Aspen voters pass affordable housing tax
ASPEN ” With all precincts in the city reporting, and all early voting and absentee ballots accounted for, Aspen voters passed two ballot questions that will continue to fund the Aspen-Pitkin County affordable housing program, as well as put more units at Burlingame Ranch.
Referendum 2E, which asked to renew the city’s 0.45 percent housing/daycare sales tax until 2040, passed 2,444 to 1,285 votes.
Referendum 2F sought to renew the 1 percent Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), which is the largest funding mechanism for the housing program. That tax was scheduled to expire in 2024 but voters passed to extend it to 2040, by 1,880 to 1,693 votes.
Referendum 2G asked to increase the units at Burlingame Ranch from 236 to as much as 300. Final results show that 2,041 residents favored 300 units and 1,613 city residents supported 236.
Part of the revenue generated from the 0.45 percent housing/day care tax ” 55 percent ” feeds money to area daycare providers through the city’s Kids First program. The other 45 percent goes to the city’s affordable housing program.
Kids First Director Shirley Ritter said the tax is crucial to the operation of Kids First, which administers programs and allocates funding to benefit early childhood programs and families in Pitkin County. Ritter said the tax revenue funds 97 percent of the Kids First operating budget, which was about $1.4 million in 2008. It was first established in 1990 because there was a need for daycare for young families who also needed housing. It was renewed by voters in 1999. The tax would have expired in 2012 if it hadn’t been renewed.
City officials say that the taxes are a critical part of Aspen’s long-term strategy to deal with a lack of affordable housing. Some council members campaigned on that premise, but it was with minimal effort. There also was minimal effort to campaign against the three measures.
“The underlying disposition in the community is that it supports affordable housing,” said Mayor Mick Ireland. “It’s pretty close in the fact that there was no campaign for it.”
Because the housing fund has been depleted as a result of $31 million in land acquisitions last year, revenue from the RETT and the housing/daycare tax won’t immediately enable officials to continue building housing. The only option 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.
The Burlingame advisory question asked 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 asked 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.
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