Hershey’s anti-tax position doesn’t mesh with past votes | AspenTimes.com

Hershey’s anti-tax position doesn’t mesh with past votes

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen City Councilman Tony Hershey’s anti-tax rhetoric has been increasing in volume in recent weeks as he works to defeat a tax measure on the ballot next week.

A check of Hershey’s voting record as a councilman reveals he’s been anything but an anti-tax zealot, however. In fact, he has led the council in placing numerous tax measures before voters, significantly expanding the city’s budget over the past three years.

In spite of his record with the city, Hershey is working overtime to defeat a proposed amendment to the home rule charter that would simplify the way the county calculates property taxes and bring it into line with every other government in the state – including the city of Aspen.

“It’s a bloated government,” Hershey said about the county in an interview last week. “They have way too many employees.”

In a letter to the editor published this week, Hershey implores the county to make cuts like “any business in tough economic times.” The next line continues, “The city of Aspen is prepared to do this and I assure you there will be no tax increase in the city if I can help it. A government is truly the best which governs least.”

Perhaps he should have written “A government is truly the best which pops the best popcorn.”

On March 12, 2001, Hershey led the debate in favor of a sales tax increase of 0.2 percent – generating about $650,000 per year – so the city could purchase and run the Isis Theater, which had gone out of business. Hershey made a motion to include the Isis with a host of other tax questions.

“Today I wouldn’t vote for that. I got caught up in the Andrew Kole-we’ve-got-to-have-another-theater,” Hershey said yesterday. Voters rejected the measure, and the Isis reopened under private ownership this summer.

At that same meeting, Hershey made a motion to include questions on the May 2001 ballot to extend the life of the city’s 1 percent real estate sales tax by 20 years and authorize the city to increase its debt by $12.7 million to pay for the housing under construction next to the golf course.

Hershey has been a leader on the council when it comes to asking for more money to expand government for his entire tenure on the council.

On Aug. 28, 2000, Hershey seconded a motion by then-Councilman Jim Markalunas to ask voters whether the city should join with other communities to create a regional transportation authority. The question was asked simultaneously in seven different jurisdictions between Aspen and Glenwood Springs. It passed in all of them, resulting in higher taxes in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

That same evening, Hershey seconded a motion by Terry Paulson to refer three separate tax questions on the November 2000 ballot, including a 1 percent visitors tax to pay for promotion and transit, a .5 percent increase in the sales tax to create an open space fund, and a question on property taxes.

The property tax question asked voters if the city of Aspen could keep excess property taxes collected in 1999 to pay for improvements to Iselin Park. It also asked permission to keep the mill levy at a constant rate for five years to help with the new pool, ice rink and youth center at the park across from the public schools on Maroon Creek Road.

The measure passed and as a result, Aspen property owners are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars more than they would have if property tax levy adjustments continued as required by state law.

And on Aug. 23, 1999, Hershey moved to adopt Resolution 68, which sent several tax questions to voters in that fall’s election. One question asked if the city could keep $158,275 in “excess” property taxes for “pedestrian improvements.” The resolution also resulted in a handful of questions asking for sales tax increases to pay for Bass Park, which had been bought with money from the housing/day-care fund.

As a councilman, Hershey did vote against one tax question in 1999. He and Tom McCabe voted against sending voters a question asking for permission to borrow money for a busway across Marolt Park.

“I’m not saying people shouldn’t be allowed to vote on tax questions,” Hershey said. “I’m saying they shouldn’t support this tax question from the county.”

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]

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