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Aspen pool complex hinges on voters’ approval of 2C

Janet Urquhart

Passage of Referendum 2C on the Aspen ballot has been termed a “no-brainer,” but its supporters aren’t taking any chances. Its failure would send the city back to the drawing board for its planned new swimming pool complex.

Aspen will ask city taxpayers next month for permission to keep excess property taxes collected for five years, starting with 2000, to help fund the $17 million Iselin Park recreation complex.

The measure will provide an estimated $2 million for the project. Without that money, the city would likely have little choice but to scale back its plans, according to City Manager Steve Barwick.

“The City Council hasn’t discussed it. I’m not sure where they could find another $2 million,” he said.

“What it really means is, we’d be back to building a very basic type of pool design without the move of the youth center,” said Mayor Rachel Richards. “There’s nowhere else to find the money so, no, it’s not, `Find the money somewhere else.'”

City voters have endorsed city proposals to retain excess property taxes before. The revenues have gone toward neighborhood projects and sidewalk improvements, for example.

This is the first time, though, that the city is asking for five years’ worth of excess taxes, Richards noted.

Local resident L.J. Erspamer has been pushing passage of Referendum 2C as a spokesman for Swim, Skate and Recreate, a group organized to drum up support for the ballot question.

He has encountered no opposition to the measure, which one citizen termed a “no-brainer,” Erspamer said. Nonetheless, supporters aren’t taking any chances.

“It doesn’t raise taxes, and it puts our excess tax dollars to a good use,” he said. “It’s the best thing we can do with our tax dollars, but we’re not taking it for granted that it’s going to pass.”

Without voter approval to keep and spend the money, the city would have to rebate it to taxpayers under the requirements of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, which limits government taxing and spending. TABOR, approved by state voters in 1992, was authored by anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce. Asking voters for permission to keep revenues in excess of TABOR limits has been dubbed “deBrucing.”

For the year 2000, the city expects to collect an extra $545,000 in property tax revenues. A rebate would mean $9.13 per $100,000 of actual value for a residential property and $27.19 per $100,000 of value for commercial properties, according to Tabatha Miller, city finance director.

The $2 million from the deBrucing measure is the last piece of a financial puzzle for a recreational complex which has grown significantly in scope since the city began discussing the need to replace its aging Thomas E. Moore Pool at Iselin Park.

The project now includes an NHL-size hockey rink, to be funded privately; an indoor, six-lane, competitive lap pool and separate leisure pool which will include a toddler section, slide and “lazy river” feature that produces a current of water; a new youth center and one two-bedroom employee housing unit. A third, outdoor pool can be accommodated in the design when funding becomes available.

The complex, adjacent to the new Aspen Valley Ski/Snowboard Club headquarters and the Aspen schools’ campus across Maroon Creek Road, will function as a new heart of community interaction as well as a tourism amenity, Richards predicts.

“I see this center as really filling that niche of a meeting place for people of all ages and walks of life,” she said.

The project is expected to go to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and then City Council for review this year, with construction beginning next spring.

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Posted:Thursday, October 19, 2000


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