Construction tax on November ballot |

Construction tax on November ballot

Carolyn Sackariason
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” In 33 days, there will be a citywide election in which voters will be asked to approve tens of millions of dollars worth of taxes and bonds.

The campaign has been quiet, thus far, with no opposition or support coming forward in the public realm. The official election information pamphlets hit mailboxes last week.

The Aspen City Council passed resolutions earlier this summer to put five questions on the ballot, and on Oct. 9 is expected to pass resolutions supporting all of them.

City staff is restricted from campaigning on any ballot issue or candidate, according to Assistant City Manager Randy Ready. Staff, however, can provide background information to anyone who asks for it. Fact sheets on each ballot question soon will be available on the city’s website.

Mayor Mick Ireland said he will start campaigning door to door in the next week.

All of the issues facing Aspen voters are imperative to a better of quality of life here, he said.

“It’s about clean water, clean air, clean rivers and clean power,” Ireland said of the campaign. He added that he’ll call on other council members to help spread support.

Voters will be asked to create a new 2.1 percent use tax on construction and building materials, which would take effect Jan. 1. The ballot measure also includes a new 0.15 percent sales tax increase that would be effective Sept. 2, 2009 ” a day after the current 0.25 percent tax for parking expires.

If those funds are not approved, transit service in Aspen will see more cuts beginning this winter.

“If we lose the revenue source, we would lose the bus service,” Ireland said.

The tax revenue will pay for the operation, maintenance and capital replacement of, and improvements to, the city’s transit service and pedestrian amenities, according to officials.

“These funding sources will generate sufficient resources to allow the parking programs to become self-sustaining and to meet current transportation needs, including development of capital replacement and upgrade reserves,” city staff wrote to the council in a July memo.

City Hall contracts with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to operate nine free shuttles in Aspen, which carry about 1 million people a year. The contract will cost City Hall $4.1 million this year and $4.8 million next year, according to transportation staff.

But there’s an annual shortfall in the transportation fund between $1.6 million and $2.2 million through 2014 because the primary tax sources can’t keep pace with increasing costs. As costs continue to increase by at least 6 percent a year, revenue sources are expected to increase by only 3.5 percent per year, according to city staff.

Paid parking revenue currently brings in about $1.5 million, which covers operating the Rio Grande Parking Garage and the parking program. The city’s share of the 1 percent countywide transit tax and half of the 1 percent city lodging tax combined generates a little more than $3.5 million for city bus service, Ready said.

A property tax of 0.65 mills will be on the ballot, and the tax would be used to pay for a citywide storm-water management plan.

The Roaring Fork River is dirtier than it should be, thanks to increasing levels of sediment and pollutants that are carried by storm-water runoff that originate from streets and sidewalks, according to city engineers.

The system would reduce the storm-water runoff going directly into the river from the 88 percent level to 37 percent, preventing 1,426 tons of sediment from entering the river every year.

Rio Grande Park is slated for an overhaul to accommodate the city’s plan for storm-water runoff. The program includes more systems similar to the Jenny Adair Stormwater Facility to reduce the amount of pollutants that hit the Roaring Fork.

The dedicated property tax would be used to fund the annual costs of the program, plus all of the capital investments. City officials estimate that the property tax would generate about $12 million over the next 15 years.

A typical single-family home in the West End would pay about $10 more a month, and an affordable housing unit would pay about $1 more a month if the tax is approved.

There is also a proposal for a development fee against all properties at the time of building the system. Proceeds from that fee would pay for improvements to the storm sewer collection system.

A proposed $5.1 million hydroelectric plant would increase the city’s electric utility’s renewable energy supplies by 8 percent if approved by voters.

The city is asking voters to issue bonds worth nearly $4 million. The bonds will be repaid with electricity sales revenues. The facility also would derive funding from a $400,000 grant from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency. The city will pay $780,000 toward the project.

The facility would capture the waters from Castle Creek. The 11,774-square-foot plant would produce 5.5 million kilowatt-hours a year, which equates to electricity for 655 typical homes in Aspen. It also would eliminate 5,167 tons of C02 emissions ” a .6 percent reduction in community-wide carbon emissions.

Voters will be asked another question related to the hydroplant. Voter approval is needed to use open space for a facility 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.

The project would use existing water rights, head gates and water storage components of the original Castle Creek hydroelectric plant, which met Aspen’s electric power needs from 1892 through 1958.

Voters will be asked 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.

IRV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference ” first, second, third, etc. First choices are tabulated, and if a candidate receives the majority of first choices, he or she is elected. If no one receives the majority of votes on the first count, a series of run-offs are simulated using each voters’ preference indicated on the ballot.

The measure also would change the current law so that City Council candidates and the mayor must win 50 percent of the votes, plus one.