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Snowmass initiative could give

Aspen Times Staff Report

Voters in Snowmass Village will get the final say on whether the Snowmass Village Town Council can commit money to major capital projects if an initiative on next week’s ballot is approved.

Snowmass Village residents will vote next week on a measure that would restrict the percentage of the town budget that could be spent on any town project in one year.

If successful, the initiative would create an ordinance that would require the town government to seek voter approval before embarking on multi-million-dollar public works projects, such as a transit center the council is now considering.

Snowmass Village resident Jim Heywood headed up a petition drive in August and September to get the initiative on the ballot. The other members of the petition committee were Phil Desmond, Bob Segner and Vern Twombly.

The new ordinance would govern spending for major capital projects in Snowmass Village. It sets a “project spending limitation” – 40 percent of projected revenues for the current fiscal year – to define how much the government can spend each year on a given project. The projected revenue for 2000 is $9,648,730, so the most that could be spent on a project started this year is $3.86 million.

Heywood said the spending limit on capital projects will grow with the town government’s revenues, which are affected by economic growth and population increases. The 40-percent initiative replaced an original plan to limit projects to $4 million and allow adjustments for inflation only.

The proposed transit center, which is the current target of the initiative, would replace the present bus loading area adjacent to the village. It would feature a consolidated 16-bus mass transit center between two parking garages, each with three levels. A pedestrian walkway would connect it with the mall.

A big chunk of the money for the center’s estimated $13 million-to-$15 million price tag would come from Pitkin County’s 1.5-percent transit tax. The tax would provide $7 million if Pitkin County’s ballot issue 1A is passed. But the remainder would be financed by Snowmass Village tax receipts.

Heywood said his group objects to the transit center plan because of its cost, but also for other reasons. First, he said, the Aspen Skiing Co. plans a major base village project at the base of Fanny Hill, which would reconfigure traffic patterns and skier arrivals and departures. Heywood said he thinks the town ought to wait until the Skico unveils that plan before committing to a transit and parking project.

Second, the planned transit center, with an increased number of parking spaces, may decrease incentives for using transit. “Certainly, we don’t want more cars driving across town,” Heywood said.

“We think the proposal is the wrong project in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.

Town Council member and Pitkin County commissioner candidate Jack Hatfield said he objects to the “massive scale, timing and cost” of the project.

“I really do have a problem with the town robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Hatfield said in September. He said he likes the idea of citizens joining in the political process by way of initiatives.

But Councilman Doug Mercatoris and Snowmass Village Mayor Michael Manchester, who support construction of the transit center, say the center will save lives by protecting pedestrians and should be built as soon as possible.

All in all, the idea of requiring an election for any major expenditure won’t fly, Mercatoris said. “I think it’s a horrible idea,” he said.

He said it resembles the town-meeting form of government, not the type Snowmass has selected. Manchester agreed.

“It’s contrary to what representative government is supposed to be,” Manchester said.

“It’s always disappointing when you’ve spent two years working on something and then somebody surfaces to try to take it apart,” Manchester said.he said.


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