Pitco to ask voters tax question in November | AspenTimes.com

Pitco to ask voters tax question in November

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Voters in Pitkin County ? including those in Aspen ? will have to answer at least one question about property taxes in this fall’s election.

The Pitkin County commissioners voted 4-1 yesterday to ask voters for permission to use $975,000 in “excess” property taxes for the county’s general fund budget.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield, the sole dissenter, said his opposition to the question was based on its overly broad wording and his history of opposing items the first time they come up for approval.

The ballot question approved at Wednesday’s regular meeting of the county commissioners will likely be amended on Sept. 10, when the commissioners are scheduled to approve it for the ballot. Tom Oken from the county finance department said the question was written in a way that left the commissioners flexibility to add spending restrictions, time limits and make other changes they deem necessary.

It reads: “Shall Pitkin County be authorized to collect, retain and expend $975,000 of property tax over the amount otherwise permitted in 2002 and the same amount, adjusted for local growth and inflation, in each subsequent year thereafter, as a voter-approved property tax revenue change in compliance with the state constitution, the county charter and any other law requiring voter approval of taxes?”

Hatfield’s vote yesterday directly contradicted statements he made at a work session on Monday that indicated his strong support for a general property tax increase.

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“The five of us need to go out there and focus on education if this is going to pass,” he said at the work session.

Hatfield lobbied hard Monday to have Owl Creek Road, a pet project for his constituents in Snowmass Village, reinstated to the list of programs and jobs that would be saved if voters approve the question.

Owl Creek Road improvements, scheduled to begin in the next year, had been dropped from the county road budget, saving $800,000, in response to a growing budget crisis in Pitkin County. The commissioners have also dropped Upper River Road from the capital improvement budget, instituted a hiring freeze, eliminated six unfilled positions and laid off three employees in an effort to make up a $2.1 million shortfall in the general fund budget.

The general fund pays for everything from the district attorney and sheriff to the restaurant inspection program and recycling at the county land fill.

Hatfield justified his vote against the tax increase on his past record of not supporting items on their first reading before the county commissioners, adding that he wants to see the county ask for less than $975,000 and put a 10-year sunset provision on the tax collections.

“I have a history of not supporting things on first reading because they aren’t ready ? this position is consistent with my record,” Hatfield said.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]