Pitkin County to pursue water fund | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County to pursue water fund

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Pitkin County is backing away from its plans for a massive government building project, known collectively as the ZG Master Plan, after hearing from voters that there is little support for the project.

But the Pitkin County commissioners agreed Tuesday to move ahead with plans to raise taxes for road improvements and to create a special “water fund” to protect the county’s water rights and resources.

For those two areas, county voters have indicated general, if somewhat qualified support.

The commissioners were reacting to a recent poll, conducted by FrederickPolls of Arlington, Va., in which citizens emphatically rejected the idea of expanding or building expensive new office space for county workers.

The voters’ resistance to the expansion plan, said pollster Keith Frederick, could be attributed to the fact that 99 percent of the poll’s respondents indicated that they think life in Pitkin County is at least “good” (34 percent), or “excellent” (65 percent).

That result is fairly unique, Frederick said.

“There’s not too many places in America where 99 percent of the people say they’re happy with the quality of life,” he told the commissioners Tuesday.

As a result of such feelings, he said, voters seem to not believe it when county officials say they need more space to do their jobs adequately.

The commissioners directed County Manager Hilary Fletcher to continue working with the city of Aspen on planning for the ZG Master Plan, which is meant to find ways to create more office and meeting space for the city as well as the county.

But any ideas about putting a tax-hike question on the ballot to fund such an expansion is now on hold.

On the other hand, voters apparently are ready to put their wallets behind the county’s plans to fix up the roads and protect local water rights and resources.

By roughly equivalent margins, poll respondents indicated they would vote in favor of a property tax hike to fix up the county roads system (57 percent “yes” to 38 percent “no”) and a sales tax to put money in the water fund (58 percent “yes” to 33 percent “no”).

“The good news is, you have credibility in asking people for money,” Frederick told the commissioners. “They think you’ll be spending it right.”

The commissioners directed county staffers to move ahead with preparing a ballot question for the November election about the water fund.

But the commissioners were not so sure about what level of funding for roads the voters would support ” a property tax increase equivalent to $23 per year for every $100,000 of assessed value, or $16 per year. The higher rate would raise approximately $8 million per year for road improvements, while the lower rate would raise about $5.4 million per year.

The commissioners instructed county staffers to keep working on ways to determine voter support for the higher rate, and to bring it back for further discussion at a future meeting.