City plans election on elections
August 17, 2007
ASPEN City residents will head to the polls this fall and vote on a number of issues – everything from changing how people are elected to extending the term of mayor to funding transportation and a stormwater system.The City Council last week gave the go-ahead to hold a special election in November. Several ballot questions are being considered and two of them are amendments to the charter.The first change would be to institute Instant Runoff Voting at the polls. It would eliminate holding another election a month later if candidates don’t receive the majority in the May election.On Monday, City officials are scheduled to discuss the details of just how ranked-choice voting – or Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) – would work. Rob Ritchie, head of FairVote, an organization that lobbies for better voting practices, will discuss the different alternatives of IRV.Using IRV could be complicated if there is more than one council race on the ballot, as is the case in the city’s May elections. One option would be to have two ballots for the same election – a regular ballot for the first round of voting, and then a secondary ballot if one or two candidates didn’t receive the necessary 45 percent of the vote.The runoff system, which was first employed in 1999, is part of a “majority” election in which a mayoral candidate must garner 50 percent of the vote, plus one, to win, and City Council candidates win by 45 percent, plus one vote.Once the City Council decides what form of IRV is best for Aspen, staffers will draft the ballot language. The deadline to place a measure on the November ballot is Sept. 7.Mayor Mick Ireland earlier this summer successfully lobbied his colleagues to ask voters if they want the same mayor for four years, instead of the current two-year term. Staff has drafted ballot language to pose to voters in November.Ireland’s reasoning is that it’s difficult to get anything meaningful done in the city in two years, and it’s also difficult to prove to voters that the issues they elected the mayor to tackle have been dealt with to their satisfaction.Ireland would still have to run again in 2009 if voters were to pass a four-year term for mayor.Aspen has elected mayors to two-year terms since 1971, with the logic being that the electorate has an opportunity to turn the majority every two years. That’s because two council seats are up every four years, and they are staggered so that each election has two council seats and the mayoral seat up for grabs.At least four other ballot measures are being considered as well. One would be to increase the current .25 percent sales tax to .45 percent to in an effort to continue operating the city’s free bus system, which transports people from area neighborhoods to downtown at no cost. The other option is to ask voters to tax construction activity. It would most likely be a fee based on the total value of construction materials purchased outside of Aspen.Rio Grande Park is slated to be overhauled to accommodate the city’s plan for stormwater runoff. Most of the pipes that take the water from storm drains into the Roaring Fork River are over capacity when it rains heavily. The plan is expected to cost $20 million. The City Council last month gave the go-ahead to draft a ballot question that would ask voters to increase property taxes to pay for the project. The additional tax would equate to $87 per $100,000 of assessed property value. Voters also will be asked to issue nearly $4 million worth of bonds to pay for a new hydropower facility to capture the waters from Castle Creek. The facility also would be funded by a $400,000 grant from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency. The city will pay $780,000 toward the project. Voters also would have to approve using open space for a facility designed to house the turbines and generators for the hydropower. It would be built on an empty lot near the city shops underneath the Castle Creek Bridge on Power Plant Road.