Journal story missed point
August 5, 2011
The following letter was originally addressed to the Wall Street Journal.
Recent coverage of the city of Aspen by the Wall Street Journal web and cable media incorrectly asserts that the city of Aspen is seeking to tax homeowner vacation rentals in an attempt to balance its budget. (“Colorado Ski Towns Scour Slopes for Cold Cash,” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903635604576476571195846948.html)
On the video, (WSJ.com) reporter Ann Zimmerman states: “Aspen ran a default, excuse me ran a deficit the last two years…” This is simply not true. Aspen’s budget is and has been in balance since the onset of the recession and before. Our bond rating was upgraded to AA- in 2009. Our mill levy was lowered by .188 (about 5 percent) this year and the general fund reserve is $9.5 million. Sales tax revenues are growing faster than other resorts as citizen initiatives have brought new guests of all economic levels to town.
Our property tax levy is among the lowest in a state that has the least burdensome property taxes. Total property tax assessments for all districts collecting taxes within Aspen, including schools, hospital and fire districts, and Pitkin County are a bit more than about two tenths of a percent of fair market value, that is $200 on a $100,000 residence. Nonetheless, we have a responsibility to see that all taxes are collected fully and fairly.
Allowing some businesses to operate without regulation and payment of taxes is unfair on several levels even if the amount at stake might be “only” $100,000.
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Lodges in Aspen, including those that charge as little as $120 per night, are subject to health and safety regulation, collecting sales taxes, providing parking, trash collection and, in some cases, housing for part of their work force. Lodges are taxed at higher commercial property rates, paying property taxes at three times the rate paid by residential property competitors. Those who may rent luxury residential property for 100 times the lowest lodge rate should shoulder the same burdens.
I would have thought the Wall Street Journal, America’s foremost advocate for capitalism, would be more sympathetic to the investor-based expectations of businesses that currently pay taxes and comply with the laws rather than those that skirt laws and seek to compete on an unlevel playing field.
At the very least, homeowners, including both permanent and part-time residents, living in neighborhoods zoned residential, should have the opportunity to speak out on uses presently not allowed in their neighborhood.
Aspen’s efforts to provide a welcome, accessible environment to visitors from the elites of cycling to the first-time listener at our musical festival are allowing us to balance our budget and keep taxes low. That said, we believe all governments, large and small, should ensure that their tax burdens are fairly shared and fully collected.