Pitkin County may hold off on fall housing tax vote | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County may hold off on fall housing tax vote

Jeremy Heiman

Pitkin County officials haven’t yet decided whether to ask the voters this fall to approve a tax to support affordable housing.

And if they do approach the voters, they’re not certain what kind of a tax they’ll propose.

To add even more pressure to the situation, time is getting short. Ballot language must be certified by the county clerk by Sept. 13, and the commissioners want enough time to educate and encourage voters before election day in November.

Under pressure from the development community, the county commissioners backed off earlier this year from instituting a part of their growth-management legislation called Fair Share. Based on studies that show large houses create a sustained need for numerous employees, Fair Share legislation would have funded affordable housing using assessments on large residential construction projects.

During a meeting yesterday, County Commissioner Leslie Lamont reminded the rest of the board that when she recommended taking Fair Share out of the new rules, she made it clear a tax would be necessary in its place.

Funding mechanisms now under discussion include a property tax, a use tax levied on building materials and vehicle registrations, or some form of assessment similar to the former Fair Share proposal. A combination of a Fair Share-type assessment and a property tax or use tax is another possibility.

County Manager Suzanne Konchan noted that the town of Snowmass Village has successfully instituted an excise tax, taxing owners of new houses for building any floor area larger than 5,500 square feet. That tax has raised

$750,000 so far, she said.

Local businessman Charlie Tarver, who resigned from the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission over the withdrawal of Fair Share, said that the excise tax is really a form of Fair Share. “If you build, you pay,” he said.

Tarver said that members of the development community, upon the withdrawal of Fair Share, had promised to work for a real estate transfer tax to raise the needed money. Since then, however, none of the people who spoke against Fair Share have showed up to help formulate a replacement, he said.

“Those people were just here to throw up a smokescreen,” Tarver said. He argued that a property tax unfairly taxes people not responsible for growth.

“The house up on the hill creates a huge burden, and the trailer in Smuggler shouldn’t necessarily have to pay for it,” he said.

Yesterday, county staff members presented the results of focus group meetings held July 27 and Aug. 10. They said a total of only a dozen people attended the sessions, and opinions ranged widely.

“The most significant thing we heard was, `Don’t do it now,'” said Nan Sundeen, the county’s community relations director. Several focus group members feared that if a funding measure for affordable housing fails in this year’s election, it may never pass.

“One person said, `This is not something we can afford to lose,'” Sundeen said.

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