Aspen’s tax man leaveth
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
ASPEN ” There are few Aspen City Hall employees who can recall the time when two women from Rifle approached the city for a business license to open up a so-called escort service here.
But city finance official Larry Thoreson can, and he’ll tell you it was the only time he was the object of fury on the part of one of his customers.
“It was obvious that an escort service was not what she had in mind,” Thoreson recalled of one of the women, explaining that sexual services was the more likely modus operandi.
He said the city was in the throes of devising new codes to regulate such a business when “they were both arrested in Rifle for child pornography.” He said the women blamed him for their trouble in getting city approvals, and that one of them wrote letters castigating him for his role in the city’s rule-making delay of their applications.
Thoreson also can recall the days when the police department was on the building’s first floor, where the finance office is now, and longtime City Clerk Kathryn Koch was secretary to former Police Chief Rob McClung.
And the time when workers, digging out the dirt foundation beneath City Hall to put in the basement, uncovered a drawing of Jesus Christ apparently left pinned to a central pillar of earth and rock by a homeless transient who took up temporary residence beneath the building.
“The contractor said, ‘Don’t touch it. I think that pillar holds up the whole building,'” Thoreson recounted. “That was about the strangest thing I can remember happening here.”
Then there was the day that comedian and actor Bill Murray walked through City Hall on the way to municipal court, “probably for a dog fine or some such thing.”
That institutional memory is leaving the building for the last time on Friday, as Thoreson retires after 30 years in the city’s finance department.
Thoreson, 62, came to Aspen in 1972 from his native state of Minnesota. He grew up on a farm in Kenyon, Minn., went to college at Augsburg College (class of ’68), got a degree in accounting and finance and went to work as an accountant and bank auditor for several years before looking for greener pastures out West.
“Came to Aspen to ski,” he wrote in a rambling statement handed to a reporter at a luncheon interview. “Looked for work to support my skiing habit. And now retiring because work has gotten in the way of my skiing habit.”
Thoreson said he first got work at a local bank as an auditor, and was a ski instructor at Aspen Highlands in 1978 when he heard of a job at the city. The finance director, Lois Butterbaugh, liked to hire the unemployed so she could take advantage of state grants to pay the new hire’s first year’s salary, so Thoreson had to quit and go on unemployment for a month before he could be hired, he said.
At first, he recalled, his office was underneath a set of stairs, with a door on two sawhorses for a desk, along with “a folding chair and an adding machine from home.”
Over the years, he has had a number of titles, some of which he adopted only for a short time in order to deal with a citizen on some particular problem.
“I’d change my title all the time, depending on who I was talking to,” he said.
His biographical statement lists them as “accountant/auditor, special projects, intergovernmental revenues, franchise taxes, risk management, debt service, property management and investments.”
As for the actual title of the job he is leaving, Thoreson confessed, “I really don’t know. I think it’s called accounting specialist.” His duties most recently have been keeping track of sales taxes, lodging taxes, real estate transfer taxes, business licenses and business occupation taxes.
“I have really enjoyed working with the business community in Aspen over the years and have come to know many of them as friends,” Thoreson said of his feelings about leaving. “I feel that I have fulfilled an obligation to the Aspen voters to fairly, equitably and honestly administer and collect the various municipal tax revenues as they were adopted by those same voters.”
He said the city, which currently has a hiring freeze in place, is likely to spread his duties among existing staffers rather than hire a replacement.
Thoreson, who has been married twice but never had children, and currently is single, said he is looking forward to a little travel, “recreating on a daily basis” and living in his home in Snowmass Village.
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Mountain Rescue Aspen is expanding its education efforts to try to keep people safe in the backcountry during winters and summers. It will host a workshop on Dec. 8 titled, “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour.”