Archived Ants
« ISSUE #119: Hunt cAN'T Build Base 2 11/3/15 | Main | ISSUE #117: I'm JubilANT - Bert Beats Mick »

ISSUE #118: ANT Alert - Yet Another Election  10/12/15

"Voting is the expression of our commitment to ourselves, one another, this country and this world."   -- Sharon Salzberg


It's fall in Aspen and that can mean a lot of things: colorful foliage, dustings of snow on mountaintops, ski conditioning classes ... and yes, elections. We obviously can't have too many elections here!


Election Day is Tuesday, November 3.  This election is a statewide one, so everyone (not just city of Aspen residents) can and should vote!  

  • Your mail-in ballot will be sent to you on October 12
  • Are you registered?  Check your voter registration and mailing address at 
  • Beginning October 20, you can drop your ballot off at the Pitkin County Clerk's office, 530 E. Main Street, 8:30a - 4:30p
  • There is a NEW voter service center at the Jewish Community Center, 435 W. Main Street 
  • Beginning October 26, early voting commences at the JCC, M-F 8:30a - 4:30p, Sat October 31 10a - 2p and Mon November 2, 8:30a - 4:30p
  • The LAST DAY your ballot can be sent to you is October 26
  • Once mailed back in, track your ballot HERE
  • Election Day is Tuesday, November 3, 7a - 7p
  • Questions and concerns? or call the county clerk at 970-429-2713


This November's ballot is a hodge-podge of state, county, municipal and district issues.  In the name of brevity, not to mention a severe case of election fatigue, I am weighing in on most, but not all, of the presented issues. For things like school board and CMC board elections, I will leave these to your good judgement. Furthermore, I am reticent to opine on issues that affect communities other than my own. Apologies to readers in Basalt, Carbondale and beyond. 


This question is an attempt by the State of Colorado to de-Bruce the existing marijuana taxes collected by the government, ostensibly so that more funds can be spent on school construction, marijuana education and prevention programs and youth programs.    

I have a few issues with this.  Most pertain to TABOR - the taxpayers bill of rights.  TABOR states that the government can only keep voter-approved tax revenues (above a determined baseline) equal to inflation plus growth (a factor of population).  I am fundamentally a fan of TABOR.

The specific issue at hand stems from the recent legalization of recreational marijuana sales in Colorado.  2015 is already on track to nearly double the marijuana tax revenue that it collected in 2014.  For reasons of this argument, use $40 million collected in 2014 (it was actually a little more, but 40 is an easy number).  Call inflation 2% and growth 3% -- 5% of $40 million is $2 million.  Under TABOR, the state can legally keep $42 million of 2015's pot tax revenue.  But if/when the revenue doubles, as it is on track to do, what will happen to the additional $38 million collected that the state is not allowed to keep?  It must be returned.  To whom? The retailers!?!

When the state collects such sums (far more than TABOR allows), the inclination is to change the law and permanently "de-Bruce" the revenue stream.  I personally like the protections of TABOR and worry about item by item unraveling of these taxpayer rights.  But it raises an even greater question:  if not the government, do we really want ginormous refunds to the pot retailers??  Should they reap the windfall?  If government is the answer, if not TABOR, what is the control mechanism for proper and transparent stewardship of the funds?  In this case, it reads to me intentionally vague, likely because lawmakers don't know.  They're leaving it open. Ugh.

Many will say, "Hey, it's a sin tax.  Let the government keep it and use it where they see fit."  But we are talking HUGE dollars here in Colorado.  In my opinion, neither option is a particularly good choice.  This is one of those "least worst" scenarios.  As voters, we approved (or at least some of you did) the legalization of recreational marijuana sales because they told us the torrents of tax money would flood to the schools.  Since we've yet to see that, I remain skeptical.  But I suppose I'd rather see the excess money have a chance to get there.


This question asks voters if the county should opt out of Senate Bill 152 which bans governments from offering internet services to the public.  Pitco does not want to offer broadband services itself, rather, the county seeks to invest in broadband infrastructure improvements for residents who live in rural, remote, rugged, low density areas.  Approval will enable the county to ensure needed infrastructure is in place through public-private partnerships.


