Aspen Times Editorial: Voters in Pitkin, Eagle counties should continue trend of tobacco taxes
When the Aspen City Council first upped the age to purchase tobacco products and then local voters agreed to add a stiff tax to those products, we applauded those moves.
One or both of those changes continue to be approved by municipalities (including Basalt) and counties across the state, and we encourage the same for Pitkin County and Eagle County voters Tuesday.
Pitkin County’s Question 1A would mirror the tax in Aspen, starting with $3.20 tax per pack of smokes (which is what it will be in Aspen in 2020) and 40% on all other tobacco products, including vaping devices and chewing tobacco. It is estimated it will bring in as much as $700,000 annually. The county tax, like Aspen’s, would increase 10 cents a year until it hits $4 per pack.
The Eagle County Ballot Issue 1A starts with the tax at $4 a pack and the 40% hike on other products. It is seeking to gain up to $4.5 million each year. Garfield County commissioners decided not to ask for a tax this year because of administrative costs associated with collecting it.
As we stated before Aspen’s 2017 tobacco tax vote, our goal in supporting these taxes against the deadly products is to address the teen vaping crisis as well as motivate smokers to quit. We believe the higher cost can be a catalyst for current smokers to finally make that jump to quit.
Having the tax in places across the Roaring Fork Valley will help keep people from finding the products cheaper with a short drive, thus supporting both efforts.
Also on Tuesday, Aspen voters will decide what to do with the extra funds collected from the first year of its higher tax. The city estimated the collection at $325,000 a year, but in 2018 the new tax brought in $436,600. We encourage voters say “yes” to Question 2A and let the city keep the extra $111,600 in taxes. We challenge the city to move quickly to use the money to find ways to better the educational efforts in our schools.
One of the more significant allocations from the city will be the partial funding of a full-time mental health clinician in the school district.
As the election nears, we’re taking this time to remind voters of our endorsements we’ve published previously on the local questions:
The community is fortunate to have a choice among six well-meaning, well-intentioned candidates who have a deep interest in the district, with either children enrolled now or graduates of the district in recent years. For the two open seats (due to term limits), The Aspen Times endorses Jonathan Nickell and Katy Frisch to help the district move forward in a positive and effective way.
The Times attended all three candidate forums last month, and members of our editorial board have had sit-down discussions with each of the six candidates in the past few weeks.
We have found that each candidate brings fresh ideas to improve on what is in place. They see the challenges ahead, from finding the right leader to being more transparent and open to the community. The three board members not up for re-election have made strides in some areas, and the addition of Nickell and Frisch will help further those efforts.
ASPEN VALLEY HOSPITAL
We support AVH’s proposition to extend the mill levy 10 years instead of the traditional five, largely because of uncertainties in the health care industry in the coming years.
Because voters have thrown their support behind the hospital five times by renewing the mill levy, extending it a decade when most of AVH’s obligation bond debt will be retired is good timing.
When the mill levy expires in 2030 after voters approve Ballot Question 6A this election, all of AVH’s debt will retired. At that point, the AVH board and administration have the opportunity to re-evaluate the needs of the hospital and how much mill levy support will be necessary in the future.
BASALT MILL LEVY RATE
If voters don’t approve establishing the levy at 5.957 mills, it must drop to the lowest level since TABOR was approved. That would reduce the tax rate to the 2.562 mill levy set in 2009. Basalt would be forced to cut an estimated $700,000 from its annual budget.
Basalt voters should approve the 5.957 mill levy. First, it’s needed for essential services. Basalt’s town government would be down to bare bones without the higher mill levy.
Second, the current administration has demonstrated fiscal responsibility. Finance director Christy Hamrick and Town Manager Ryan Mahoney discovered the TABOR violations and brought them to the attention of the council. As a result, Basalt is issuing nearly $2 million in property tax refunds to current taxpayers for overcollections that occurred in the past four years.
Third, approving the 5.957 mills will not increase property taxes above last year’s level.
And finally, as the ballot question promises, Basalt cannot raise property taxes in the future without voter approval — and this time everyone will be paying attention.
For more on our endorsements, go to aspentimes.com/editorials.
The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause and reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.