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Aspen working on May ballot questions

John Colson

Aspen’s voters may know after tonight exactly what they will be asked in four ballot questions slated for the municipal election in May.

Or, the City Council may wait until Feb. 22 so that it can take care of all five of the city-originated questions expected to be placed on the ballot, including the question that asks voters for permission to spend nearly $14 million on recreation facilities and projects.

The proposed language for the following four of the five questions will be before the council when it meets tonight. Those questions are:

n Question 1: Should the city increase sales taxes or property taxes to raise money to buy Bass Park, a small pocket park at the western edge of the commercial core?

The city has signed a contract to buy the 18,000-square-foot park for $3.44 million from the wealthy Bass family of Texas, if the voters approve the ballot question.

Approval of the measure would raise either the city’s sales tax or the city’s property tax, strictly for the purpose of the purchase, until it is paid off. According to city officials, the City Council currently is leaning toward the idea of a sales tax hike for three years.

Under that arrangement, according to a chart produced by city Finance Director Tabatha Miller, the city would pay a total of $365,388 in interest with an annual payment of just over $1.3 million, for a total payoff of $4.3 million.

To make those payments, the city’s sales tax rate would go up by .34 percent, to a total of 2.04 percent.

A corresponding property tax hike would add 2.83 mils to the tax rate for three years, for a total mil levy of 8.231 for Aspen taxpayers. That’s close to a 50 percent hike in the tax rate for three years.

For a homeowner with a home valued at $100,000 by the assessor’s office, the added tax for each of the three years would be just under $28.

The City Council also will have the option of choosing a lower tax rate for a longer payoff period, which would increase the total amount of interest paid by local taxpayers.

For example, according to Miller’s chart, the council could opt for a 20-year payoff at a sales tax rate of .6 for a total sales tax rate of .07 percent. That would raise the overall sales tax rate to .177, but the city would pay more than $2.1 million in interest.

n In Question 2, voters also will be asked to reauthorize the city’s .45 housing/day-care sales tax, which last year raised roughly $1.8 million for the city’s affordable housing and day-care support programs. The tax is due to expire in June 2000.

n In Question 3, voters will be asked for permission for the city to sell about 37 acres of land to a private developer. The land is part of the city-owned Burlingame Ranch, and is located between the Pitkin County Airport and the West Buttermilk subdivision. The land is to be sold to defray the costs of developing affordable housing.

n Question 4 asks voters for authorization for the city’s golf course to lease some of its land to the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority. The land is to be used to expand the Truscott Place affordable housing complex by roughly 80 units.

The city has until March 8 to finalize the language for the ballot questions, according to City Clerk Kathryn Koch.

Koch said the city will mail out an election summary, containing 500-word statements of arguments in favor of each question, and opposing each question.

If citizens wish to contribute to those summaries, she said, they must submit letters to the city clerk’s office by March 8. A summary of the letters will be worked into the statements, she said.

As for the $13 million parks bond question, the city will hold an open house on Tuesday evening at the Wheeler Opera House to answer questions about how the bond proceeds would be used. The council is holding off on discussion of the ballot question language until after that open house.


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