Aspen: Three measures focus on workforce housing
ASPEN ” Aspen voters will be asked Nov. 4 to approve three ballot questions related to affordable housing.
The city of Aspen wants to renew the city’s housing/daycare sales tax and Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), both of which fund the affordable housing program and are set to expire in coming years.
A third question relates to the Burlingame Ranch housing project, located across from Buttermilk ski area on the north side of Highway 82, where one of three construction phases is complete. The advisory question will ask voters for direction on whether to proceed with construction according to recent recommendations from a citizen budget task force, an outside audit concerning the city’s performance as a developer, and a construction experts group that is currently studying the best way to build additional units.
A second part of the question asks voters if they prefer the originally planned 236 units at Burlingame, or as many as 300, as the construction experts group has recommended. The units would be stacked and built with modular construction techniques; the increased density would lower the city’s per unit subsidy because more units would be available for sale.
The 1 percent RETT is the largest funding mechanism for affordable housing and expires in 2024. The 0.45 percent housing daycare sales tax which feeds money to area daycare providers as well as to the housing fund, expires in 2012.
The RETT and housing portion of the sales tax together generated nearly $11 million in 2007, according to city officials. It’s estimated that both taxes, if extended, would grow at a rate of 4 percent.
City officials argue that the taxes are a critical part of Aspen’s long-term strategy to deal with a lack of affordable housing.
Because the housing fund has been depleted as a result of $31 million in land acquisitions last year, revenue from those two taxes won’t immediately enable officials to continue building housing. The only option, city officials say, is to ask voters to borrow against future tax revenues through what officials hope will be tax-exempt bonds. The tax extensions are needed to pay back bonds with 20- or 30-year terms.
Earlier this year, the Aspen City Council had contemplated a bond question of anywhere from $50 million to $93 million to finish the Burlingame affordable housing project and other developments throughout the city. But without a clear plan on how to build those projects and the threat of a looming recession, the council first pared down the bond proposal and then killed it altogether. It’s expected that a bond question will be posed to voters in May but for how much it’s not known.
No formal opposition group has registered with the city clerk’s office to any of the three ballot questions, but resistance appears to be mounting.
Aspen resident Marilyn Marks and other citizens have organized an election forum that is scheduled to be held on Oct. 22 in the Rio Grande meeting room. The format will focus on the local ballot issues, featuring three-minute presentations by one supporter and one detractor on each issue, followed by questions from the audience.
“It’s intended to be extremely balanced on every issue with equal time for all speakers,” Marks said.
Through conversations with residents, Marks said she has sensed some opposition to the renewal of the RETT and the housing/daycare taxes. Some think renewing the RETT is premature and isn’t necessary, especially if city government has no formal plan to build future housing. Nobody will vocally oppose the housing/daycare tax because they don’t want to be perceived as anti-child, Marks said, but opponents don’t have faith in the city government’s management of the housing program.
“They said they are voting ‘no,’ they just aren’t saying it vocally,” Marks said. “This is the reaction we are getting as we are looking for our pro and con speakers.”
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