Hershey vows to put rail on ballot via petition push
City Councilman Tony Hershey said yesterday he will hit the pavement to gather petition signatures if that’s what it takes to put the question of rail before voters this fall.
Hershey and fellow Councilman Tom McCabe are in the midst of crafting ballot language that would let voters decide whether to authorize local tax money for development of a rail system between Brush Creek Road and downtown Aspen.
However, neither expects the council to approve the question for the fall ballot. The only way to get around the council’s decision is with a citizen’s initiative.
“If I have to go out and get signatures myself, I will,” Hershey vowed.
McCabe declined to say whether he would become an initiative organizer, but he is willing to consider it. First, however, he wants to draft a clearly written ballot question that can be used as a citizen’s initiative if it is not accepted by the City Council.
“It needs to consider a variety of factors – the county’s portion of the local match, state and federal contributions, and the role of Snowmass Village,” McCabe said. “I don’t want the ballot to be so complicated that people don’t know what they are voting for.”
Recent statements in local papers indicate there is little enthusiasm on either the City Council or the Board of County Commissioners about putting the future of the upper valley’s transportation system in the hands of voters this year. They are scheduled to meet jointly to discuss it on Aug. 10.
McCabe is hoping his fellow council members and the county commissioners will make their decision before then. If necessary, he is willing to scrap the idea of asking for money, and instead go with an advisory question that would direct the focus of transportation planning on either rail or an expanded bus system.
“I’d go with an advisory question as long as it was meaningful,” he said.
If elected leaders won’t consider the ballot before Aug. 10, McCabe and Hershey may be forced to begin the initiative process in the next week or two.
To put a citizen’s initiative on the ballot, the city charter requires signatures from 15 percent of all registered voters from the last municipal election.
Last May, when McCabe and Hershey were elected, there were 5,370 registered voters, so 807 signatures are required. The signatures would have to be gathered by early September, so City Clerk Kathryn Koch has time to validate them before the state’s Sept. 8 deadline for ballot questions.
Koch estimates that about 2,000 of the names on the voter rolls are no longer residents in town. The town’s latest population count was 5,312 – less than the total number of registered voters.
“That means everyone who lives here is a registered voter – plus a few, and their children,” Koch said.
The actual percentage of signatures required to put an initiative on the ballot is closer to 30 percent, given the number of signatures that likely can’t be verified, Koch said.
Citizen’s initiatives must also be sponsored by a committee of five registered voters. Hershey said he’s heard a lot of criticism about rail and the process by which it is being considered, but he wonders whether people will actually put in the time and effort needed to force a conclusion to the issue.
“We’ll have to find some help, because we need a committee of five voters to make it work,” Hershey said.
“I feel very passionate about this,” he added. “I made a promise during my campaign and I’m going to try my hardest to keep it.”
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