Snowmass council candidates get their chance to sway voters | AspenTimes.com

Snowmass council candidates get their chance to sway voters

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Voters in Snowmass Village are going to have to look closely to see much difference between the four candidates running for two open Town Council seats.

All four are almost certain to vote yes on the proposed Base Village project, although one candidate is more skeptical than the other three.

All four heartily endorse the proposed townwide sales tax for marketing and special events.

All four are willing to loosen the zoning on the Snowmass mall to encourage private-sector redevelopment.

And all four are longtime Snowmass Village residents who are committed to and deeply involved with their community.

“It’s a tough call,” said Jim Hooker, a former Snowmass Village mayor who moderated a candidates’ forum Thursday night.

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But there are differences to be found.

Incumbent Councilman Doug Mercatoris was most in favor of an increase in property taxes to offset the town’s heavy dependence on sales tax.

“Merc,” as he is known around town, has been elected to three terms and is seeking his fourth.

He admitted that property tax increases are never popular, but said that property taxes account for only 3 percent of the town’s revenues, while sales taxes account for 36 percent. And, he said, property taxes are higher in the Blue Lake subdivision near El Jebel than they are in Snowmass Village.

“We want to provide the kind of services that this community is used to,” Mercatoris said. “The Town Council, in the last couple of years, has cut very few services, but has cut expenses because of a drop in sales taxes. So we do have to look at property taxes.”

Bill Boineau, who served on council from 1994 to 1998, wants to sit at the table again. And he favors keeping the emphasis on sales tax with only a limited use of property tax.

Stan Kornasiewicz, president of Alpine Bank in Snowmass, believes sales taxes act as an incentive for the resort to perform better, but said he could see using property taxes for capital improvements like ice-skating rinks and climbing walls.

“I’d stick with the sales tax,” Kornasiewicz said.

John Wilkinson, a member of the town’s planning commission, suggested raising the various fees the town charges as a revenue-raising alternative. Most of the town’s fees are charged by its building and planning department.

The candidates’ forum in Snowmass Village was warm and congenial compared to the “Squirm Night” debate held earlier this week between the candidates running for the Pitkin County board of commissioners.

After they introduced themselves and made their opening statements, each candidate in Snowmass received warm applause from the 40 members of the public gathered in Town Council chambers. And each candidate knows the other well and has served on local boards and committees with them. The town’s current mayor, T. Michael Manchester, is running unopposed for his third term as mayor.

The forum in Pitkin County, held in the basement of the library, had a tense feel. In one race, candidates were asked sharp questions about their personal conduct. In another, two long-fueding political enemies squared off. And there was no applause in the library for anyone.

And even as each candidate in Snowmass made reference to the critical importance of the Base Village proposal, which includes 683 condos and 100,000 square feet of new retail space, none of them even slightly suggested they might vote against it.

Wilkinson was the most critical of the project, making reference to the “incredible shrinking width of Fanny Hill.” He pointed to the project’s new townhomes on the trail’s current beginner zone and the installation of two lifts at the bottom of the run, which is the primary access trail at the Snowmass Ski Area.

He also stressed the importance of employee housing in creating the community side of a mountain resort.

“It is really up to the Town Council to ensure that this will be an enduring community from this point on,” Wilkinson said in his closing remarks. “After all is said and done, after all the plans are filed and the village is up, I still want this to be a livable place for all of us.”

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