Aspen voters to weigh in on election method
August 25, 2009
ASPEN – Aspen residents will be asked this November an advisory question on whether they want to continue using Instant Runoff Voting in municipal elections. A select group of people will also vote on whether a 1 percent bed tax should be levied on guests to market the resort.
The Aspen City Council on Monday unanimously passed a resolution that will place a question on the November ballot that asks voters to weigh in on the city’s first-ever IRV election method, conducted this past May for the seats of the mayor and two council members.
If the majority of voters want to do away with IRV, the council will have to explore alternatives, which could include going back to the previous method of the mayor getting 50 percent plus one of the vote, and council members getting 45 percent plus one of the vote.
If candidates don’t reach that threshold, a runoff election would be held in June as it has been done in the past. Another option could be winner take all, with no majority needed, which was done many years ago in Aspen municipal elections.
Some council members have said in the past that they didn’t have enough confidence in, or an understanding of, the IRV process. As a result, it has opened the city up for liability and voter confusion.
The second question that will appear on Pitkin County’s mail-in only ballot will affect about 800 people, who will be asked to pass a 1 percent bed tax on all lodges within what’s being called a Local Marketing District.
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City Clerk Kathryn Koch confirmed that the Aspen Chamber Resort Association collected more than 58 percent of the state-required signatures of commercial property owners located within the district. The signatures represent more than $210 million worth of property within the LMD.
There already is a 0.5 percent lodging tax that’s dedicated to summer marketing and raises about $600,000 annually. The additional 1 percent tax would raise an estimated $1 million a year and would be used to promote Aspen year-round.
ACRA proposed the LMD and formed the district so that only Aspen voters who live within dedicated boundaries where the tax would be applied to nightly room rates would vote.
The council voted 3-2 to place the LMD question on the ballot, with Mayor Mick Ireland and Councilman Steve Skadron dissenting, saying that it should be a community-wide vote because it impacts the entire town.
Skadron and Ireland said they support the tax but not the method in which it’s being presented to voters.
If passed, the LMD would expire in five years. It’s anticipated that the issue of whether the tax should be renewed through a city-wide vote will be discussed at that time.
Several people spoke in favor of the bed tax, saying that additional marketing dollars will generate more tourism business in a down economy and it will continue to keep the resort sustainable.
Upon the suggestion of Councilman Derek Johnson, city officials are investigating whether the local government can finance ACRA’s marketing efforts in the upcoming year because the $1 million won’t be realized until next fall after it’s been collected.