Roger Marolt: Roger this
August 1, 2008
Read my column: No new taxes!
This isn’t a promise by a would- be politician. It is the latest lament of a lonely writer who feels as if his local government has taken him for a fool … and that they have been right about it!
For too long now, they have made me believe that the working class of this valley has lived the pitiful existence of the Lost Boys of Sudan, and that we have a communal moral obligation to house every one of them within walking distance of a place where each can rent a community car, at a fraction of what it costs to operate it for a day, so that they can drive out to the ARC to enjoy a heavily subsidized steam bath, perhaps after taking a ride on the miles of “free” bike paths while the kids are being watched over at the government- funded day care facilities.
Yeah, it’s all good, bro, until you wake up one morning and realize that you have become one of the poor bastards that has come to expect all the perks of living here without giving a good dag-gum about how much it all costs, much less where the bread comes from to pay for it. You complain as easily about how little your employee housing appreciates each year as you do about how infrequently the free buses run after midnight.
Yep, you came for the skiing, but you stayed for the entitlements. It’s a modern mountain town story. It’s so easy to get caught up in the trap that few have the willpower to resist asking for more, and more and more. If you can’t get it yourself, your elected officials will get it for you. On the free community banner flying above Main Street should be the slogan: “Aspen, the small town with the gigantic government.”
It’s as pathetic as it is true ” as long as we think we might have an outside shot of getting any minuscule benefit out of it, we, the ruling majority of Aspen politics, will never vote down a tax increase because the rich jerk- offs on Red Mountain will end up paying for it. For a town that prides itself on conservation and the promotion of global cooling, it never strikes us as wasteful to spend money simply because it belongs to somebody else ” and just because we can.
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This free-for-all is self-perpetuating. We build amenities. They attract more people. Increased demand causes the market prices of everything to soar. And then we make increased demands on our government to get them for us.
But even the fool sees the folly when he tires of the dancing and is forced to take a breather behind the band. The music is muted, and the gyrations appear suddenly silly. My moment of sobriety came a few months ago when copious heaps of government waste poured from the cornucopia and emptied it.
The Burlingame employee-housing project is going to cost the taxpayers of Aspen at least six times as much as local politicians told them it would when the voters approved the mess, way back when a gallon of gasoline barely cost $3.95 at Locals’ Corner. It is $75 million of overruns and miscalculations. It’s cash spent that the government doesn’t have. The “why” and the “how” have the same answer: because our government knows that we will give them more money. It is for employee housing, after all. Do you really want this community to die?
No, I don’t. I want it to thrive and be vibrant and fun, like it used to be. I want all the good things that we have to continue. But I also want our government to get a clue about spending money and squandering resources. I believe that waste is waste, whether it be a fat cat cruising alone at 80 mph in his Hummer towing a houseboat just to make smoke or our government going 700 percent over budget on a multimillion- dollar housing project because nobody at City Hall really gives a crap since we, the idiots of Pitkin County, demand no accountability from our representatives as long as they keep feeding us pork.
OK, that’s quite a buildup for my plan to bail the city out of Burlingame without having to stick their hand out to the taxpayers once again. I mentioned it last week and swore that I wouldn’t give it up until the mayor made an appointment at my office to hear about it. But he’s not giving in. He’s content with the tried- andtrue method of raising taxes to grease the jamb he’s stuck in.
I think it’s time for a new approach. Put the millions of dollars the city has tied up in its employee-housing rental pool to work. Get the private sector involved. Give the taxpayers their longdeserved break. Here’s how it works: The city sells all of its rental employee-housing properties to investors while concurrently signing 100year leases on the properties so that it retains control as the sole long-term tenant. It can then sublet the units to qualified employees, just as they are doing now. For its protection, the city can acquire options in the deal to repurchase the units at any time, at an inflationadjusted price, from the investors. If the units are priced to yield 7 or 8 percent annually in rental income, along with the inherent real- estate income tax incentives, there should be no trouble inducing investors. It would be a relatively low-risk venture for both sides.
The city has gobs of equity built up in its employee- housing pool that is doing absolutely nothing for it, or us. If we force the housing authority to become more resourceful in raising valuable capital in the marketplace, it’s possible that they will not be so wasteful in the future.
The employee-housing monster has matured into a pig. It’s time that it learned to feed itself.
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