New council overturns previous vote
ASPEN The new City Council on Monday committed $1.1 million to build a pedestrian trail along Castle Creek, reversing a controversial vote the previous council made just an hour earlier.City Hall’s contribution is triple the cost of what was originally proposed less than two years ago. The estimated total cost of the project was $700,000 in November 2005, with the city paying $350,000; the project now stands at $2.2 million. Pitkin County has committed to paying $1.1 million.It wasn’t just the price that bothered the majority of the original City Council. Council members believed the Music Associates of Aspen should contribute because it will benefit from the project. The Music Associates of Aspen operates the Aspen Music Festival and School.Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss’ motion for the city to pay one-third of the entire project, passed, 4-1, with Mayor Helen Klanderud dissenting. She was in favor of contributing $1.1 million.”I’m befuddled that all of a sudden there is an issue about this trail,” Klanderud said. “I want this trail built, and I have wanted it for a long time.”But after new council members were sworn in, the council voted 4-1 to approve the $1.1 million, with the hope that the Music Associates of Aspen will contribute monetarily in the near future. However, representatives from the nonprofit did not commit financially Monday.DeVilbiss flipped his vote after learning that the Music Associates of Aspen a few years ago sold Pitkin County several mining claims on Smuggler Mountain at a very low cost. Councilman Jack Johnson, who had previously voted for the one-third contribution, remained steadfast on his position.”I feel completely railroaded and shocked at what I’ve seen today,” he said after the second vote. The plan to build a pedestrian trail from the Marolt housing to the Music School and Aspen Country Day School campuses has been in the works for four years and has been high on the priority list of both the city and county open space boards. But while the plan was delayed, construction costs increased significantly and will likely continue to climb.As a result, the Music Associates was recently asked to be financial partners in the trail construction. The proposal was for the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board to pay $1.1 million, the city to pay two-thirds and the Music Associates one-third.Representatives from the Music Associates of Aspen and Aspen Country Day School told the council on Monday that they didn’t think the government should require them to pay for a public project. “It is of concern to us that the city would request a nonprofit organization to contribute toward a public project,” said Music Associates of Aspen trustee Denny Vaughn. “We would hope that the city would nurture us and not ask us for revenue. … We work very hard to raise money.”Music Associates of Aspen president and CEO Alan Fletcher said it’s an unprecedented request by a government entity to ask a nonprofit to pay for a public trail. He added that the lack of a trail along Castle Creek Road is a public safety issue.”Every time I drive at night and see our students walking along the road carrying their instruments, I realize how important this project is,” Fletcher said. “We are a nonprofit, and we are held to high standards on how we use the monies given to us.”That is precisely the rationale former city Councilman Torre used – as did current councilmen Johnson and DeVilbiss. They argued that it wouldn’t be fiscally responsible to spend so much on a trail.”Perhaps this project is too expensive for us,” Johnson said. “I haven’t heard anything tonight that shows it would be wise for the city to spend this money.”DeVilbiss – who first argued that the project is out of the city limits and thus the financial burden should fall elsewhere – agreed with Torre that if the City Council approved the expenditure, other projects would have to be put on hold.Boots Ferguson, a member of the city open space and trails board, said the trail is part of a broader network in the valley and is necessary.”I appreciate the gag factor of the price, but it isn’t going to go down,” he said. “We need to be careful about being penny-wise and pound foolish … We are going to be facing these kinds of decisions in the future, and it isn’t going to be cheap.”Mayor Mick Ireland told his fellow council members that he has faith the Music Associates of Aspen will contribute financially.”They have demonstrated good faith and we have an excellent shot for getting a contribution,” he said. “We will wind up doing it at a greater expense.”I think it’s one of those things that we will look back on and be glad we did it.”City Councilman Steve Skadron was skeptical that the Music Associates of Aspen being a “good neighbor” was enough assurance and wondered what incentive the nonprofit has if the city committed the full $1.1 million. However, he voted in favor of the expenditure.Fletcher said he hasn’t been given enough time to consult with his 50-member board, which ultimately makes the financial decisions. He told the new council that he will meet with the Music Associates board on June 29 to discuss a financial contribution, if any.Time was of the essence to get funding in place because the bid for construction is set to expire this week, city officials said.Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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