Fall ballot options: taxes and debt | AspenTimes.com

Fall ballot options: taxes and debt

Carolyn SackariasonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN Aspen residents will have an option to tax themselves in an effort to clean up the Roaring Fork River and ride free buses throughout town. They’ll also decide whether to allow City Hall to borrow money to build a hydroelectric plant to generate renewable energy.The city also will ask voters this fall to approve changing the way they elect City Council and the mayor into office, essentially doing away with runoff elections.The City Council on Monday approved four ballot questions to put to voters on Nov. 5. A fifth proposed ballot measure – changing the mayor’s term from two years to four – failed because of lingering political issues that council members couldn’t hash out.But 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 a majority vote in the May election.Residents will be asked to approve the concept of ranked-choice voting and then let the government form a task force of residents to determine exactly what method to use in elections.A favorable option appears to be changing the current law so that City Council candidates and the mayor must win 50 percent of the votes, plus one. Voters would select their first choice, and once that candidate has been established as the winner, a second ballot count would ensue without the first winner to establish the second-highest vote-getter.Tax for transportationVoters will be asked to create a new 2.1 percent use tax on construction and building materials that would go into effect Jan. 1, 2008. The ballot measure also includes a new 0.15 percent sales tax that would be effective Sept. 2, 2009 – a day after the current 0.25 percent tax for parking expires.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.City Hall contracts with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to operate eight free shuttles in Aspen, which carry about 1 million people a year. The contract will cost City Hall $4.1 million this year, according to a memo to City Council from transportation staff.But there’s an annual shortfall in the transportation fund of 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.Paying for a dirty riverA property tax of 0.87 mills is going on the ballot to pay for a citywide stormwater management plan.The Roaring Fork River is dirtier than it should be, thanks to increasing levels of sediment and pollutants that are carried by stormwater runoff that originate from streets and sidewalks, according Trish Aragon, the city engineer.Rio Grande Park is slated for an overhaul to accommodate the city’s plan for stormwater 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. The tax would be equal to a single-family homeowner paying an estimated $13.24 a month; an owner of affordable housing paying $0.62 a month and a large commercial property owner paying $606.70 a month, according to a memo from Aragon.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.Renewable energy costlyA proposed $5.5 million hydroelectric plant would increase the city’s electric utility’s renewable energy supplies by 8 percent.The city asks voters to issue bonds worth $5.5 million, with a repayment cost of $10.7 million for a new hydropower facility, which would capture the waters from Castle Creek. 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 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 communitywide carbon emissions.Voters also would have to approve using 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, headgates and water storage components of the original Castle Creek hydroelectric plant, which met Aspen’s electric power needs from 1892 through 1958.Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is csack@aspentimes.com

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