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Give us a tax break

Dear Editor:

Roger Marolt made some good points related to home property values having increased in today’s affluent Aspen. His article (Friday, May 15), along with the recent publication of city and county employee salaries, prompts me to reminisce (or lament) about the changes that have occurred over the years.

In my office hangs a photograph entitled “Aspen, 1947″- The Way It Was.” Then, Aspen was a run-down mining town with proud old buildings standing in bygone glory amongst vacant lots, where miners once walked the streets. Freshly cut ski trails, with a single-chair lift, arrow straight, stood out in first snow on the face of Aspen Mountain. Below the Jerome Hotel, the daily train is at the depot, a wisp of steam visible on a cold winter day. Two years later, in a beautiful meadow north of town, music filled the town and scholars met to restore the human spirit in a postwar world. How fortunate I was, to have witnessed the rebirth of Aspen that began with the Goethe bicentennial celebration in the summer of ’49.



How different Aspen was then. Many buildings were in disrepair. The Wheeler Opera House was still gutted by fire. Stores, and homes alike, were in need of paint. Vacant lots were grown over, with hop vines on wood fences. But amidst the run-down condition of town were many lovely small homes, bordered by sweet peas. Cottonwoods gave shade to a quiet Main Street. Irrigation ditches along the side of each street nourished tall grass for livestock to graze upon. Empty streets provided a quiet place to stroll as they opened to vistas still unspoiled by development.

Today, the Victorians of the mining era have now been restored to their former glory. Flowers and trees bedeck downtown malls and the grounds of spacious estates. With the ascendance of Aspen as a cultural center and ski resort, the community has grown in stature and size over the past 60 years. Now the rich and famous, along with the common poor, travel to Aspen to spend or seek their fortune. Unfortunately, Aspen has become more of a commodity, and less of a community. The large and luxurious homes of the wealthy look down on Aspen in pretentious grandeur. The world comes to Aspen to partake in “La Dolce Vita.”




With “the good life” came growing pains and the replacement of much of Aspen’s antiquated infrastructure. During those development years, Aspen rebuilt or replaced its streets, water, sewers and electric facilities with frugal expenditures! In the early fifties, the city had only two full-time employees. Puppy Smith took care of the streets in town and whatever else needed to be done. John Loushin was town marshal. Ethel Frost was the city clerk and Eudora McCabe kept books at home. I believe their salaries were $50. Go back further in time, to the city budget of 1925, which totaled $4,400, or turn back to March 1923, when a month’s bills for the city amounted to $296.47. How times have changed! Now, with that change, has come today’s excesses. Having seen the published salaries of some “public servants” (a misnomer at best) makes me think of how extravagant our local tax entities have become.

In light of the recent increase in property valuations, I cannot help but point out that many a current homeowner moved to Aspen years ago, and built their homes with sweat equity on minimal budgets, with a line of credit from the local lumbar yard. Now, their “assessed” property values are to be increased because luxury home buyers have fueled a speculative real estate market. Why penalize the less affluent homeowners or retired citizens who just want to remain in their homes and the town they love?

I have talked to many of my friends and neighbors about the recent increase in property assessments and we are in accord, that unless the taxing entitles adjust their mill levy assessments, many of us on small fixed incomes will not be able to shoulder the additional tax burden and could face the prospect of selling homes at “distressed” values. Many of Aspen’s “old timers” just want to remain in their homes to live out their lives as long as possible before sickness and health force them into the high costs of nursing home care. I would think that longevity could count for something. I understand Colorado provides a homestead exemption (but not this year!) of $100,000, which might help seniors in less affluent areas of the state. But in Aspen !? Not a chance!

A hundred or more years ago, our grandparents came to Aspen and built small miners’ cottages, many still stand, having been renovated over the past 50 years. During the depression, many of Aspen’s early mining families had to move away from Aspen because of hard times. Then in the fifties, with a new skiing and cultural renaissance in Aspen, a third generation of Aspenites began to put down new roots as they built modest homes, which they improved upon over the years. Now, perhaps, a fourth and fifth generation of Aspenites, in this new century, will see their forebearers being forced out of Aspen because of high property valuations. Where is the justice? Where is the compassion? Not all of us are rich!

So, to all appointed bureaucrats, and elected officials within the county, city and special tax districts, please give older Aspen locals a tax break!

Jim Markalunas

Aspen

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