Milias: Life, liberty, and a vacancy tax
The Red Ant
One of these things is most certainly not like the others. But, a “vacancy tax” is effectively on Aspen’s March 7 municipal election ballot in the guise of Councilman Skippy Mesirow, who seeks re-election to a second term.
For owners of private property in Aspen, the local taxman is a growing presence who lurks in every shadow. First, upon purchasing property, there’s a 1.5% real-estate transfer tax (RETT), with 0.5% going to maintain and subsidize the historic Wheeler Opera House and 1% for Aspen’s beleaguered 30-plus-year-old, 3,100-unit subsidized housing program.
Next, there are annual property taxes based on an appraisal of the monetary value of every property, whereby a tax is assessed in proportion to that value.
New, beginning in May 2023, is a rental excise tax to be paid to the city when one rents out one’s private property, ranging from 5%-10% nightly on top of the 11.3% existing sales tax, depending on type of property and whether or not one lives in said residence on a full-time basis. There are additional permit fees and required business licenses — but with special deals for locals, of course.
Today, Mesirow proudly touts his vision for a vacancy tax to be paid to the city for the days and nights one chooses not to be in residence, as if that’s anyone’s business. Apparently, Skippy thinks it’s his.
Recall: Those housing RETT dollars, $17.1 million in 2022, fund the program that requires its subsidized housing owners and renters to occupy their units a minimum of nine months a year, leaving three months to frolic about without penalty. The biennial housing affidavit only requires an online checkmark attesting to 1,500 hours worked annually in Pitkin County.
No one verifies this, so why would they begin counting nights in residence? One could safely assume that Mesirow’s vacancy tax would not apply to subsidized-housing residents. After all, they’re protected from the burden of paying the RETT, too, despite directly benefitting from it.
Would Mesirow’s vacancy tax apply similarly to the free market, granting three months of vacancy, free and clear? Don’t count on it. He’s intentionally vague on the details of such red meat for the “soak the rich” crowd. The entire premise of his vacancy tax is to eliminate empty homes and punish those who deign to lock their doors and leave until the next visit to their personal residence.
In his perverse mind, the “creation” of work in the form of property managers, housekeepers, landscapers, and affiliated service providers to vacation homes is a detriment to Aspen and at the root of all our ills. Others might call this “job creation” for those who do the work that is essential and beneficial to the local economy. For a better perspective, ask a local property manager, which, ironically, Mesirow purports to be.
It doesn’t sit well with him that “outside entities” can own property here. They “don’t have local ties.” Seriously? Isn’t this the very definition of second-home owners or part-time residents, the very ones who pay the lion’s share of our property taxes and underwrite our non-profits yet don’t enroll kids in the schools or encumber our social and emergency services? How, exactly, are “local ties” determined? And by whom?
Mesirow’s belief is that the punitive vacancy tax will motivate free-market homeowners to open their doors and rent cheaply to “locals” regardless of where they work and who simply want to live in Aspen affordably. It can’t but conjure images of Yuri’s house in Boris Pasternak’s “Dr. Zhivago.” Yes, apparently it’s come to this.
When espousing his “development-neutral model for affordable housing” campaign platform, Mesirow acknowledges the economic and environmental pitfalls of new housing construction, but he most certainly intends to commandeer your house, literally and figuratively, to meet his ambitious goals. I struggle to reconcile such heavy-handed plans with his flowery eloquence of being “a passionate advocate for community connection and empowerment,” unless this loosely translates to a Fifth Amendment “taking” with a cashmere glove.
So, to summarize, you’re taxed when you purchase your Aspen property and taxed annually on the property you own. Then, you’re taxed if you rent out your property and might be taxed again if you don’t. Damned if you do. Big Brother Skippy is watching. And counting.
For one who aspires to “heal our politics from the inside out,” he, despite his lofty vocabulary, is hard to take seriously. He lacks situational awareness, common consideration, basic knowledge of democratic principles, and respect for private property. Instead, we are presented with tactics honed during the Russian Revolution by a clueless ideologue whose envy of and vitriol toward those with “more” have manifested themselves in such a way that exacerbating and perpetuating class divides are what truly define his candidacy.
A vacancy tax is far from “healing.” It’s more like stealing.
This draconian plan is hardly in the spirit of Aspen’s Paepcke-era “mind, body, and spirit” ideals. It’s no “revival,” despite Mesirow’s campaign rhetoric. It’s divisive. It’s ignorant. It’s greedy. And, like him, it’s entirely wrong for the future of Aspen, where our best days are indeed ahead of us.
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