City of Aspen voters will vote on voting
The Aspen electorate will decide this fall on whether the municipal election should be moved from May to March.
A group of local residents calling themselves Aspen Citizens for Democracy successfully submitted enough valid signatures on a petition referendum to get a question on the November ballot.
It’s aimed at changing the home rule charter governing the spring elections, according to City Clerk Linda Manning.
She told Aspen City Council on Tuesday that the threshold of registered voters had been met for the citizen referendum.
Art Daily, Joe DiSalvo, Skippy Mesirow, Ashley Lynn Feddersen and Wendle Whiting collected at least 407 signatures — 70 more than the threshold.
The group argues that more people are in town in March rather than in May, and moving the election will result in more voter participation.
During a work session about possible ballot questions, City Attorney Jim True said he will come back to council with ballot language and a possible title for the question.
He added that council doesn’t have much of a say on the citizen referendum.
“You don’t have a choice except for the ballot title,” he told council.
If the general election is moved to March, the runoff would be in April. And incumbents would remain in office until June, despite that their successors get elected in March.
Councilman Ward Hauenstein told Mesirow that he applauded the effort and the transparency his group has shown.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins said she looks forward to a robust discussion leading up to the fall vote about the pros and cons of moving the election date.
What’s likely not going to be on the November ballot, however, is a proposal from Jazz Aspen Snowmass that asks whether voters have an appetite for earmarking $5 million from the Wheeler Opera House Real Estate Transfer Tax (WRETT) to help pay for a new performance center.
Council discussed a potential question in recent weeks but delays with a building acquisition and concerns about favoring one arts organization over another have cropped up.
The council did not discuss the matter at Tuesday’s meeting, but Jazz Aspen Snowmass issued a statement regardless. It reads in part:
“Jazz Aspen Snowmass (Tuesday) announced its support for the direction of recent discussions regarding the potential broader reallocation of the Wheeler RETT funds. The JAS board of directors met and discussed the matter and JAS President and CEO Jim Horowitz engaged in discussions with other leaders of local arts and education not-for-profit organizations. The conclusion of the JAS Board is that JAS supports wholeheartedly the wisdom of re-engaging the arts community in discussions about future potential use of the WRETT funds.”
Horowitz has been anxiously waiting to announce the acquisition of a downtown building where the new JAS Center would be located.
Horowitz said in the statement that JAS will continue with the purchase and development of a performance center without city backing.
“We will proceed as originally planned at the outset of the JAS Center project, which is to finance and wholly own the new facility independent of any outcome of the WRETT discussions,” he said.
But because the deal is still pending, it could be too premature to ask voters to support a public-private partnership. The proposal includes the city taking $4 million from the Wheeler RETT to help fund the purchase of the building — purported to have a fair-market value of $15 million — and another $1 million to help subsidize community events at the venue for a period of 10 years.
The WRETT has a $32 million balance. The tax funds are designated for arts and cultural purposes, based on a 1970s vote of Aspen’s electorate. A public vote is required to change that designation.
All city ballot questions must be formalized no later than the end of August.
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