Pitco GOP jumps to fix minor election reporting glitch | AspenTimes.com

Pitco GOP jumps to fix minor election reporting glitch

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Pitkin County Republican Party is expected to file a campaign expenditure report this week that accounts for its spending last month to help defeat a tax proposal on the primary ballot.

The belated filing comes in response to a call from the county clerk and recorder’s office, which learned last week of a postcard sent out by the Republicans urging voters to defeat Referendum 1A in the August primary election.

State and local laws require political organizations to account for fund-raising and spending on candidates and ballot questions. County Clerk and Recorder Silvia Davis said the late filing would not be an issue, as long as the party files the necessary paperwork soon.

Referendum 1A was an attempt by the county to change the way it calculates and sets property taxes, so it would be done the same way here as in the rest of the state. The change would have placed the county under property tax regulations set by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, the amendment to the state constitution that was passed by voter initiative in the early 1990s, instead of similar and sometimes more stringent rules in the county home-rule charter.

If the question had passed, it would have allowed the county to keep $150,000 in surplus collections this year, helping to ease the county’s $2 million budget shortfall.

The proposal was defeated by an overwhelming margin, and as a result, local property owners will likely see a refund of 80 cents per $100,000 of property value.

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The county GOP came out firmly against Referendum 1A in early August when it sent out a postcard to most registered Republicans. The card said “Please Vote” and went on to remind its target audience of early voting and of the August 13 primary election. “A No vote is recommended by the Executive Committee of Pitkin County Republicans. Vote No on 1A,” the card concluded.

Pitkin County Republican Party chairwoman Linda McCausland said the postcards are a standard part of the party’s get-out-the-vote effort. She added that the fact the party took a stand on an issue ? especially against a tax issue ? is neither new nor unusual, adding that such an effort is protected by the First Amendment.

“As far as I know, there’s no law about spending any money. I think that it’s right that it’s public record,” McCausland said.

She expects that she or someone else with the party will file the expenditure records with the county clerk in the next day or so. She estimated the expenditures at a little over $1,000.

McCausland declined to say whether the county GOP will take a formal stand on the tax question that the county commissioners have placed on the fall ballot.

That question asks voters for a five-year tax increase dedicated to health and human services and donations to nonprofits groups such as the nordic trail system and GrassRoots TV. If the question fails, the county plans to slash its senior services and health programs, letting two employees go. Two other positions in the county administration and all nonprofit contributions are also slated for elimination if voters reject tax increases.

If they approve the increase, the county will collect $800,000 more a year than it would otherwise. An $800,000 increase spread through the entire county amounts to about $4.20 per year per $100,000 in property value, according to the county finance department.

The county has already eliminated nine positions this year ? three through layoffs and six through attrition ? and cut back spending across the board in response to the shortfall, which is the result of sharp declines in sales tax collections.

McCausland pointed out that Democrats also regularly take positions on various questions before voters. And, in fact, Camilla Auger, chairwoman of the county Democratic Party, said she didn’t see anything unusual about the postcards sent out by the GOP last month. Auger said it would not be unusual for the Democrats to do something very similar in the upcoming election.

“When you take a position on an issue, that’s a First Amendment right. When you take a position on an issue and spend money on it, that’s a reporting issue. The trigger is whether you receive contributions and spend money,” Auger said.