Aspen City Council reflects on past, future
Tobacco purchase age raised, downtowner contract renewed
• City Council voted 5-0 to make Aspen the first municipality in the state to raise the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Aspen educators and physicians, as well as Tom Dunlap, a former environmental health director for the city, made impassioned pleas to the council to raise the age. The council previously voted 4-0 on first reading of the ordinance for the age hike in May. The Aspen ordinance, while a step toward reducing teen tobacco use, would not pertain to tobacco use for those under 21. The 18-to-20 age group still could legally use tobacco and nicotine products in Aspen under the ordinance.
While the city will forgo roughly $75,000 annually in state tobacco tax collections, one possibility is to create an Aspen sales tax strictly for tobacco and electronic cigarette products. That would require voter approval.
The city also plans to create a local tobacco sales license.
The council voted 3-2 to expand the Downtowner’s free shuttle service to the Benedict Music Tent on the Aspen Meadows campus. The service’s other boundaries remain unchanged — Aspen Mountain on the south, the Cooper Avenue bridge on the east, and the Roaring Fork River and Gillespie Street on the north. The city will pay the Florida-based Downtowner firm $275,782 to extend the service through April 2018. That’s $45,000 more than the previous contract. The reason for the increase is because drivers will now be paid an hourly wage. Previously they relied exclusively on tips and did not draw a paycheck.
Whether they were leaving City Council or joining it, Aspen elected officials struck a reflective tone at Monday’s meeting during what Mayor Steve Skadron called a “mini transition of power.”
Sworn in were Skadron, for his third and final two-year term, along with incumbent Councilwoman Ann Mullins and Ward Hauenstein, who prevailed by 27 votes over Torre in the June 5 runoff. The meeting was its last for Councilman Art Daily, who lost in the May general election.
Daily was given a respectful send-off by his fellow council members, including Bert Myrin, who publicly endorsed Hauenstein and Torre over the two incumbents in the May contest.
“We will miss having your thoughtful presence every time you speak,” Myrin told Daily.
“Honestly, I enjoyed all of it,” Daily said. “I enjoyed the good, the bad, the ugly, the battlegrounds and the happiness. In all times I felt supported by members of the community, and whether they agreed or not with me is a secondary manner.”
Hauenstein, who has lived in Aspen four decades, helped dismantle Daily’s re-election effort when he called out the councilman at a Squirm Night debate over his failure to respond to emails sent to his city account.
A vocal critic of Aspen government, Hauenstein also pressed forward in his campaign about bringing more transparency to City Hall and slowing down development. His comments following his swearing in were not confrontational, however; he instead he made a general statement about serving the public and having a willingness to not be stubborn.
The looming question now is whether Hauenstein and Myrin — who opposed the Base2 Lodge development and were vocally in support of Referendum 1, which stripped the council of its power in granting variances and concessions to land-use applications — will form an alliance of sorts.
Councilman Adam Frisch, who along with his wife endorsed Hauenstein in a letter to Aspen’s newspapers, said he does not believe Aspen’s current political climate will translate into council members’ sparring becoming routine. That’s mainly because the council revamped the city’s land-use code, which will slow down development, he said. Even so, the city still has to grapple with ongoing issues such as the potential damming of Castle and Maroon creeks and the new city office building possibly going to a public vote. Skadron also wants to expand the pedestrian malls and has made clear he will continue to press on his mission to get people out of their cars and reduce traffic.
“(Hauenstein) will be open and mindful and thoughtful, and those are important things,” Frisch said before the meeting. “And I also think he will ask probing questions, which is helpful.”
During public comment both Torre and Skippy Mesirow, who lost in the general election, urged the council to take a hard look at election reform. Both cast disappointment on the voter turnout for the runoff election; 1,840 residents, or 28.6 percent of Aspen’s electorate, cast ballots in the contest.
Moving the May elections — which are now determined by mail ballots and in-person voting — to a time of the year when more residents are here could bolster turnout, they said. May is the heart of the post-winter offseason and sees many locals leave town for vacation.
Torre, a former council member, said he would remain in Aspen politics.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
The council terms are four years each and limited to two terms.
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