Question 2A is THE hot button Aspen issue du jour.  It pertains specifically to the development of a 37-room lodge at the northwest corner of Main and Monarch Streets, where the Conoco gas station currently stands.  A brief history: On June 1, city council approved the lodge's development application that included zoning variances for parking, total square footage and setbacks in order to gain a long-desired "affordable lodge" in the downtown core.  A local group circulated a successful citizens petition to "unwind" council's approval of this application or send the issue to a public vote.  Well, here is the public vote.

It is never as simple as it sounds, however.  In this particular project's brief lifespan, council has been stripped of its future ability to grant variances to developers (in the May 2015 election) and anti-development sentiment has reached a fever pitch not seen since the late 80's when the historic hysterics were fighting the Ritz Carlton.  You'd think the apocalypse was upon us!

This ballot question has far greater implications.  Developer Mark Hunt has come forward with a plan (obviously appreciated by council) that meets a long-desired and stated community need: affordable lodging.  For at least the last 40 years, the community has been kvetching about "lost beds" and at least the perception of the loss of small, affordable lodges.  Now we have a guy who has stepped forward to answer the call.  He bought the valuable and well-located dirt.  He is willing to build an affordable lodge with small (under 200sf) rooms to meet the changing needs of the evolving Aspen demographic.  He very easily could build - within existing zoning - a nice commercial building for a bank or mega-brand with a penthouse on top, but he's willing to build a lodge.  As with all gives, there are gets.  That's what the opposition ceases to understand.  You want an affordable lodge in Aspen, well then, you're gonna have to give up a few things: some square footage, some setbacks, some housing mitigation.  It's called compromise.

I, for one, think it's a little disingenuous to offer "affordable" lodging in our otherwise "not affordable" town; it simply creates an expectation of affordability that we simply cannot meet.  But the community has long wanted this, so if it works for Hunt, I say let's give it a try.  The market will always determine what succeeds.  And furthermore, despite what you've heard, Base 2, as the lodge is called, is hardly a "big box;" it will not "ruin Main Street" nor "destroy Aspen's character."  It will merely provide 37 very small rooms right downtown, a mere block from the Jerome.  It could very well be the right solution for a long-lamented issue.

Now, should the community decide that these zoning "gives and gets" are too rich for its blood, ok. Mark Hunt will do just fine with his mixed use development opportunities for the property.  The affordable lodge will go away.  But then can we shut up about affordable lodging in Aspen once and for all???  (Do the opponents really think someone else is going to develop something like this??)  I see this as now or never.  Let's give it a go.


The Armory building at the northeast corner of Galena and Hopkins Streets is where City Hall is currently located.  Council has determined that it prefers to move all city offices under one (to-be-constructed) roof in a 52,000 sf new facility in Rio Grande Plaza rather than continue to house city offices a block away their current location and at other city-owned facilities throughout town.  One alternative use for the Armory space would be a community center, for events, meetings, dances, gatherings.  This is an advisory vote on the matter.

My beef is in no way with the idea of a community center.  Nor is it with the fine group of citizens whose desire to see the Armory return to its 1950s-era community use.  Their intentions are well and good.  Charming even.  I just can't stand the hubris of our local government.  It is the ultimate in hypocrisy to build a 52,000 sf edifice to bureaucracy in downtown Aspen when the municipality owns several buildings of varying sizes throughout town that the government is falling over itself to give away and/or to re-purpose for various (and dubious) "community uses."  (Think: Old Power House.)  

Of course shiny and new is preferable to used and re-purposed.  Of course paid-for-with-money-on-hand is preferable to asking for a bond (never mind why we have stashed away $40+ million taxpayer dollars for a new municipal castle).  Of course having everyone under one roof is preferable to spreading them among other city-owned properties. But is it prudent? Is it responsible? Is it necessary?

I say no.  A 52,000 sf municipal building is nearly 2 acres in size.  The city says it won't look that big because from Main Street because it will drop down in back several floors to Rio Grande Place.  But what about from that side? It will surely be a centerpiece of environmentalism, but will its stacked boxes function in terms of community engagement?  Surely there are numerous divisions and departments that have little or no public interface needs.  Why should they be in the center of town when other (city-owned) locations are available?  And for those functions that exist for public interface, then absolutely, keep them front and center.  My guess is that the proposed building is about 40% larger than it needs to be.

