Aspen: New legislation could mean slashing budget up to $1 million | AspenTimes.com

Aspen: New legislation could mean slashing budget up to $1 million

Aaron Hedge
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – City budget planners are building an alternative funding scheme for fiscal year 2011 that will include cuts of up to $1 million in light of three state legislative measures meant to reduce the burden local and state governments impose on their taxpayers, City Manager Steve Barwick told the City Council Monday.

Finance Director Don Taylor sharply criticized the measures, saying they would, if passed by voters in November, effectively strip the city’s ability to capitalize on new ventures.

The measures, amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, do a number of things, including requiring local governments to vote on all borrowing, banning all borrowing by the state, reducing tax rates for bonded projects that cost less than the projected amount and requiring governmental agencies to pay taxes, among others.

Of the requirement for project tax rate reductions, Taylor said: “It’s akin to borrowing money for a car and taking a pay cut because you didn’t need all the money.”

Natalie Menten, campaign coordinator for the initiatives, did not return a phone call from The Aspen Times Monday afternoon.

She wrote a letter to the editor last week saying the ballot items will not cost state programs any money.

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But Barwick said they will drastically limit the way Aspen operates financially.

“The whole idea here is to force governments onto a cash basis,” he said.

Councilman Dwayne Romero also lashed out against the effort, saying it is a misplaced effort to limit the size of government.

“It feels like this is a wrong-headed approach to forcing government to get smaller,” he said.

Councilman Steve Skadron speculated whether Aspen’s home rule charter would make it immune to some of the rules in the measures, but Barwick said that would depend upon a long process of interpretation in the courts.

“Knowing exactly what the impact would be would be impossible,” he said.

Taylor said the laws could supersede home rule. Similar Colorado tax restrictions have taken more than a decade to become firmly defined in the state’s legislative vernacular. The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, a 1992 constitutional amendment that placed a broad cap on the way Colorado gathers and spends its money, has been subject to many subsequent rules that changed pieces of it.

Aspen’s current budget is healthier than was expected at this time last year because of unexpected increases in sales tax and retail revenue. But it remains far below the level it was in 2006, according to city budget numbers.

The alternative budget city staff is preparing is in addition to one that eliminates the three measures from the scenario.

Skadron said Aspen officials need to tell voters how the rules will affect the city’s ability to fund itself.

ahedge@aspentimes.com

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