McDonald: It’s all a racket!
Aspen major remodel/construction requires five prerequisites to navigate the city’s convoluted 19 step project review code: Property control, employee labor, a Zen-like tolerance to banal totalitarianism, a quarter to half a decade of time to burn, and a bottomless purse.
This bureaucratic extortion construct of city code was purposely drafted to maximize complexity, review/approval gates with conflicting vagaries, so that two serial, subjective, quasi-judicial hearings (Historic Preservation Commission, City Council) can ordain their approval.
While staff and councils deliberate as if walking under water, the city maximizes billing hours at $320/staff hour (San Francisco Bay, Alameda County, charges $120/hour and has scheduled flat fee reviews.) This is definitely not chicken feed when it can quickly add up to $300,000 and more for a simple Victorian.
One reason the City Council legislated this overly complex rhetorical code of minutia of unwarranted and outrageous fees and open-ended reviews is that it keeps on giving in perpetuity through property taxation.
This is and has been accomplished by gradually increasing the fair market value of all Aspen single family, free-market homes, across the board. The Assessor’s Office increases fair market value assessment of homes through comparable market valuation or replacement cost valuation. The Assessor’s Office gives this bump in valuation whether a house has a major remodel or infill construction or not.
Assessment increase due to this tax has been generally gradual and should be predicated on the degree of neighborhood redevelopment, but nevertheless adds to inflation. This is just one example of sneaky municipal racketeering designed to maximize the city’s revenue stream. Note: This does not include Ordinance 13’s 2022, $500k mitigation addition to a typical house.
When city legislation arbitrarily defines excessive fees and charges out of context to national norms and these charges significantly exceed actual costs, this defines a government profit enterprise with a predatory agenda. If this predatory mindset yields rewards and is unchecked by the voting constituency or elected politician for any protracted time, just like Pavlov’s dog, it becomes the staff’s accepted business standard.
This is one-way corruption creeps into government. The city of Aspen’s de facto mission isn’t providing equitable, at-cost, public services but rather focuses on maximum revenue, acquisition of property, and city development through Home Rule legislation.
Scott and Caroline McDonald