2D or not 2D?
October 5, 2005
Aspen property owners won’t see anything unusual on the city portion of their tax bill next spring if Referendum 2D passes on Nov. 1.If voters approve the measure, the city will retain excess property taxes for the next five years, starting with 2005 taxes payable in 2006. But the city has already been retaining those revenues for the past five years, following voter authorization of a similar measure in November 2000.However, if Referendum 2D fails at the polls, excess taxes must be returned. Next year, the owner of a $2.5 million Aspen home would get $110 back, calculated Paul Menter, city finance director.For the past five years, the city has earmarked the excess revenue for capital and operating expenses at the Aspen Recreation Center, which opened its doors in 2003.If 2D passes next month, the city will allocate future dollars to any or all of four potential uses identified by the City Council: the purchase of alternative-fuel buses (likely hybrid vehicles) for use on city routes; improving the quality of the stormwater that drains into the Roaring Fork River; the design and construction of a new outdoor pool at the ARC; and improvements to the city’s sidewalk and trail system, including upgrades to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.Over five years, the measure is expected to generate a total of $2.5 million to $3 million that can be allocated to those projects, including $440,000 that would be collected next year.Individuals who either support or oppose the referendum have voiced their viewpoints in the summary of ballot measures mailed to Pitkin County voters this week.”The taxpayers of this city deserve a return of their tax dollars,” the opposition says. “Monies refunded to the private sector encourage more growth than any amount of public spending. Vote no on this diversion of your tax dollars.”The roughly $700,000 earmarked for an outdoor pool is “ridiculous,” given the usage of the indoor pools at the ARC, according to the anti-2D contingent.Opponents also note that city taxpayers already heavily subsidize the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which operates the valley’s bus service. (The city, however, contracts separately with RFTA to run city routes. It is not part of the valley service subsidized by various participating governments.)Taking care of stormwater runoff and sidewalk/trail improvements should be part of the city’s regular budget, 2D opponents also conclude.Proponents of 2D note the measure would not impose a new tax but would present opportunities for Aspen to pursue some environmental goals – quieter, cleaner-operating buses (which cost about twice the price of standard diesel buses) and construction of wetlands that would clean stormwater runoff of sediment and pollution before it flows into the river.An outdoor pool – envisioned when the ARC was built – would increase ARC revenues during the summer, and the sidewalk/trail improvements would make it safer and easier for residents and visitors to get around on foot, proponents contend.Without voter approval to keep and spend the money, the city would have to issue rebates to taxpayers under the requirements of TABOR, approved by Colorado voters in 1992 and authored by anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce. Asking voters for permission to keep revenues in excess of TABOR limits has been dubbed “deBrucing.”Past deBrucing measures in Aspen have not generated much debate. In 2000, electors authorized the city to keep the money by a 1,453 to 390 vote.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org