City Council to discuss RETT renewal |

City Council to discuss RETT renewal

Janet Urquhart

Seeking voter reauthorization of the real estate transfer tax that funds affordable housing may get some debate by the Aspen City Council on Wednesday.

The council plans to meet to discuss the potential impacts of a legal challenge to its real estate transfer taxes and to consider ballot measures for the spring election.

There has been some talk, according to City Manager Steve Barwick, of putting the RETT that provides funding for affordable housing before voters for reauthorization in May, though it expires in 2004.

The RETT that funds the Wheeler Opera House was recently renewed for 20 years; it will expire in 2019 without voter reauthorization.

Though the wording of the RETTs has led to a lawsuit challenging the way the city calculates the fees, no attempt to alter the wording will be made on the ballot question, according to City Attorney John Worcester.

Since the state no longer allows new real estate transfer taxes to be implemented, wording that alters the city’s RETT collection would be illegal, he said. And, since the city believes the existing wording allows it to apply the taxes as it intended, no new wording is necessary, Worcester added.

“If it’s just a clarification, no clarification is necessary. If it’s more than a clarification, then it’s prohibited by TABOR, so we’re back to the question of the ordinance,” Worcester said. TABOR is the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, approved by state voters, which caps tax increases.

“I think everyone in town knows what the ordinance was intended to do when it was drafted back in 1979. We just have to convince the court of that,” he said.

City voters approved the 0.5 percent Wheeler RETT in 1980 to fund renovation and operation of the city-owned opera house. A decade later, voters approved the 1 percent RETT dedicated to affordable housing.

This year, the city anticipates collecting $1.8 million from the Wheeler RETT and more than $3 million from the housing RETT.

The city is now analyzing those revenues to determine what percentage it should set aside in the event it loses the lawsuit, which claims the city does not have the authority to collect the tax based on both the value of the land and improvements on it when a property is sold.

According to the suit, filed by the owners of the St. Regis hotel and

Savanah Limited Partnership, former owner of the hotel, the RETT ordinances apply to land only. The city has always applied the taxes to both land and improvements.

City staffers plan to discuss the financial implications of the lawsuit with the council on Wednesday, according to Barwick.

With the city counting on RETT housing dollars – and borrowing money on the basis of that revenue – for future housing projects, it makes sense to start planning for voter reauthorization of the tax, Worcester noted.

“It’s a lot easier to plan if you know you’re going to have that tax,” he said. “The council’s looking at affordable housing projects – they need to be assured there’s a funding source beyond 2004.”

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