Furthermore, in the event that the Armory "reverts" to community use, are you aware that the (city-owned) Wheeler has already given early indication of its interest in managing the facility?  This begs numerous questions, not the least of which is why the city would be getting into the publicly subsidized event space business that will compete with other private enterprises.  And financially, we all know that the pot of gold that the Wheeler sits on from the (0.5%) RETT revenues is just funding looking for expenditures.  Could there be some financial cross-pollination that enables Wheeler RETT money to further subsidize the operations of and/or improvements to this proposed "community" venue??  A lot of questions, not a lot of answers.

In short, it comes down to this.  Do you want less net new development?  Well then, City Hall should absolutely stay where it is, use existing spaces already owned by the city, and expand at Galena Plaza only as much as it needs to.  If massive net new development makes you happy, then a 52,000 sf office space for our pals on the public payroll is right up your alley.  


This one is an emotional hot button.  It's a property tax increase for the schools.  According to school superintendent John Maloy, this property tax increase - the first for the schools since 2010 - will bring in almost $1 million a year "to preserve the current quality of education the community has stated it values and supports."  The problem is, this new $1 million a year, which will come from a mill levy over-ride of $2.99 per $100,000 of assessed value, will not come close to covering the projected shortfall, which is estimated to be $2.3 million next year.  We will still have a huge funding gap.  Much of this gap will be covered by an existing (circa 2011) Aspen 0.3% sales tax which kicks in $1.4-$1.8 million a year, but this tax expires in 2016.  (Read: look for a "renewal" of this tax in one year.)  Note:  the 2011 decision to add solely to Aspen's sales tax set a dangerous precedent.  Where was Snowmass Village up front?  Aspen stood front and center of the financial universe as usual -- what's the incentive for Snowmass Village to buck up now??  Just sayin'.

Clearly, the economic situation in the state of Colorado for education is dire.  This is not the fault of our local administrators, rather one stemming from funding decisions at the state level.  On one hand, you could argue, "Anything for the schools."  They are indeed a very important part of our community.  But on the other hand, while Snowmass Village (where over 20% of the district's students reside) dithers over how to contribute (they don't want to raise their sales tax any higher because it's already over 10%) and the Aspen Education Foundation raises $400K-$700K annually in charitable donations, can't we as a community do better?  I'd like to think so.

As school board member Sheila Wills has stated, "We need to find a local solution we can rely on."  Yes, Sheila, we do.  Here's one.  How about we re-allocate the RETT.  Yep, that 1.5% real estate transfer tax that goes (1%) to subsidized housing and (0.5%) to the Wheeler Opera House endowment can and should be promptly re-allocated.  The Aspen schools should benefit from this revenue.  This CAN be accomplished -- not easily -- but it CAN be done. Just look at the financial fortunes of the housing program and the Wheeler since the advent of the RETT. (FYI, in 2015, the RETT revenue forecast for housing is $8.4 million and for the Wheeler it's $4.5 million.)  It's time to select new beneficiaries.  As a community we can and should step up and make something big happen -- a real local solution that the schools CAN rely on.  But in order for this to happen, the piecemeal nickle and diming has got to stop.  


Similar to Pitkin County 1A above, Colorado Mountain College wants to get out from under SB-152 too in order to have the authority to offer broadband service should it ever be needed for its campuses or the communities it serves.  


This is neither a new tax nor a tax increase.  Originally passed in 1995, this question is for the extension of the existing up-to-1.5 mills mill levy through 2020.  It has been re-authorized in 2000, 2005 and 2010 at the same rate. These monies are not for new construction but to maintain funding levels to cover the costs of new technologies, staff development and education, community health and well-being services, care for the indigent and maintaining low nurse-patient ratios.  Think of it as a community commitment for local control of healthcare in the upper valley.  Short of a single-payer healthcare system, there will always be costs like these that fall to us.  It's simply what we pay to have a good hospital in our community.


PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend