Survey shows ACRA members support tax hikes on Aspen ballot
ASPEN – Three proposed tax hikes on the November ballot have overwhelming support from members of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association despite the tough economic times.
A survey conducted by ACRA shows 79 percent of participants favor a lodging tax that would raise funds for marketing, according to results presented to the chamber’s board of directors at a regular monthly meeting on Tuesday
That lodging tax proposal is ACRA’s baby, so anything less than widespread support from its membership would have been disappointing. The chamber is taking the lead in the campaign to promote the ballot item.
The proposal for an additional 1 percent lodging tax would raise up to $1.1 million annually in funds for marketing.
The survey showed 68 percent of responding members support a proposed tax increase for Aspen public school operations. The schools are seeking a $1.35 million increase annually in property taxes to offset the anticipated loss of state money.
A tax hike proposal by Aspen Valley Hospital to help fund its expansion plan was supported by 69 percent of responding members of ACRA. The hospital is seeking voter permission to issue $50 million in general obligation bonds. They will be repaid over 20 years through a property tax increase. Hospital CEO David Ressler told the ACRA board members that the tax would add about $3 per month onto the taxes for a home valued at $500,000.
Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, who is also a member of ACRA’s board, said the ACRA survey shouldn’t be viewed as a valid test of voters’ moods, so approvals of the tax questions shouldn’t be taken for granted. The survey did take the pulse of some chamber members. It was sent out to the 561 members who have supplied the organization with an e-mail address.
Of those 561, 194 visited the survey, posted online. Of those, 163 members, or about 20 percent, completed the survey. In addition, not all ACRA members live in the Aspen area, so they might not be eligible to vote on the questions.
Nevertheless, the ACRA survey is one of the few gauges available on voter sentiment.
Also on Tuesday, the ACRA directors unanimously approved resolutions in favor of both the tax hike for the hospital expansion and the school operations. Support for the lodging tax was made months ago, since ACRA is promoting that ballot question.
Before the vote, board members revived some of the questions that critics of the hospital expansion have raised. Members were particularly interested in the size of the expansion and why doctors’ offices are part of the plan.
The hospital will essentially triple in size, to 214,000 square feet once all phases of the expansion are complete. However, Ressler said the expansion is about modernizing the facility, rather than making it larger.
“It’s about having facilities that are right-sized and meet the needs of our patients,” he said.
For example, all the existing clinical space is about half the size of today’s standards, he said. AVH isn’t adding a significant amount of services, Ressler said, but it will devote the space necessary to the services it already provides. There was no “Aspen factor” involved, or effort to make a statement.
“There’s no fluff in this,” Ressler said. “There’s no excess space.”
Some critics have asked why all rooms must be private. Ressler said no hospitals being built today have two beds per room.
Other questions were raised about the addition of 27,000 square feet of office space for doctors, with 12,000 square feet of space coming in the next phase of the expansion. Ressler said efficiency is a big advantage of connecting the offices to the hospital. The office space will be rented at market rates, he insisted. There will be no subsidy for doctors by the hospital district’s taxpayers.
Ressler said AVH’s board of directors has reviewed the office construction and determined “we will not yield” if that becomes a “sticking point” in the campaign.
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