What to cut from Aspen budget? City says it’s too early to tell | AspenTimes.com

What to cut from Aspen budget? City says it’s too early to tell

Aaron Hedge
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – As the city braces for three comprehensive tax-limiting measures on November’s state ballot, Aspen officials say it will be the pretty things that suffer from the potential $1 million gap in the city’s finances.

The first things to be cut will be the ones that aren’t essential, like watering city lawns and regular maintenance on buildings, Mayor Mick Ireland said.

The measures, amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, aim to bar the state from borrowing money and limit municipalities’ borrowing powers to a vote, tighten the belt on auto and telecommunications fees and unload half of financing for K-12 education, which is normally paid for by property taxes, onto the state’s quickly dwindling budget.

Natalie Menten, who is leading the campaign for the initiatives, said Thursday they are meant to create more efficient use of state dollars.

“I don’t think we’re being frugal with taxpayer money,” she said, adding that the state has plenty of funds to pay for the potential cutbacks in the K-12 education budget if it stops wasteful spending on what she said are unneeded capital projects and other frivolous ventures.

Menten said in a letter to the editor last week that the rules, if approved by voters, would not reduce any government budget by even one dollar.

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A coalition of more than 260 communities from across the state began rallies Thursday to derail the proposals, The Associated Press reported. A city administrator from Woodland Park announced he would draft an alternative budget that includes the drastic cuts to show voters what the legislation would mean for the town if they are approved.

City Manager Steve Barwick said Aspen is drafting a similar alternative budget, but it will be much less specific.

Barwick warned Wednesday that such plans, while they do reduce the immediate burden on taxpayers, have unintended consequences that take years if not decades to realize.

In 1992, an overarching state law passed by voters, called the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, dictated a broad cap on the way Colorado collects and spends taxpayer money. It was passed during a robust economic time as the government had a healthy amount of cash on hand, while the burden on taxpayers’ wallets was a little lighter.

“We were sold the idea that everything would be fine,” Ireland said.

But after the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression hit the state, operating budgets for the transportation and higher education systems in Colorado began to suffer and now face unsustainable shortfalls that will be exacerbated if one or more of the initiatives pass, opponents say.

Aspen’s relative financial health will keep it from tipping into the draconian financial scenarios many municipalities in the state face. But the cuts it could endure may have a double effect, Ireland said.

As the image of the town as a world-class mountain resort deteriorates because of maintenance cutbacks, much of its clientele, which Ireland called Aspen’s “lifeblood,” could lose interest.

“They would just stop coming,” he said.

ahedge@aspentimes.com