Trial averted in food-taxes case |

Trial averted in food-taxes case

Janet Urquhart

A trial that had been scheduled next week over a legal challenge to Aspen’s food-tax refund has been called off, leaving a judge to decide the matter based on legal briefs being filed by both sides.

The trial had been scheduled Jan. 17 in Pitkin County District Court before Judge Thomas Ossala. But with the facts of the case not in dispute, there is no need for the proceeding at this point, said City Attorney John Worcester.

“What trials do is help establish facts,” he said. “In this case, the facts are pretty clear – the city passed an ordinance and provides a rebate. This issue now is, is that unlawful? It’s strictly a legal question.”

Both the city and the plaintiffs have filed briefs presenting their positions as well as motions for summary judgment – a ruling by Ossala. Additional briefs from each side, responding to the other’s positions, are due today (Friday), Worcester said.

The city has asked the judge to dismiss the suit. The plaintiffs are asking that the rebate be struck down. They are also seeking unspecified relief.

The city’s 30-year-old policy of providing a $50 refund to Aspen residents who file a claim for it ($150 for senior citizens) has been challenged by a trio of nonresidents who contend the tax, and a refund available only to city residents, is unconstitutional.

The suit was filed by Steve Martino of Alabama, Jon Ronay of Basalt and Martha Sommers Ronay of Basalt.

The lawsuit against the refund policy was filed last year on behalf of “all nonresident persons of the city of Aspen subjected to the discriminatory sales tax of the city of Aspen.”

The city discriminates against nonresidents who buy goods in Aspen and pay the tax, but have no access to the refund, according to the suit.

The food-tax rebate program began in 1970 as an enticement to get voters to pass a sales tax. To qualify, a resident must live in Aspen an entire year and apply for the rebate by April 15 of the following year. In 2000, the city finance department issued 1,394 refunds totaling $130,450 in rebates.

Ossala has not certified the suit as a class action. The city asked that the court rule on the legal issues first, according to Worcester.

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