Musical taxes in Basalt | AspenTimes.com
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Musical taxes in Basalt

The Basalt Town Council is pondering a little political foreplay with voters this fall.

The council decided last night that it cannot properly educate voters before the November election on its proposal to implement a sales tax to fund bus service within town. There isn’t enough time to address all the complicated issues associated with the idea, the council majority claimed.

Instead the board may place an “advisory” question on the November ballot. A nonbinding vote would seek general sentiments on whether residents would accept a sales tax increase to fund free shuttle service linking the old town area with the El Jebel area.

The abrupt change of heart marked a rather confusing period of pre-election planning by the board. On June 25, the majority of the seven-member council was leaning toward asking voters in November to approve a lodging tax.

But on July 8 the council majority unofficially scrapped the idea of the lodging tax and decided instead to ask voters to approve a sales tax increase for transit.

Last night the board reversed itself again. It will pursue the idea of asking voters to approve the lodging tax in November and wait until April 2004 to seek the transit sales tax.

At least that’s the current plan.

Councilwoman Anne Freedman proposed waiting with the transit tax and going for the lodging tax.

“This came up without much discussion,” Freedman said of the transit tax proposal. “I think we’d have trouble in November.”

Other board members agreed that rushing the transit question would jeopardize its approval in November. Town manager Tom Baker wrote in a memo to the council that he wanted to give a citizens’ committee ample time to work out details of an in-town shuttle program, such as routes, times and other operations.

That way the citizens’ group could lead the charge for approval.

If the council pursued the question it would have to finalize ballot wording in less than one month. Baker was afraid that wouldn’t leave enough time to form a citizens’ committee and debate the big issues before the ballot question was finalized. There was a danger the council could place a question on the ballot and risk having no citizen support, he warned.

Council members Jon Fox-Rubin and Jacque Whitsitt, who proposed the transit tax last month, reluctantly agreed that the town should wait and ask the question in the April election. “If we do it right it’s definitely going to win in April,” said Fox-Rubin.

Board members may have the advantage of gauging voter interest before next spring. They said the results of the possible advisory vote in November would determine if they would proceed with the tax proposal in April.

Since the official vote on the transit tax will be delayed, Freedman revived the idea of seeking approval of a lodging tax in November. The council directed their staff to come back to a future meeting with proposed language for a ballot question.

In earlier discussions about the lodging levy, the staff said a 2 percent tax on the price of lodge rooms would raise about $24,000 annually at today’s level of development. The funds would be split between maintaining and operating parks, and funding marketing designed to increase the town’s tourism.

Freedman said the $12,000 that would be raised for tourism marketing is more than the Basalt Chamber of Commerce currently has available to spend.

Decisions about the lodging tax question and the advisory transit tax question will be made later this month.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]


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