Archived Ants
Wednesday
Dec192018

ISSUE #146: We cAN'T Take Barwick Any Longer

"Will people ever be wise enough to refuse to follow bad leaders or to take away the freedom of other people?"

                               -- Eleanor Roosevelt

 

 

Steve Barwick
City Manager
City of Aspen
81611

cc: Citizens of Aspen & Readers of The Red Ant

Dear Mr. Barwick,
 
It's time for you to go.  For years you have "led" the City of Aspen like a lazy consultant, directing staff to pursue idealistic pet projects with no eye toward fiscal restraint, and serving as overlord to the feckless city councils the voters of Aspen have put into office, despite that by law, you report to them.  Your ineptitude spans years, as outlined here in Issue #41 (circa 2010), timed for when you sought and were granted a $170K/year contract despite your demonstrated poor performance. Sadly, for Aspen, nearly a decade later, nothing has changed, and your bad decisions continue to plague our community to this day.

Each election cycle, various candidates espouse their desire to show you the door, but whether it's intimidation or just stupidity, once on council, these former campaigners ignore their promises to hold you to account.  Those days are numbered, Pal.  If you don't think your ongoing employment is going to be a MAJOR 2019 campaign issue, I am here to tell you otherwise. I am going to make it one.  And yes, that will definitely include bouncing you from your city-owned housing on Cemetery Lane.
 
You are infamous for the $18 million BMC lumberyard purchase in 2008, at the height of the economic downturn.  That you made this purchase without an appraisal and paid nearly twice (as local lore has it) what the sellers were willing to take, makes you the fool for all time.  The fact that this expensive parcel sits, undeveloped (for housing) a decade later is a travesty.  And that's before we get into the millions wasted on the attempted hydro plant, including the $1.5 million custom turbine that you ordered before the project was approved (which it never was) that gathers dust to this day.  Where?  Ironically, at the lumberyard. Of course! Your idiocy and incompetence spans decades now.  Recall how: 
  • In 2005 you intentionally misled voters with a city brochure for Burlingame subsidized housing that stated there would be a $62,500 per unit taxpayer subsidy when in reality it was closer to $400,000 per unit. And this wasn't a "brochure error," as you stated when trying to make excuses for the ridiculous discrepancy; you personally promoted the $62,500 in the media and then later even tried denying that the city ever used that number!!
  • You enabled the Burlingame housing project to be built (by the city) without a budget, unless of course you count the one on a McDonald's napkin, that resulted in over $75 million in unexpected costs.
  • You led, oversaw and continue to lead wasteful expenditures of millions of dollars of public funds on unrealistic, ill-conceived, cart-before-the-horse failed projects and programs such as the ZG Master Plan, the Main Street Median, geo-thermal drilling experiments, and 2019's in-the-works war on cars experiment called "the Mobility Lab."
  • You enabled and approved, then later defended the use of city employee "purchase cards" for meals at Aspen restaurants totaling more than $250,000 in 2007 and 2008.
  • You gave "free housing for life" at a city-owned ranchette (valued at over $14 million) to the city public works manager in order to keep him from leaving Aspen for a job elsewhere.
  • You attempted to have an Aspen citizen "punished" by the local Rotary Club for dissenting with the local government, despite his constitutional right to do just that.
  • You oversee and encourage a culture of intimidation in city hall, where public records searches and general harassment plague those who "align" with The Red Ant, who own historic properties and may wish to re-develop, who place political signs in their yards, and who work for the local government yet resist publicly speaking out for fear of losing their jobs.
  • Your 2008 $26 million "land-banking" spree has yet to yield a single subsidized housing unit.
  • You "lost" $475,000 in an off-the-books deal with the developers of Obermeyer Place pertaining to public improvements.  (No records were kept nor were the funds ever discovered.)
  • You enabled the city to fraudulently collect parking fees from 2008-2011, beyond the 10a - 6p paid parking window, and blamed software for the enormous financial windfall, yet never revealed the amount.
  • You enabled the city to get bilked for over $800K over 4 years by parking scofflaws who exploited a widely-known fault in the city's parking meters (using zero-ed out debit cards as methods of payment for parking). Yes, this is different from the 2008-2011 over-charging debacle!
  • You assigned the city's auditor to audit the city's internal revenue collection and management systems in 2014 after "Parking-Gate," until public outcry forced you to relent and hire an independent 3rdparty auditor.
  • You oversaw the RFP process for a suitable non-profit tenant for the Old Power House, that in the end was awarded to a for-profit group to use the facility as a brewery and event space ... until the neighbors shut the concept down.
  • You supervised the disruptive 2018 "narrowing" of the Castle Creek Bridge (Aspen's notorious transportation choke-point) in order to create a dubious lane for pedestrians and bicycles, to the tune of $TBD millions (the numbers aren't yet finalized).
  • You tried to award an $800K contract to Lyft for subsidized ride-sharing services during the summer of 2019 to support your "war on cars," but local transportation providers and citizens spiked it.
  • You agreed to add 11 new city employees (and $1 million in payroll) in FY 2019 because of the financial windfall that puts the city's annual budget at $120 million/year.  If you've got it, flaunt it, right?
  • You approved the addition of a new $158K/year communications director position to specifically work to better publicly convey the city's myriad "initiatives." Did you ever contemplate that the core issue is that the initiatives just stink??
(Ok, you get the idea.  In Aspen, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Promise one thing, and 2-3 years later, deliver something else after everyone has forgotten the original deal.)

