City: tax rebate or improvements? |

City: tax rebate or improvements?

The city of Aspen is gearing up to ask voters a question this fall: Which would you rather have, a property tax rebate amounting to less than $4 per $100,000 value of your home, or a smattering of new pedestrian “improvements” around town.

That, in a nutshell, is expected to be a question on the November ballot, the City Council agreed at its “retreat” this week.

According to a memo from the city finance department, Aspen collected about $158,000 too much in property taxes for 1997.

Because of state constitutional restrictions brought on by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights adopted in the early 1990s, property tax revenues cannot increase annually more than the rate of inflation “plus annual local growth” in taxable properties.

Because the city collected nearly 7 percent more than is allowed, it must either refund the money to the taxpayers or get the taxpayers’ permission to keep it.

City Finance Director Tabatha Miller said her department adjusted the city’s property tax rate for 1997 in order to avoid collecting more revenue than allowed, but inflation was lower than expected, as measured by the Denver/Boulder Consumer Price Index.

That leaves the city with a choice – give all property owners in town a small refund, or get voter permission to keep the money and put it to use.

Miller said the refund would amount to roughly $3.23 per $100,000 in “estimated actual value” of local residential property, or $9.65 per $100,000 value of commercial properties.

After considerable discussion, the council decided the best course of action would be to ask voters for permission to spend the money on pedestrian improvements around town.

Miller and City Manager Amy Margerum reminded the council that there already is roughly $100,000 in the city’s “assets management plan” earmarked for pedestrian improvements, which could be added to the diverted refund money.

Citizens will be surveyed, either in meetings or by some polling method, as to how they want the money spent.

Although Margerum endorsed the idea of neighborhood meetings, the idea was shot down.

“It takes time, it takes effort, you spin your wheels,” declared council member Tom McCabe, arguing that the council was elected to make these kinds of decisions and should do so, based on whatever citizen input can be collected quickly and easily.

According to Margerum, the City Council will look at the draft wording of the ballot question on Aug. 9.

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