Petitions in, count begins |

Petitions in, count begins

A group hoping to force a light-rail vote in Aspen this fall submitted a packet of citizen initiative petitions to City Hall Wednesday morning, according to City Clerk Kathryn Koch.

The petitions, submitted by City Councilman Tom McCabe, contains 871 signatures, all of which must be checked by Koch to determine whether they represent “qualified city electors.”

Koch said the group, which is headed up by McCabe, Councilman Tony Hershey and Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper, needs 806 “certified” signatures in order to get a question on the city’s Nov. 2 ballot.

She said she hopes to have the certification process completed well before her 10-day deadline expires, in order to allow plenty of time for the organization to “cure” any possible deficiencies in the number of signatures.

Koch said it is normal for petitions to be submitted with roughly 25 percent more signatures than are required, to provide a cushion against what Koch called the predictable “reject rate.” But the cushion is much thinner in this petition submission, she said.

If fewer than 806 signatures can be certified, she said, the group then has two days to declare its intention to “cure” the deficiency, and another 10 days to get the needed additional signatures.

According to local businessman Michael O’Sullivan, who is a member of the committee gathering the signatures for the ballot question, the group did what it could to compare the signatures with voter registration lists to make sure enough were valid.

But, he said, if more signatures are needed, “We’re ready to go.”

The question, as proposed by the petition drive, would ask city voters to authorize the sale of up to $20 million in municipal revenue bonds to pay the city’s share of the cost of building a light-rail system between the Pitkin County Airport and the center of town.

The rail line is outlined in plans for the Colorado Department of Transportation’s “Entrance to Aspen” project, which calls for construction of a new two-lane “parkway” with rail lines across Marolt Park at the city’s western edge and a new bridge over Castle Creek connecting directly to Main Street.

If the question fails, or if it succeeds but a proposed companion ballot question for county voters is rejected, the language of the question calls for creation of “exclusive bus lanes” instead of the rail system.

The county question, which is being put together by county commissioners, is needed to authorize the use of proceeds from a countywide sales tax to pay for the light-rail system.

Pro-rail forces have charged that the petition drive and ballot question are actually deceptive attempts to take advantage of voter anger and confusion over a host of mass transportation issues in the upper valley, as a way to kill the rail project.

Proponents of the petition drive, however, have said they are only working to fulfill the wishes of local voters, who indicated in a 1998 vote that they wanted to be given a chance to vote this year on funding for the rail system.

The City Council has directed city staffers to come up with a companion ballot question that asks for voter permission to use city-owned Marolt Park as a right of way for a “dedicated busway” as described in CDOT’s Entrance to Aspen plans.

Voters in 1996 gave their permission to build the rail system across the open space, but have never been asked whether the bus lanes should be permitted as well. Voters also have not been told what such a bus system would cost.

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