Bond question wasn’t ready for prime time
August 27, 2008
The Aspen City Council made the right move Monday by removing a $16 million bonding question from the November election ballot. Not only was the 361-word question confusing, but it was poorly timed and would have appeared on an already overcrowded ballot.
The city still will have three other questions for voters to consider, all of them related to the affordable-housing program. In a sense, the three questions that will go forward to Election Day actually pave the way for the fourth, which should rightly be asked at a later date.
So, here’s what the city intends to ask in November, in plainer English than you’ll see on the ballot itself:
* Will you renew the 0.45 percent sales tax that funds housing/day care in Aspen?
* Will you extend the existing real estate transfer tax until 2040? (If the city borrows against this revenue source, then the tax must be in place for the 30-year term of the debt.)
* Will you allow the city to build up to 300 units at the Burlingame housing project, an increase in number and density from the currently planned 236?
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These questions all represent pieces of a big puzzle, namely the continuation of the local affordable-housing program, at the partially completed Burlingame and other sites. If voters say yes to all of the above, however, then city officials likely will return in May to complete the puzzle, with another question requesting money to pay off a recent series of land acquisitions and fund two more building phases at Burlingame.
There are several reasons to postpone that question until May. A recent performance audit noted numerous shortcomings in the way the city handled the first phase of the Burlingame project, and recommended an organizational restructuring before the project continues.
Beyond such internal issues, however, there is no firm plan in place. The city must decide what it wants to build at Burlingame before asking voters for permission to borrow money and build more.
At the least, the uproar about Burlingame over the past few months has shown that the city of Aspen must improve the way it handles big development projects. Voters, especially in a cool economic climate, are unlikely to approve any new debt until the city can show them, 1) That it has the organizational expertise and fortitude to finish this mammoth housing project, and 2) That it has a thorough and thoughtful plan for Burlingame’s final two phases.
We applaud city officials’ restraint in postponing the “money question” until spring. Now they must get to work reorganizing their development function and preparing a plan for the rest of Burlingame.