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Snowmass rejects spending limits

Janet Urquhart

Snowmass Village voters will have to decide whether to enact spending limits for their town government.

The Town Council voted 4-1 Monday to reject the proposed limits, allowing them to go forward to a public vote in November. A majority of council members made it clear they would not take action to impose limits on town spending for large projects through adoption of an ordinance, but will leave it up to town voters to take such action.

Forcing the issue is a voter initiative that calls for capping town spending each year at 40 percent of the town’s general revenue, as determined by annual audits. Such a rule would have limited town spending on projects this year to $3.86 million.

Citizens submitted petitions proposing the spending cap to the town clerk on Sept. 11, and the petitions have enough valid signatures to put the matter before voters. The ballot issue will proceed since the council is unwilling to adopt the spending limits itself and circumvent the need for a public vote, said petition drive organizer Jim Heywood.

A proposed $11 to $14 million transit center, still in the discussion stages, prompted the petition drive, though the ballot question will apply to any project.

Council members objected to the initiative’s ambiguous definition of the term “project,” but it was the concept of putting any significant expenditure to a vote that tripped up all but Councilman Jack Hatfield. He cast the sole vote in favor of the ordinance.

“As an elected official, I have no problem sharing a responsibility about fiscal matters with the public,” Hatfield said.

“I don’t agree with it in concept,” said Mayor T. Michael Manchester. “I think it’s contradictory to the concept of representative democracy.”

Citizens don’t typically invest the kind of time required to thoroughly understand an issue, argued Manchester, noting the council has held 25 meetings on the transit center in the past eight months.

Council members devote the kind of time that is needed to make prudent decisions about expenditures on behalf of the residents they represent, agreed Councilman Mark Brady.

“I think you folks elected us to make wise decisions. . If you don’t think we’re the right people, you should elect other people to sit in these seats,” Brady said. “I have deep concern with getting to a point where we have to go through what we go through here . only to know we have to turn it over to the voters, not knowing whether we’ve just wasted two years of our time.”

Most projects that come before the council seem to “self destruct” anyway, added Councilman Kevin Costello. “I feel this is just another handcuff, and I guess I feel I’ve got enough of them up here.

“This is one more piece of bureaucracy that I don’t particularly need to do my job,” he said.

Town Manager Gary Suiter also recommended the council reject the ordinance imposing the spending limits. The law would further hinder the town’s ability to accomplish projects, he said.

The town has a track record of taking proposals to the voters for input anyway, Costello pointed out.

“I think we have a pretty good history of putting things on the ballot when we think it’s necessary,” he said.

In the past decade, the town has sought voter approval on 10 different bonding proposals and other expenditures, according to a town memo.


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