Hershey wants rail-cost report | AspenTimes.com

Hershey wants rail-cost report

In keeping with his campaign platform, City Councilman Tony Hershey tackled the city’s ongoing rail spending Monday, asking that an extensive financial report chronicling rail expenditures be prepared, and updated monthly as spending continues.

“We continue to spend money and it seems irresponsible if the people don’t want [rail],” Hershey said at the Aspen City Council’s brown-bag lunch meeting. Such a document would allow elected officials and lay persons alike to better understand what stake, financially and in terms of staff hours, the city has devoted toward the rail initiative, he said.

Hershey, a rail critic who made the issue a key focus of his recent campaign, also stressed the need to put the rail issue to a vote again as early as this November.

Pro-rail council members Terry Paulson and Jim Markalunas bristled at various points as Hershey outlined his proposal, and argued the necessity of expenditures for studies, whether or not rail ever comes to be in the valley.

Mayor Rachel Richards cut short any prolonged debate about rail, but said she recognizes the council needs to address the issue. She suggested that an upcoming City Council retreat be extended from one day to two, and that transportation be the focus of one entire day.

City Manager Amy Margerum said generating the report Hershey requested is possible. However, she said, because rail studies and expenditures often overlap with other transportation-related projects and studies, such as the Entrance to Aspen, an exact figure may be difficult to pinpoint.

“It’s not like this information is hidden, but I want it all in one place, so it’s all on the table for the people of the community to see,” Hershey explained after the meeting. “We’re not going to get an exact figure – somewhere in the ballpark is fine – but I have no idea what that figure is. I don’t think many people do, and it’s taxpayer money we’re talking about.

“It’s no secret that I’ve been critical that we’ve never had voter approval of the expenditure of these funds,” Hershey continued. “Without approval from the voters to financially support rail, we can’t get matching government funds, and that’s why I think we’re putting the cart before the horse.”

Hershey said he favors putting a specific, binding rail question on a ballot for local voters sooner rather than later, preferably this November.

“It’s time,” he said, “and not an advisory vote like the concept question last fall, a question about whether you want your money spent on valley rail. Essentially what’s been happening for years is that we’re shopping for a car that we don’t have financing for, so either let’s get the financing and go shopping or quit it all together.”

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