The big Burlingaffe | AspenTimes.com

The big Burlingaffe

It was a good thing city officials apologized this week for their $73 million miscue on the Burlingame Ranch affordable-housing project. While they hope that their owning up to a multimillion-dollar mistake has put an end to the debacle, we think this is just the beginning.

Hopefully, the independent audit of costs associated with Burlingame will determine how the city government, arguably caught in its biggest financial blunder ever, misled Aspen voters in 2005 by telling them that taxpayers would subsidize the Burlingame project to the tune of nearly $14.8 million. It turns out the city brochure touting that information entirely missed the mark. Last week, it was revealed that the taxpayer subsidy is $85.5 million, and the figure continues to grow.

We give city officials the benefit of the doubt when they say it was not their intention to mislead the voters and that this simply was a mistake. We also understand that it’s not unusual for construction projects to have cost overruns.

But a $73 million oversight is inexcusable. Some officials argue that infrastructure, land, utilities and other improvements to the area ” the factors that ran up the cost at Burlingame ” shouldn’t have been included in the price that was disclosed. This is a public project, however, meaning all costs associated with the development should be disclosed to voters.

It has become quite apparent to us that city officials committed gross negligence with their accounting of the costs of Burlingame. It’s presumed that someone in the city manager’s office signed off on that brochure, or should have. A mistake such as that would get most people fired in the private sector.

Make no mistake, the city’s negligence, not to mention incompetence, will not sit well with Aspen voters. This is this same city government that tickets motorists for idling, makes builders play by the rules and red tags them if they don’t, and slaps a ticket on a car that’s been parked in a residential area for five minutes too long.

And now the city wants its populace to sweep this issue under the rug and move forward so it can focus on the two more phases of the Burlingame development coming down the pike. The city plans to ask voters this fall to approve up to $75 million in bonds to finance the development, which demonstrates that the city is not living in the same reality that its residents are.

Convincing residents to vote on a $75 million bond question on the heels of this fiscal misstep will be a hard sell, especially when the city’s financial picture is clouded with confusion.


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