Ballot issues include ambulance tax, council vacancies
November 3, 2014
Here are our positions on a few more questions local voters will see on the Nov. 4 ballot. Monday's editorial dealt with statewide and Basalt matters; today we tackle Pitkin County and city of Aspen issues.
YES on Issue 1A: This proposal asks voters to more than double the Aspen Ambulance District's property tax rate from the current 0.22 mill levy to 0.501 mills. Translated into simple language, this means the tax would generate an estimated $39.80 each year on property valued at $1 million instead of collecting a mere $17.50 annually. The extra money would help the district — which has a large coverage area within Pitkin County that includes nearly 10,000 residents — to offset many rising costs, according to the Friends of Aspen Ambulance District. Revenues for emergency services have been shrinking in recent years because of a statewide, voter-imposed law that reduces property tax rates when property valuations are on the rise. District officials say they need to upgrade equipment and maintain and replace emergency vehicles. They also are dealing with an increasing number of non-revenue-producing refusals of service. Down the road, there's also a financial need to upgrade current ambulance facilities, rent a new facility or possibly build a new one. While we aren't always in favor of proposals to raise taxes — such revenue-raising questions seem to appear on the ballot annually, from one entity or another — there doesn't seem to be a good reason to vote against this one. The ambulance district performs a vital service to the community, and the extra burden on taxpayers is negligible. (If you own a million-dollar home, you probably can afford the extra $22.30; if you own a $2 million home, it's a good bet you can deal with a tax-hike of $44.60.)
YES on Question 1B: Pitkin County's Home Rule Charter includes a two-year term limit on government advisory boards. With this proposed change, volunteers to these entities — which include the library board, election commission and financial advisory board — will be allowed to serve four-year terms. This is a housekeeping item; it's not connected to any controversy, and so we would suggest that voters support it.
NO on Question 1C: On the surface, this is another housekeeping matter that county officials want the masses to correct. A conflict committee, made up of volunteers, actually does exist for the purpose of reviewing questions of whether an elected official did not disclose a conflict of interest during a decision-making process. Problem is, the committee, consisting of nine to 15 appointees, has never been called to weigh in on such ethical matters. It's quite likely that the committee has never been called because most Pitkin County voters don't know about it. To us, it doesn't hurt to have this committee on the books, and a conflict-of-interest issue could arise at any time. Perhaps a better solution would be to reduce the number of individuals required to sit on it.
CITY OF ASPEN
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YES on Referendum 2A: In recent years, the scenario in which an elected official (such as a council member) is elected to another office or resigns, creating a vacancy, has led to controversy. In the past, the council has appointed residents to fill vacant seats. This proposal aims to give the council the option of calling a special election for such situations. In early 2011, when Dwayne Romero resigned his council seat to join Gov. John Hickenlooper's staff, council members held several interview sessions with prospects before giving the seat to real estate broker Ruth Kruger, which turned out to be a bad decision — not because Kruger lacked skills and qualifications, but because she promptly used the position to launch a bid for mayor. Then, in spring 2013, Councilman Steve Skadron's victory in the mayor's race presented a problem since he had two years left on his council term. The new mayor and three council members attempted to settle it by appointment but were deadlocked 2-2 on two residents who sought to fill the position — Romero was one of them, oddly enough — and the city clerk at the time recommended a roll of the die (literally) to break the gridlock. Afraid of the negative publicity such a process might generate, Skadron switched his vote at the last minute, just as the die was being readied for action, in essence handing the seat to Romero. While in 2013, we relished the thought of doing a story on a council vacancy being decided by the high number in a dice contest, it does reek of poor election planning. As much as we are tired of Aspen's endless election cycles (mayors have two-year terms), we suggest supporting the creation of a process for a special election in instances of vacancies.
YES on Referendum 2B: This is a basic term-limits proposal that clears up previous vagaries in the law. It says that council members and mayors may not serve more than 14 consecutive years in office. Thus, a council member may serve eight consecutive years (two four-year terms) and then would be allowed to serve six years as mayor (three two-year terms) — provided the voters agree, of course. Or, the mayor could serve three terms (six years) and then run for council. After 14 consecutive years in office, a local elected official would be required to sit out for at least four years before running again. It also clarifies that the mayor and council are different positions, an issue that popped up when the City Attorney's Office decided that Mayor Mick Ireland was eligible to run for City Council in 2013 after he served six years as mayor (he decided not to run). Term limits encourage new blood in government and we think that removing doubt about the system is necessary.
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