Our View: Pitkin tax measures worth supporting | AspenTimes.com

Our View: Pitkin tax measures worth supporting

Aspen, CO Colorado

Tax increases are always a hard sell during tough economic times. And so it is with two of the three measures that Pitkin County has placed on the November ballot. The Aspen Times editorial board wrestled with these measures, feeling that it’s unwise, or at least unpopular, to endorse too many tax increases when the economy is in the tank.

However, the economic pinch is hitting everyone differently. Some have recently lost jobs and must hang onto every penny; others are simply reducing their spending or making moves to protect their savings.

We don’t know each voter’s personal comfort level with paying a few more dollars in sales taxes, or an enlarged property tax bill. We can only comment on the merits of the proposals, and we think these ideas have merit. Voters must decide for themselves whether these measures deserve their electoral and financial support.

First, we’ll deal with the county measure that does not involve taxes at all. It’s Referendum 1C, and it would consummate years of negotiations to place the so-called Ryan parcel in Ashcroft in the hands of the U.S. Forest Service, for protection from development. Congress has already approved this move, but the Pitkin County Charter requires that local voters do so too. It’s merely a land trade between the county, the Aspen Valley Land Trust and the Forest Service, under which the Ryan parcel goes to the Forest Service and several other parcels end up in county hands, from 12 mining claims on Smuggler Mountain to 40 acres along the Crystal River and another parcel near Difficult Campground.

Vote yes on Referendum 1C.

Now to the tax questions. With Referendum 1A, the county wishes to raise sales taxes by 1/10 of a penny, or 1 cent for every $10 spent, and create a Healthy Rivers and Streams fund. With a sales tax, of course, both locals and visitors contribute; the tax would produce about $1 million annually.

The fund would be used to help ensure minimum flows in local waterways ” to preserve trout populations, to protect riparian ecology and to guarantee water for snowmaking, rafting, angling and other activities that buttress our tourism-based economy. As Colorado’s population approaches 5 million and there are more demands on our limited water supplies, from Front Range real estate interests to Western Slope energy development, it makes absolute sense for Pitkin County to have money set aside (and administered by a citizen board, like the county’s open space program) to protect our water; this could mean partnering with other entities to buy or lease water rights, or just helping to ensure a seat at the table when water lawyers gather to discuss the state’s next storage project or transmountain diversion.

Yes, this is a new function for the county, and an expansion of the local government. But if not the county, then who? It may not feel urgent now, but it will be someday.

Vote yes on Referendum 1A.

Referendum 1B is a property tax ” $16 annually for every $100,000 of assessed value ” that would create a dedicated fund for Pitkin County roads for the next 20 years. This is a basic function of county government that has simply become a lot more expensive; county officials say the cost of asphalt has quadrupled over the last decade. County roads aren’t yet in horrible condition but officials say deterioration is likely if we don’t do something soon. Resurfacing and improvements are envisioned throughout the county: McLain Flats, Woody Creek Road, Watson Divide Road, West Sopris Creek Road, Fryingpan Road, Redstone Boulevard and others.

Again, this may not feel urgent today, but it’s an investment in something that all of us tend to take for granted.

Vote yes on Referendum 1B.

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