Charter change is shot down | AspenTimes.com

Charter change is shot down

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Pitkin County voters made it clear they were in no mood to raise taxes last night, voting overwhelmingly against an amendment to the home rule charter that would have had only a marginal effect on their property taxes.

The home rule charter is the document that outlines how Pitkin County should be organized and run. The county commissioners had placed a question on the ballot asking voters for permission to change the charter so property taxes here could be calculated under a formula set in the state constitution instead of under even stricter rules in the charter itself.

If voters had approved the change, it would have resulted in an increase of four cents in property taxes for every $500,000 in property value, netting the county an additional $150,000.

But voters said they weren’t even willing to give up the change in their pockets right now. The final tally was a landslide, with 1,049 votes, or 69 percent, against the charter amendment and 465 in favor.

In Eagle County, Joyce Mack appeared to have narrowly beat out incumbent Jody Caruthers to win a four-year term as county assessor. Both women are Republicans, and there were no Democrats vying for the office, so the winner last night will in all likelihood become the next assessor.

According to unofficial results from the Eagle County Clerk and Recorder’s office, Mack garnered 644 votes to Caruthers’ 636, winning with just 50.31 percent of the vote. But the deputy clerk in charge of elections said the outcome could still change because there are 19 uncounted “provisional” votes that will come into play in the coming days.

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Provisional votes are votes by made by people who did not show up on the registered voter list at their precinct. Those people vote with a special ballot that is set aside from the counting until election officials can confirm that they are indeed registered in the precinct in question.

Opposition to the Pitkin ballot question grew louder and louder over the three weeks leading up to the yesterday’s vote, drowning out the pleas of the county’s five commissioners for relief from the growing budget crisis.

“I hope the county commissioners understand that people in this county are not interested in paying more taxes, and if they ask for more money again in November, they’re not going to get it,” said Aspen City Councilman Tony Hershey, who along with several others led the fight to defeat the amendment.

The commissioners are expected to ask voters for as many as two property tax increases this fall, one involving about $800,000 in excess revenues collected this year and another asking for a straight-up property tax increase. But if yesterday’s vote is taken as an omen, whatever the county asks for appears doomed.

“I think this means we’re going to re-evaluate our priorities in the county,” said Commissioner Patti Clapper. “This is really hard for me, because I was at the hospital in 1994 when we had to lay people off.”

In June, the commissioners laid off three employees, including two managers, after sales tax revenues came in considerably lower than anticipated. Sales taxes account for about 30 percent of the county’s general fund budget. Property taxes make up another 30 percent, while fees and grants account for the remaining 40 percent. The general fund pays for everything from law enforcement and road maintenance to licensing and building code enforcement.

Clapper said she was disappointed to find a flyer on her door yesterday saying the county was trying to strip voters of their state constitutional protections under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, the so-called TABOR amendment.

“We weren’t doing anything of the kind. People tell me I can tell the truth about our budget crisis over and over and no one is going to hear what I’m saying. Still, I’m going to keep telling the truth,” she said.

The commissioners have indicated that major cutbacks and layoffs will be required in just about every department if voters don’t pony up this fall.

The senior services department and animal control are two of the most visible departments likely to be cut entirely. Also on the chopping block are several employees in the public works department, which is likely to scrap its plan to pave the last unpaved section of Owl Creek Road.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]

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