The most recent proof that you have outlived any modicum of usefulness is illustrated by the unfathomable deal you struck earlier this year with Aspen Housing Partners (AHP), an out-of-state developer who hoodwinked you and council into paying a $2.7 million developer fee for building 45 subsidized housing units on three separate parcels.  I wrote about this terrible deal earlier this year in Issue #139. This developer promised to build the complexes, secure 9% federal low income housing tax credits on all three parcels, and manage the facilities for 15 years.  But then you didn't require him to do that.  He didn't even go through the brain damage of applying for the 9% credits (there was no way these projects would ever qualify).  In the end, he could only deliver a non-competitive 4% credit on a single parcel.  And, in your zeal for subsidized housing, and with the embarrassment of riches in the city's coffers, you additionally agreed to finance the projects for the developer at 2% per annum.  (The developer has been laughing publicly for months at his incredible loan terms at Aspen's Bank of Barwick.) 
 
For nearly a year now, nothing has happened.  No ground has been broken, no housing is in sight.  That is, until last week when your assistant and henchman, aptly-named Barry Crook, sprung a 289-page document on the housing board.  In the eleventh hour, you tried to force APCHA into becoming an operating partner in your bad deal with AHP so that the city would benefit from the housing authority's non-profit status and receive millions of dollars in tax breaks.  The dense partnership agreement contained no proformas and no financial contributions to APCHA for its costs associated with taking 45 more units into inventory, dealing with qualifications, deed restrictions, legal costs and operational management.  What happened to the developer's promise to manage the units?  Now you're off-loading that responsibility onto APCHA with no compensation?  We've all known for nearly a year what a loser this deal is for the city.  Without the promised tax credits, the costs skyrocketed.  Of course they did. That should never have been a surprise.  I certainly told you so.  To go to the housing authority mere days before finalizing the construction loans and development agreements with Shaw Construction was both desperate and shameful.  And, good for the housing board for calling you out.
 
Want a reminder of how the AHP deal "sausage" was made? HERE is a mind-numbing waste of time that illustrates your incompetence in action.  (It's a city PR puff piece featuring the AHP principal and the city of Aspen housing asset manager, touting the projects.)  Notably:
 
  • At 2 minutes: Bradshaw (AHP) brags that his group brings a source of capital in the form of tax credits and debt so the city does not need to use its own money for the project.  In reality, the tax credits yielded far less than promised.  And the city is now providing most of the development capital at 2%.
  • At 5:32: Bradshaw indicates that his group will be responsible for all cost overruns.  If this is the case, why is the city responsible for the sales and use taxes on construction materials?  Who exactly now covers the cost overruns????
  • At 14 minutes: Bradshaw describes how he first got involved with Aspen through a "call to Barry Crook."  Interesting that immediately after that call, the city put this project out to bid and presto - AHP magically won the RFP.  What a coincidence?!?! 
  • At 22:30: Bradshaw says his group will operate the units for 15 years and only then would it be necessary for APCHA to become involved (once the tax credit period is over).
 
Somehow, the city hall housing development "brain trust" of you and Crook missed the basic fact that private developers are not exempt from sales, use and property taxes.  And since the city agreed to the developer's terms that puts the responsibility for cost increases on the city rather than the developer, why would the developer point this out? What will surely be millions in additional costs will be borne by Aspen's taxpayers because you failed to include a tax-exempt developer partner in the deal from the start!
 
