Housing `an Aspen problem’ | AspenTimes.com

Housing `an Aspen problem’

Allyn Harvey

Gaining midvalley support for a countywide property tax that will be used to solve what many believe is “an Aspen problem” may be the biggest hurdle Pitkin County officials and affordable housing advocates face in an election this fall.

That’s what County Commissioner Shellie Roy Harper is hearing from at least a few of her constituents who live in the midvalley portion of the county. They have called her to talk about the plan to ask voters to approve a property tax dedicated solely to construction of affordable housing.

“People have asked me to explain why the county should be taxed to solve Aspen’s problem,” Harper said at a county commissioners work session yesterday.

The commissioners took up the question of how to pay for affordable housing yesterday for the first time since they passed sweeping changes to the county’s land-use code earlier this month.

The question of who should pay for affordable housing was one of the hottest points of contention during the debate on the changes. After intense pressure from property owners, the commissioners tabled the plan to assess fees on new development and instead ask voters to approve a property tax increase. Several members of the development community said they would support a tax increase if it meant avoiding development fees.

At yesterday’s work session, the commissioners agreed to look at two different kinds taxes – a property tax and a use tax. The property tax would be between 1 and 1.5 mils; the use tax would be a 1 to 3 percent sales tax on construction materials.

A property tax levy of one mil would add $1.4 million per year to the county’s coffers. For property owners, it equates to $9.74 for each $100,000 of assessed value or – for a $1 million home – another $97.40 per year.

If voters approve a 1.5 mil levy, it would allow the county to build approximately 200 units of housing over 10 years, according to county estimates.

The commissioners were a bit skeptical about including a use tax on the ballot, partly because voters here have rejected them in the recent past, and partly because it would only affect the development community.

The county manager’s office is expected to appoint a task force to look into the taxes and make a recommendation on whether to ask voters only for a property tax increase or a combination of a property tax and use tax. The task force may also consider if the county should borrow money up front to pay for housing now, or collect it annually in smaller amounts.

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