Aspen chamber regrouping after ballot debacle |

Aspen chamber regrouping after ballot debacle

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesSigns in support of Referendum 5A, outside the Limelight Lodge on Monday, were gone by Tuesday morning, after the Aspen City Council pulled the ballot question.

ASPEN – The Aspen Chamber Resort Association hopes to equal the $815,000 marketing budget it has this year, but in the wake of Monday’s City Council decision to withdraw a proposed marketing district from the Nov. 3 ballot, ACRA board members weren’t sure Wednesday how they would come up with the money.

A balloting snafu threw the outcome of voting on Referendum 5A into question, and the city decided it won’t seek certification of the results, essentially tossing out the measure. Voting is already under way in the mail-only election.

However, Mayor Mick Ireland reiterated his suggestion that ACRA borrow some marketing money from the city’s reserve fund and that lodges implement a voluntary 1 percent fee – a mechanism some other resorts use – to pay the city back.

Referendum 5A, if ACRA so chooses, could then go back onto a ballot a year from now, Ireland said. The measure could even keep the same number, so this year’s now-irrelevant signs urging support for Referendum 5A can be reused, he said.

But early Tuesday, the ACRA board was still reeling from Monday’s news that the special district they had hoped would generate about $1.3 million in marketing funds next year was off the table even before the votes were tabulated.

“The whole game has changed, obviously,” said Warren Klug, general manager of the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel and ACRA board chairman.

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ACRA and the Aspen Lodging Association were the two proponents of the marketing district, which, had voters within the district approved it, would have added a 1 percent tax to the existing 0.5 tax on lodging that already raises money for marketing.

“It’s obvious the lodges need to get together and decide where we go from here,” Klug said.

Casandra Foister, of the Innsbruck Inn and L’Auberge lodging properties, questioned the feasibility of the voluntary fee to replace a blanket tax that everyone would have charged.

“It’s going to make it very hard to get everybody’s involvement on the lodging side,” she predicted.

Without the marketing district tax, the 0.5 percent existing tax is expected to produce about $450,000 next year at most, according to ACRA officials. A presentation on how to spend $1.3 million on marketing in 2010, scheduled for Tuesday’s chamber board meeting, was shelved.

The plan will be reworked once chamber officials figure out how to proceed, said Debbie Braun, ACRA president.

A $450,000 marketing budget is not sufficient, Klug said.

“We see our competitors spending a lot of money on marketing promotion because it makes a difference,” he said.

This year’s $815,000 in expenditures included about $615,000 produced by the 0.5 percent tax, plus some city funding, and an extra $200,000 the city put toward the effort.

At the outset of Tuesday’s discussion, Klug suggested members not engage in finger-pointing over the balloting screw-up. At least 110 ballots were affected – some voters found Referendum 5A on their ballot though they resided outside the district, while some inside the district didn’t find the measure on their ballot. Ireland and board member Stan Clauson offered a brief explanation.

The city clerk came up with the voter list based on a map of the district provided to her that had missing streets and address oddities that could not easily be detected, according to Ireland. For example, he said, four buildings at the Aspen Alps, which are inside the district, were left off the voter list because the buildings have addresses that correspond to a vacated stretch of Ute Avenue that isn’t even adjacent to the buildings.

Clauson, of Stan Clauson Associates, said the map was prepared for the petition phase of forming the district, in which a certain number of commercial property owners, exceeding a threshold based on property valuation, had to sign the petition. The map was ideal for that exercise, but not for figuring out which voters lived in and outside of the district boundaries, he said. Only those residing in the district were supposed to vote on its formation.

The 110 ballots could be enough to change the outcome of the election, so the city pulled the question, Ireland said.

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