She didn’t, nor did other council members, thus the thorns.
  • And finally, rose to all those involved in honoring Jerome Hatem during last weekend’s 52nd annual Ruggerfest. From the logo on this year’s merchandise to Thursday night’s event for the scholarship fund and Sunday’s ceremony pre-championship match, Jerry was in everyone’s thoughts through the weekend. Cheers, to Jerry.

Have a rose or a thorn? Send them to letters@aspentimes.com.

Aspen Times editorial: New city manager has opportunity to right ship for Aspen government

For the first time in nearly two decades, top officials for the city of Aspen — from electeds to the appointed — have an opportunity to set a tone for the future as a group, breaking down walls and divisions that were created by a previous city manager.

But it will take the focus of the new city manager and the direction from the City Council, which has three new members including a new mayor, to get the 320-plus full-time city employees re-engaged in their vision.

Sara Ott, who was promoted to city manager earlier this month, was picked as an assistant in the department in March 2017 out of nearly 150 applicants. Her boss, who she is replacing, said that when she interviewed she met with many of the city’s senior-level managers and she “received positive feedback from those interactions.”

While there were 64 candidates for the city manager job, it came down to three. Ott beat out two extremely qualified finalists and we agree with council’s decision that she is the best person to repair a strained relationship between City Hall and the community.

Ott, 41, also has to rebuild the confidence of the city staff, which has experienced low morale under previous leadership. She should prioritize making sure everyone who works there feels comfortable bringing forward an issue or problem, and potential solutions. No matter the level of government.

Overall, morale has been low for a long time around City Hall, and it will take time to rebuild trust. From the top, Ott can set that foundation in whom she hires as the two new assistant city managers, one to fill her spot and one vacated in December by the forced resignation of Barry Crook.

This is an opportunity where Aspen can get back to a strong council-manager form of government in that elected officials set policy and the budget and rely on the city manager and staff to carry out those requests. For too long, the city manager’s office was given too much power and often dictated the direction of government.

Initiatives need to start with the council, which is one of the most diverse in the city’s history in that it represents five decades of age brackets and elected experience from zero to 25 years. It’s then up to Ott to prioritize those initiatives and send them on to execute.

And we believe she will. Ott is direct, focused and ready to dig in. She’s been successful in handling triage within the organization since she took the interim job.

She is utilizing what she’s learned from previous government experience in Ohio. We can already see changes in how she and staff communicate with elected officials and the public.

We are happy to see that Ott’s approach for leading the city is based in the Aspen Idea, which is centered around the mind, body and spirit way of life here.

Ott does not come into her job without her detractors. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in government or the private sector who makes everyone happy. But her actions in these early months should help sway some of those critics or at least earn their respect.

In addition to rebuilding the city manager’s office and the relationship with council, Ott needs to keep a handle on the controversial city office project at Rio Grande Place, and keep the government from going down a rabbit hole with costs and time.

She has to balance keeping the community and council happy, but as top city administrator, we need her and staff focused on the timeline, budget and what goes in the new building. And that communication with the public remains a priority.

What we’ve heard from council is that the government has hundreds of affordable housing units in the pipeline. We appreciate the extensive public process that those projects are going through but we hope Ott won’t let them get bogged down in bureaucracy.

She said she’s going to start her new job in earnest by walking neighborhoods with residents and launch a listening tour. We think this is exactly the right approach, particularly since much of the community hasn’t felt like it’s had a voice in recent years.

Ott has her work cut out for her but we, like City Council, have the faith and confidence that she can and will succeed.

The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause and reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.

Roses & Thorns: Great events to honor fallen heroes of 9/11

  • A thorn goes out to each and every bad actor out there on the roads, whether they are on foot or in a motor vehicle. Just because there is a crosswalk doesn’t mean pedestrians and runners get to step out into oncoming traffic. Drivers need time to react, too. And stop using your horns, people. It’s offseason, so treat your locals and visitors as such.
  • Roses go to Luliia Monsenz and Trevor Triano, two lifeguards who saved the life of a 5-year-old child from drowning earlier this summer in the pool at the Aspen Recreation Center. Monsenz and Triano were recognized by the American Red Cross last week in front of Aspen City Council. They received the Life Saver award, which is one of the highest awards given and not very often.
  • Roses to the six candidates who are running for the two open seats on the Aspen School District’s Board of Education. While their positions will be fleshed out in upcoming candidate forums and news coverage, we appreciate the fact that a half-dozen candidates are in the running while four other school districts in Colorado have canceled their elections because of a lack of opposing candidates, coloradopolitics.com reported this week.
  • Apathy has no place in politics, and that includes the local school board level. Roses to those candidates, who are all parents, willing to sacrifice their time for the benefit of Aspen schools. The BOE election is Nov. 5; two open seats are up for grabs.
  • Thorns to those cyclists who continue to ride their bikes past the “Walk Your Bike” signs on every point-of-entry spot on the Aspen Pedestrian Mall. Sure, when it’s quiet in the morning and a few people are strolling the bricks, stay in your saddle. But for crying out loud, go an extra block around or get off and walk. It is a daily occurrence we see two or three riders still riding.
  • Roses to the area fire departments and their annual events to honor the fallen from the 9/11 attacks. The gathering outside of the Aspen Fire Station in downtown draws a big crowd, and the roses representing the fallen first responders is a fitting tribute. As well, the evening 3-mile walk in Snowmass by the crews from the Roaring Fork Fire Rescue stations has become a nice way to end an otherwise somber day.

