Tax hikes, council members among issues facing voters | AspenTimes.com

Tax hikes, council members among issues facing voters

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

This story kicks off The Aspen Times’ election coverage for the Nov. 5 general election. Today and tomorrow, the paper will present overviews of the local ballot issues facing voters. Over the next several weeks, more in-depth coverage will be provided on local and state issues of particular importance.

Voters from every community in the upper and midvalley will need to make their minds up about a number of local issues ? including several requests for tax increases ? in the next month.

Each jurisdiction between Aspen and El Jebel has a unique set of ballot questions and candidate races that will be decided between Oct. 4, when Pitkin County begins mailing absentee ballots, and Nov. 5, the day of the general election.

Downvalley, voters will be deciding whether to form a taxing district to pay for recreation, while upvalley, they’ll be deciding the future of the Entrance to Aspen.

In Snowmass Village, voters will have to answer questions about the way the Town Council manages its employees and whether to impose a villagewide sales tax. In Basalt, voters will have a say on term limits and town organization.

One big change that voters in the Eagle County portion of the Roaring Fork Valley will notice is their choice for the U.S. House of Representatives. Instead of deciding whether to re-elect Scott McInnis, the Grand Junction Republican who has represented all of the Western Slope for four consecutive terms, Eagle County residents will be selecting between incumbent Mark Udall, D-Boulder, and two contenders.

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Eagle County voters will also be choosing newcomers for four offices that are being emptied by term limits ? clerk, surveyor, coroner and sheriff.

Pitkin County will ask voters if they want to temporarily tax themselves $42 per year per $1 million in property value to pay for programs like senior services, youth intervention, mental health and alcohol treatment, and other nonprofits like GrassRoots Television and the nordic trail system.

Below is a preview of the ballot issues in the upper valley. It will be followed tomorrow with a similar story on the ballots in Basalt and beyond.

@ATD Sub heds:Pitkin County

@ATD body copy: The biggest question on the Pitkin County ballot, which voters in Aspen, Snowmass Village and parts of Basalt will also see, concerns taxes.

The county depends on sales taxes for about a third of its general fund budget, which pays for the sheriff’s office and jail, public works, the clerk and recorder and a host of other government services. With the economy in the tank and sales tax revenues coming in much lower than expected, the county has found itself about $2 million short.

So far, the commissioners have eliminated nine positions, six through attrition and three through layoffs, cut back department operating budgets by more than 5 percent and instituted a countywide hiring freeze. To stabilize the budget through the current recession and continue support for nonprofits and health and human service organizations, the commissioners are asking voters to raise their property taxes for five years.

If they agree, property owners will see their bill to the county go up by about $42 for every $1 million in property value. If the tax fails, two employees at the senior center will be laid off, and funding to most nonprofits will be axed from the budget. The tax would sunset in 2006.

County voters will also be asked what they prefer for the entrance to Aspen: the “modified direct” route across the empty fields at the entrance to town, or the existing alignment past Cemetery Lane and the U.S. Forest Service offices on Hallam Street.

The Pitkin County ballot will also contain a question on whether the county’s home rule charter, its governing document, should be “harmonized” with federal election laws. The question comes after a successful lawsuit by the Redstone-based Common Sense Alliance challenging the charter’s spending limits.

Five county officials are up for re-election this fall. County commissioners Patti Clapper and Mick Ireland face challenges from real estate broker Tim Mooney and health-club employee Ramon Duvernay, respectively. Duvernay is running his campaign from his parents’ house in the Washington, D.C., area, where he is recovering from a stroke.

The incumbent assessor, clerk and recorder and sheriff ? Tom Isaac, Silvia Davis and Bob Braudis ? are all seeking re-election unopposed.

@ATD Sub heds:Aspen

@ATD body copy: Aspenites will vote on every issue and office that their neighbors in Pitkin County vote on, plus a few.

The hottest issue, aside from the Entrance to Aspen question, involves the trolleys that were donated to the city around 1980 and have been rotting into the ground ever since.

If approved, Referendum 2D will direct the city not to sell the trolleys while the original donors and others who support the idea of replacing the Galena Street Shuttle buses raise the money needed to restore and refit the trolleys with engines and tires. The city will not be obligated to use the trolleys unless it is satisfied that the operational costs of the trolleys will not exceed the cost of running the open-air shuttle buses currently used for the route between Hunter Creek and Aspen Mountain.

Referendum 2C asks voters if the city should discontinue its longtime practice of publishing ordinances prior to their adoption in The Aspen Times Weekly, the paper of record. If 2C is approved, the city would publish the ordinance titles only; interested citizens would be required to either download the ordinance from the city’s Web site or pick up a copy for themselves at city hall, according to Aspen City Councilman Tony Hershey.

@ATD Sub heds:Snowmass Village

@ATD body copy: Residents of Snowmass Village will be asked if they want to raise taxes twice ? by Pitkin County and their own Town Council.

The Pitkin County question is the same one concerning the general fund outlined above. The town question is a bit more complicated, however, because it asks voters to replace one sales tax with another.

Currently, businesses located in the Snowmass Mall collect a 3.25 percent sales tax to cover the costs of the Snowmass Village Resort Association and its promotional activities. The town government is asking voters to replace that assessment with a 2.5 percent tax on all retail businesses that will be dedicated to marketing. It’s expected to raise about $2.5 million a year.

Spending of the money will be overseen by a five-member committee appointed by the Town Council that will be made up of two “at-large” residents, and one representative from each of the town’s three primary industries ? dining and drinking, retail and lodging.

The Snowmass-Wildcat fire protection district is also asking permission to excuse itself from the state constitution’s limits on taxing and spending with what is known as a “DeBrucing” question. If passed, the district will no longer be required to lower its property tax levy to reflect increases in property values.

Snowmass Village voters will also be selecting two new Town Council members from five candidates, Bill Boineau, George Huggins, incumbent Doug Mercatoris, Stan Kornasiewicz and John Wilkenson. Mayor T. Michael Manchester is running for re-election unopposed.

The town is also asking if its charter should be amended so that the town manager can be removed at any regular or special meeting by a three-quarter majority of the Town Council members present at that meeting.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]

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