Marketing district question pulled from Aspen ballot
October 27, 2009
ASPEN – A referendum proposing the creation of an Aspen marketing district won’t be decided by voters in November because of a snafu with the mail-in ballots.
That’s what Aspen City Council unanimously decided at its Monday meeting, after Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill told Mayor Mick Ireland that she would not attempt to reprogram the statewide voter registration system in an attempt to correct the problem. The decision to nix the Referendum 5A ballot question comes after officials learned that at least 110 ballots were affected, including 45 that erroneously included the question and 65 that omitted it.
“I can’t make the county clerk do an election she thinks is tainted,” Ireland said.
The Lodge Marketing District, chiefly advocated by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and the Aspen Lodging Association, would have added another 1 percent tax to lodging in Aspen. Aspen already has a 0.5 percent tax on lodging. The revenues from the proposed Lodging Marketing District – comprised of voters who live in certain sections of downtown Aspen, along with the Aspen Meadows and Aspen Highland areas – would have gone to marketing the resort year-round.
The mayor gave a slide-show presentation outlining the ballot problem and the apparent cause of it. In a nutshell, when the city clerk certified the list of 700-plus voters who were to get ballots that included Referendum 5A, she was working with a data base and mapping errors provided to her, Ireland said.
Ireland offered three potential resolutions:
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• The city could advance $500,000 to the ACRA pending a new election;
• Participating lodges could impose a 1 percent fee on guests to pay back the city;
• Proponents of the district could go back to voters in November 2010.
The ACRA board has its monthly meeting Tuesday, and it’s anticipated that the ditched ballot question will be discussed.
Earlier Monday, ACRA President Debbie Braun e-mailed ACRA board members that the fate of the referendum was up in the air.
“It is extremely unfortunate that the city could not execute an election correctly with only 700 voters,” she wrote.
At least five streets were omitted from the district map, which has 127 different edges to its borders and encompasses some 4,000 properties and at least 221 street segments, Ireland said, suggesting proponents should have taken more time in defining the district and checking what addresses were in it and outside of it.
“It was done hastily, in my opinion,” he said before Monday’s meeting.
The city initially hoped it might rectify the problems, though the mail-in election is already under way and it’s the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s office that is actually conducting the election. The city clerk provided the list of voters who are supposed to be in the district to the county.
Without the marketing district, the ACRA estimates it will have $450,000 to spend on marketing for the resort next year, as opposed to more than $1 million with the district revenue.
If there are no additional marketing dollars, Braun said her focus will be short-term solutions.