City scratches head over Truscott deficit | AspenTimes.com
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City scratches head over Truscott deficit

Janet Urquhart

City officials are hoping the private sector steps up to subsidize some of the new affordable housing planned at Truscott Place.

Local businesses could ensure bedrooms for their employees and help cover a projected deficit of nearly $6 million for the project.

The Aspen City Council crunched the numbers on the Truscott golf course project last night, looking for ways to cover the shortfall in a project with a total price tag of about $33.6 million.

Most of the deficit was assigned to the housing portion of the project, which includes 99 new rental units (123 bedrooms) to be built in two phases of construction. Also in the plan is: expanded parking; a new clubhouse for the municipal golf course containing a restaurant, pro shop and Nordic center; improvements to two greens on the golf course; six tennis courts and a rebuilt intersection at the entrance to Truscott off Highway 82.

“It is clear we have the money to do Truscott. We just don’t have the resources to do anything after Truscott,” said former city Finance Director Tabatha Miller, who was brought in as a consultant for the discussion.

The city will have a projected $8.7 million in housing funds at the end of the year, but covering the entire Truscott shortfall would leave little seed money to start work on the massive Burlingame Ranch housing project looming on the horizon, she said.

Rather than tap solely into the housing fund, Miller outlined a variety of options for the council’s consideration. They included everything from a rent increase at the Marolt housing to new taxes and raiding the city’s day-care fund.

“I know some of these are controversial. There are no good, easy decisions tonight,” Miller said.

Actually, one of the decisions was easy. The council quickly agreed to use $1 million in recreation bonds that had been slated for Rio Grande Trail improvements to cover the shortfall in the pro shop and parks components of the project.

The city can’t proceed with the trail improvements until new sewer and electrical lines are laid beneath it, and that work is several years out, said Jeff Woods, parks department director. The bond money, authorized by voters in 1999, needs to be used within three years.

To cover almost $6 million worth of deficit in housing construction, the council agreed to apply the $1.6 million reimbursement it is expecting from the state for construction of the Maroon Creek roundabout toward the Truscott intersection work. That road work has been assigned to the housing portion of the Truscott budget.

In addition, the city hopes to raise $3.3 million from private subsidies for 30 bedrooms at Truscott, at about $110,000 per bedroom. That may include some bedrooms assigned to day-care providers and funded by proceeds from the city sales tax dedicated to housing and day care.

“I think it would be very appropriate to buy in and lock in some housing for the [day-care] teachers,” said Mayor Rachel Richards, citing the high staff turnover among local day-care providers.

Representatives of Kids First, the city department that oversees the day-care funds, essentially said “not so fast.”

Wages and benefits, not housing, are the biggest concerns among day-care teachers, according to Kids First Director Shirley Ritter.

“The endowment ought to be available for use as it was intended, which was child care,” said Fred Peirce, chairman of the Kids First board. “I don’t think it’s the right thing to do, I really don’t.”

Kids First officials agreed to look at the need for housing, while city officials said the idea wasn’t coming off the table yet.

Depending on private business to subsidize all 30 bedrooms may be overly optimistic, cautioned Lee Novak, project manager for the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority.

“We’re not sure we can sell them all,” he said. “When you ask people if they’re interested, they are until you ask them to sign a check.”

The council also plugged in $440,000 for four bedrooms for employees generated by the planned Iselin Park recreation center and agreed to cover the remaining $550,000 from the housing fund. That fund may also have to cover some of the 30 bedrooms until private entities are lined up to subsidize them, Richards added.

Construction is expected to begin in March.


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