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Voters will decide future of housing, day care in Aspen

Sarah S. Chung

The day care and affordable housing picture in Aspen could change dramatically if a sales tax up for renewal on next week’s the ballot does not get voter approval, say city officials.

Last year, the .45 percent sales tax brought in $1.7 million. Since the tax was passed nine years ago, more than $11.9 million has been collected and used for housing programs and day-care services. According to the city finance department, about half the day-care services now offered and many future housing programs would be in jeopardy if the tax does not continue.

“Obviously, many programs are going to have to be scaled back or won’t happen at all if this doesn’t pass,” said city Finance Director Tabatha Miller.

Essentially, the tax is tacked onto bills for lodging, restaurants, bars, most merchandise, groceries, and utilities. About 65 percent of the revenue collected comes from tourists, according to the finance department. Housing ripples On the housing end “all future projects would be re-evaluated,” said Dave Tolen, executive director of the Housing Authority.

“We’d really have to sit down and consider what could come off the table,” Tolen noted. “Projects like Snyder and Country Inn, with budgets already allocated, wouldn’t be affected. But anything else, like Burlingame or Truscott, without a budget allocation, could be impacted.”

The Housing Authority does have a few years of funding left from the Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), which amassed $4.2 million in 1998. But Tolen describes the sales tax as a significant resource that the housing program depends upon when making budget plans.

In city finance, Miller warns against relying too heavily on a funding source that fluctuates so drastically from year to year, referring to the RETT.

Recently, the booming real estate market has generously contributed to the housing program. But it’s tough to budget and plan around tax that can collect $2.3 million one year (1997), then almost $2 million more the next, said Miller. A serious downturn in the market can have an even more significant impact, she added. Kids First Since the inception of the tax, 20 percent of every year’s proceeds has been put into a day-care trust fund.

By June, the amount in the trust fund will probably reach about $2.4 million. But the interest from that trust would only fund about half of the program’s grants and services, which in 1998 required $345,000.

“The alternative would be to eat into the principal, but would mean there would be no services in ten years,” Miller said.

A day-care program called Kids First provides a reference bank for licensed child care and contributes to various child-care programs in the area. But the “biggest part” of Kids First is administering grants to parents who otherwise could not affordable quality day care, Miller noted.


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