Have a rose or a thorn? Send them to letters@aspentimes.com.

Aspen Times editorial: Solar farm proposal should get Pitkin County commissioners’ full support

Our valley’s communities have set the tone for change in the past, and we again have the opportunity to be an example of addressing environmental concerns by taking action, no matter how small it seems.

The proposed 35-acre solar farm near the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road (just downvalley from the airport) is in a location that is ideal for the production, the community and most of the surrounding area.

Its greatest drawback, critics say, is it alters the view for those who live and own homes in Brush Creek Village on the hill above Highway 82 and some in Woody Creek. We all will see the farm as we come and go in our lives, but those folks on the hill are the ones who will see the 18,000 panels, which will be situated on the 55-acre parcel, on a daily basis.

All the other arguments are moot. The unused former solid waste industrial land is ideal ground. The location makes it part of the overall community and shows we are thinking forward, and worries of any glare that might come from the panels will be quickly dealt with.

Days of NIMBY-ism in Woody Creek and the valley are over. The stakes are too high as our climate continues to change and be a greater concern worldwide.

Detractors were outnumbered by a chorus of support during the hours of public comment in the Planning and Zoning Commission meetings before the vote earlier this month. There was a comment that it was “out of character for the county.” To the contrary, it is exactly the personality the county should continue to develop.

Our upper valley municipalities have developed plans to address climate concerns. Aspen’s work with reducing greenhouse-gas emissions has gained state and national attention. Snowmass is adding solar panels on city buildings and property. And while those won’t make a huge impact, they show our communities are working on and accepting solutions.

When P&Z board members approved and forwarded the project to the Pitkin County commissioners, they sent a message that has been bolstered by the councils from Aspen and Snowmass who have sent letters of support for the project. The proposal’s next step is for the five-person board of commissioners to review, which likely will come Sept. 25 at first reading, and then more public comment at an October meeting.

For decades our towns have been examples on a number of social fronts, from banning plastic bags to giving rise to an attempt to stem the teen vaping and smoking issue by raising the age to buy those products. And this solar proposal is no different, but on a great scale through the county.

Solar farms have been coming online for years, and we certainly are not at the front of the line of innovation. But we can be another key example of how communities from the mountains down to sea level cannot only talk about climate worries but take steps toward change, no matter how small.

It is also a response by a utilities company — Holy Cross Energy — to hear its customers’ concerns. In a 2018 survey, HCE officials said 69% of its users said they would be interested in “purchasing renewable energy through a community solar system.”

Will this new farm that will power about 1,000 homes per year solve the all of the world’s problems? Of course not. But it shows we again are actively making an effort and willing to give opportunity to solutions.

We urge county commissioners to take all of these factors into account as they discuss and review the proposal and then move forward and approve the solar farm project, which should be one of many we look at in the future.

The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause and reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.

Aspen Times editorial: Aspen’s new housing board must take two big bites off the elephant

After years of politicking and back-and-forth discussions among Pitkin County and Aspen elected officials, there is a newly formed local housing authority board, the makeup of which is designed to get things done quickly — a big change from the past.

We certainly hope it works, because there are major issues facing the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, and the thousands of hardworking community members who live in the program’s 1,600 deed-restricted for-sale units.

The board now has two voting members who are elected officials from the city and county, along with three at-large citizen volunteers.

Previously, the APCHA board was comprised of all volunteer citizens who made recommendations to Aspen City Council and the Pitkin County commissioners. Those boards had final authority on APCHA policy decisions.

One of the impetuses for changing the makeup of the board was so a vote at the APCHA table would force decision-making in a timely manner — rather than both government bodies voting separately on their own timelines, and sometimes vetoing one another.

The previous structure resulted in no movement on major policy decisions like how to address deficits in the capital reserves of homeowners associations throughout the APCHA inventory.

A 2012 assessment estimated a $15 million shortfall of capital reserves across the inventory, or roughly $9,000 a unit.

A few years ago, city officials proposed giving each unit a $10,000 grant, with conditions. The funds would go in the escrow accounts of homeowners associations and pay for capital improvements to common areas such as work on roofs, sidings and boilers, among others.

The city’s solution was estimated to cost $15 million.

The county had a different proposal that officials argue was more equitable — emergency, no-interest loans for homeowners associations facing dire situations. A loan, rather than a grant, would hold HOAs more financially accountable, commissioners argued.

The county’s solution was estimated to cost between $2 million and $4 million.

And the impasse of what to do remains. Meanwhile, individual homeowners, particularly in the older properties, are feeling the pinch as their complexes require repairs and replacements.

What’s at issue is that owners of deed-restricted units have no financial incentive to put money into their buildings when there is a sales cap on them, which leads to the other massive problem facing the 40-year-old program.

Outside of the common areas in the buildings, homeowners are not doing basic maintenance in their units and in many cases, are uninhabitable when they put them up for sale.

And because the demand is so high, with as many as 100 bidders on one unit, desperate people will buy it anyway.

But some won’t and they have made their concerns known to the APCHA board in recent years.

One board member said last year that the agency is “subsidizing garbage.”

While we acknowledge there is no quick fix on either issue, it’s time to get to work and find real solutions to these very real problems in what we believe is the most important program for the community.

We urge this new board to first focus on government assistance programs for capital reserve deficits and establish financial penalties for homeowners whose units don’t meet certain criteria at the time of resale.

The groundwork’s been laid. Previous administrations have left the ball on the 50-yard line.

It’s time to pick it up and run with it.

The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause and reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.