Officials make last-ditch ballot pitch | AspenTimes.com

Officials make last-ditch ballot pitch

ASPEN ” City officials ramped up their election campaign on Wednesday, six days before residents will head to the polls to cast their votes on five ballot measures.

At a press conference at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, Mayor Mick Ireland, City Councilman Dwayne Romero, ACES Director Tom Cardamone and local businessman Wally Obermeyer advocated on each of the measures in front of a small crowd of mostly city and elected officials.

The ballot initiatives focus on clean power, water and air, as well as clean elections.

“We did this campaign because our predecessors were moving toward environmental initiatives and so we put them together as a package and we think they belong together,” Ireland said, donning a Zorro costume for Halloween.

No opposition has been formally filed against any of the ballot measures. As a result, it’s been a low-key campaign. About $1,250 has been raised for two direct mail pieces to registered voters and letters to a limited number of people who have supported these types of initiatives in the past.

Ireland pointed out that he and his fellow council members do not always agree, but they do on all of the ballot questions.

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Romero spoke in favor of this measure, saying he was “jazzed” because it attempts to level the burdens of transportation.

Voters will be asked to create a new 2.1 percent use tax on construction and building materials that would go into effect Jan. 1. The ballot measure also includes a new 0.15 percent sales tax that would be effective Sept. 2, 2009 ” a day after the current 0.25 percent tax expires.

The tax revenue will pay for the operation, maintenance and capital replacement of and improvements to the city’s free transit service.

Voters last fall defeated a question to extend the .25 percent sales tax, so city officials are trying a different tax combination ” what Romero calls “a hybrid approach.”

The result is reducing the sales tax by 40 percent and taxing an industry that contributes significantly to the traffic congestion.

When contractors apply for building permits, they will be asked to estimate how much the project is going to cost and what materials will be consumed. They will make a deposit with City Hall, which will retain the money until the project is complete. Contractors who don’t agree with the cost estimate can agree to an audit.

Projects that cost less than $100,000 are exempt.

“In theory, it should be a simple process,” Romero said.

If the ballot measure fails, there will be no funding source for city bus service.

City Hall contracts with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to operate nine free shuttles in Aspen, which carry about 1 million people a year. The contract will cost City Hall $4.8 million next year, according to transportation staff.

But there’s an annual shortfall in the transportation fund between $1.6 million and $2.2 million through 2014 because the primary tax sources can’t keep pace with increasing costs. As costs continue to increase by at least 6 percent a year, revenue sources are expected to increase by only 3.5 percent per year, according to city staff.

Former Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud said not only does the transportation system keep cars off the road, it also is a major amenity for tourists and residents.

“The fact that it is free is an amenity we don’t want to lose,” she said.

The Roaring Fork River is dirtier than it should be, thanks to increasing levels of sediment and pollutants that are carried by stormwater runoff that originate from streets and sidewalks, according to city engineers.

Rio Grande Park is slated for an overhaul to accommodate the city’s plan for storm-water runoff. The program includes more systems similar to the Jenny Adair Stormwater Facility to reduce the amount of pollutants that hit the Roaring Fork.

The system would reduce the stormwater runoff going directly into the river from the 88 percent level to 33 percent, preventing 1,426 tons of sediment from entering the Roaring Fork River every year.

A property tax of 0.65 mills will be on the ballot, and the tax would be used to pay for a citywide stormwater management plan.

The dedicated property tax would be used to fund the annual costs of the program, plus all of the capital investments. City officials estimate that the property tax would generate about $12 million over the next 15 years.

A typical single-family home in the West End would pay about $10 more a month, and an affordable housing unit would pay about $1 more a month if the tax is approved.

Cardamone, who has lived along the Roaring Fork River for three decades, said he has watched muddy plumes flowing into the river for years and he always wondered how much damage was really being done.

Since the Jenny Adair stormwater project went on line four months ago, Cardamone has realized it the effect it has had on diversion. He said eight and a half truck loads of sediment ” lead, aluminum and grease among other things have been hauled out of the vaults and wetland at Jenny Adair.

According to the city engineer’s department, in three years’ time the sediment collected in the new system could fill City Hall top to bottom.

“It’s every community’s duty to do something like this,” Cardamone said.

A proposed $5.1 million hydroelectric plant would increase the city’s electric utility’s renewable energy supplies by 8 percent if approved by voters.

The city is asking voters to issue bonds worth nearly $4 million. The bonds will be repaid with electricity sales revenues. The facility also would derive funding from a $400,000 grant from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency. The city will pay $780,000 toward the project.

The facility would capture the waters from Castle Creek. The 11,774-square-foot plant would produce 5.5 million kilowatt-hours a year, which equates to electricity for 655 typical homes in Aspen. It also would eliminate 5,167 tons of C02 emissions ” a .6 percent reduction in community-wide carbon emissions.

Voters will be asked another question related to the hydroplant. Voter approval is needed to use open space for a facility to house the turbines and generators for the hydropower. It would be built on an empty lot near the city shops underneath the Castle Creek bridge on Power Plant Road.

The project would use existing water rights, head gates and water storage components of the original Castle Creek hydroelectric plant, which met Aspen’s electric power needs from 1892 through 1958.

Obermeyer owns and operates a 5.6 megawatt hydropower plant in Durango. He said it’s helped that community and makes economic sense for generating electricity.

“I think it makes imminent sense for the city to do this,” he said. “It’s really a clean, simple use of energy.”

Once the bonds are paid off, the plant will produce energy at virtually no cost. And what’s more, going back to hydropower is a nod to Aspen’s history.

“It’s remarkable that hydropower has been here almost since the inception of the community,” Klanderud said, adding Aspen has always been a town of visionaries and the proposed environmental initiatives are just another part of that vision.

“I think a lot of people will say money is involved … but you have to have a long-term vision on these ballot measures,” she added. “You cannot but vote yes on them.”

No one advocated for this measure at the press conference. However, Ireland noted that much has been said on the issue.

Voters will be asked to institute Instant Runoff Voting. It would eliminate holding another election a month later if candidates don’t receive the majority in the May election.

IRV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference ” first, second, third, etc. First choices are tabulated, and if a candidate receives the majority of first choices, he or she is elected. If no one receives the majority of votes on the first count, a series of run-offs are simulated using each voters’ preference indicated on the ballot.

The measure also would change the current law so that City Council candidates and the mayor must win 50 percent of the votes, plus one.

Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is csack@aspentimes.com.

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