Not all referendums deserve voters’ support
October 27, 2005
Aspen voters are being asked to consider eight ballot questions that would affect their taxes. While each appears worthy at first blush – we’ve already endorsed five requests for your money – not every request measures up.Two we think you should vote against are referendums 3A and 2D. One last one we think you should support is Referendum 5A.With Referendum 3A, the Aspen School District is asking for $700,000 a year to support school operations. Our first reaction to 3A was to support it. Who, after all, doesn’t think teachers deserve more money? But the ballot language is unclear about how the money would be spent. It talks about retaining talent, providing quality education and enhancing program offerings. Such lack of specificity gives us pause. There is no guarantee if 3A passes that teachers would see significant gains in their salary.Aspen School District Superintendent Diana Sirko also said 3A would immunize the district from the effects of state budget cuts if statewide Referendum C fails. But what if Referendum C passes and the state government is able to meet its educational obligations?We would rather see the district come back next year, if necessary, and articulate exactly how it wants to spend the money.We feel the same way about the city of Aspen’s request in Referendum 2D – big promises without clear details. The ballot measure indicates the city would like to use the money – excess tax collections that must be returned to voters unless they agree otherwise – to purchase energy-efficient hybrid buses, build a new stormwater drainage system, make curb cuts for wheelchairs and other sidewalk and trail improvements, and build a new outdoor swimming pool at the Aspen Recreation Center.The first three projects make sense, but the proposal for a new pool seems unnecessary and out of place, particularly given the ARC’s financial struggles. A city government that can afford to hire a global-warming czar, pay a downtown “catalyst” and spend $30,000 to lure HBO’s Comedy Fest should present voters with a more disciplined and detailed proposal than this one.Vote no on referendums 3A and 2D.Voters should, however, support Referendum 5A, which would extend Aspen Valley Hospital’s property tax levy for another five years. In the 10 years since it was first approved, the hospital levy has proven critical to the hospital’s financial health. In addition to stabilizing AVH’s budget, the tax also ensures the community has a say in how its community hospital is run. As a tax-dependent organization, the hospital and its administrators must answer to voters, through the publicly elected hospital board. It’s an arrangement that has served the hospital and its patrons well. Vote yes on Referendum 5A.