Charter changes go to voters |

Charter changes go to voters

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

While the city’s proposed purchase of the Mother Lode restaurant has garnered most of the attention in this admittedly low-key campaign season, Aspen voters will find several other matters demanding their attention on the Nov. 4 ballot.

They can, however, ignore Referendum 2D, which seeks authorization for the city to sell its Puppy Smith property, originally purchased with open space funds. The City Council has withdrawn the question, but that action came too late to keep it off the already printed ballots. Votes cast for or against the measure won’t be tallied.

Referendum 2B asks if the city should adopt an ordinance that would amend the city charter’s provisions regarding citizen-initiated ballot measures. The intent of the new language is to clear up some of the confusion that results from inconsistencies between state statutes and the local charter, according to John Worcester, city attorney.

However, various procedures that have been historically followed in Aspen, though they are not included in the state statutes, will be retained. The city will continue to require a higher number of signatures for initiative petitions – no less than 15 percent of the registered electors in the last general municipal election (the state requires 5 percent).

The city will continue to allow petitioners to supplement their initial petitions if the number of signatures they collect falls short of the needed sum.

A state provision that would be incorporated into the city charter would prevent any ordinance adopted by the electorate from being amended or repealed by the council for at least six months, while an ordinance repealed by the voters could not be re-enacted for at least six months.

By incorporating the state statutes into the city charter by reference, the following procedures would be adopted: city ordinances would become effective 30 days after they’re adopted by the council to give petitioners time to seek their repeal through a referendum; any two persons may initiate the petition process rather than five city electors; the time for filing initiative petitions would be limited to 180 days from the time the original petitions are obtained from the city clerk; the City Council would be authorized to repeal an ordinance subject to a referendum by a simple majority rather than the two-thirds majority currently required by the charter; and, elections would be held no sooner than 60 days and no later than 150 days from the time petitions are certified as sufficient (the charter currently sets a timeframe of 30 and 90 days).

Referendum 2C asks voters if the city should grant a new franchise to Holy Cross Energy for 20 years. The franchise agreement grants Holy Cross the exclusive right to provide electricity to Aspen consumers who are not served by the city’s own electric utility.

Aspen’s old agreement with Holy Cross expired last July. The new deal will not affect the rates paid by Holy Cross customers, but it will reinstate the franchise fee that Holy Cross turns over to the city – 3 percent of its gross revenues from Aspen customers.

The city has used the fee revenues to augment its ability to purchase renewable energy – primarily wind-generated power.

The new franchise agreement also allows the city to provide electricity to its own facilities outside the municipal utility’s service area, and to no more than 500 affordable housing units that are outside Aspen’s service area but within the urban-growth boundary. That area encompasses the Burlingame housing site west of town, where up to 330 units have been contemplated.

The City Council was anxious to supply future housing projects with power from Aspen’s electric utility because 57 percent of the city’s electricity comes from environmentally friendly, renewable sources.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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