It takes a particularly acute form of unaccountability to send a minion to face the criticism that you deserve, but that's exactly what you did last Tuesday.  Unwilling to stand up and admit responsibility and be accountable for your team's failure, you sent asset manager Chris Everson, hat in hand, to beg the APCHA board to bail you out for your incompetence.  After years of being treated like mushrooms (that is, being kept in the dark and being fed nothing but BS), the APCHA board said NO, and delayed a vote on your lame proposal.
 
APCHA's final decision today should be NO as well.  Here's why.  The city of Aspen is a tax-exempt corporation.  The APCHA board should recommend to council that the city take on the responsibility that your staff and the developer are trying to foist on the housing authority.  And then let's see what council has to say about that! Recall how YOU promised the clueless city council that they would not bear the risk of being a developer, but you are now trying to pass off that risk to another organization at no benefit to them, while gaining the financial benefit of their agreement - a benefit you and your team should have identified at the beginning but only figured out at the very end.  THIS is definitely not how a competent, reputable leader treats his partners. It's simply disgraceful.
 
Your incompetence is breathtaking.  As it stands, the AHP developer still gets his $2.7 million fee.  For what exactly?  It's clearly not because he has delivered on what he promised in his bid.  He promised far more than he ever intended to do and is now getting paid the same amount anyway.  Furthermore, did you just now recognize that you need a non-profit partner to save millions in development costs in the absence of the promised tax credits?  The fact that the city will now have to eat those additional costs (as opposed to the developer doing so) is a shining example of how poorly you manage the city and the millions of dollars of taxpayer funds you are responsible for.  (The current city budget is $120 million/year.) And just watch, the projected costs of the developments are going to skyrocket.  There will be significant construction cost over-runs.  As I told you before, two of the complexes are on very steep slopes with challenging soil conditions, which will create great technical challenges.  Since you are the bank, just watch and see, the developer will most certainly be back for more money.
 
(And how was it that the city came to select Aspen Housing Partners as the developer for these parcels? There were locally-led bidders who proposed reasonable solutions and were willing to deliver what they proposed, but they were passed over in favor of an unknown outside entity - with no track of housing success in the valley - who offered the moon.  And the city agreed to contracts that allowed him to get paid regardless of what is ultimately delivered - terms that let the developer off at every turn.  All because of Steve Barwick.)
 
The housing board* is absolutely right to hold you and your minions accountable.  Finally someone is. And it's about time! You have always viewed the housing office as merely an instrument of your political goals, never a true partner in housing development and management.
 
*Hey, APCHA board, I know you have a meeting on this today. Kill any "deal" that foists this responsibility on you, even if it includes a sweet "bribe" from Barwick in the form of cash (rumored to be $150K - $400K) straight from the public coffers.  It simply is not right to throw even more taxpayer money at this terrible deal! And, I'm sure you're all well aware of the cozy "buddies lunch" yesterday when Barwick met with your board director and assistant director, Ron Erickson and Rick Head, to discuss a $150K "bribe." To cram this AHP nonsense down APCHA's throat and use public funds to get you to vote yes is hallmark Barwick. Like a wounded and rabid animal, he is backed into a corner and is in major damage control mode.  Unfortunately, he is also armed with the public's checkbook.  Do the right thing.  JUST SAY NO.
 
Mr. Barwick, with a municipal election merely 12 weeks away, I reiterate that you can count on your ongoing employment becoming a major campaign issue.  Do us all, and yourself, a favor and ride into the sunset.  And take the Crook** with you.
 
**At press time, The Red Ant is pleased to announce the abrupt resignation on Friday of one aptly-named Barry Crook from the city of Aspen, following a profanity-laced tirade at the conclusion of last week's APCHA board meeting when they voted to delay the approval of this terrible proposal.  Crook notably called the board "mother-f**king extortionists."  Overnight last night, Crook was mysteriously placed on immediate paid administrative leave by the city, so there is some good palace intrigue going on. In any case, Crook is a goner. Hopefully sooner vs later. 
 
And P.S., readers, if you haven't read enough about the low character of Steve Barwick, the man (just his lousy and incompetent managerial skills), here is something that will illustrate his true colors.  Mr. Barwick is a member of our local B.P.O.E. - "the Elks Club."  Few people know that I too am an Elk.  I affiliated with the local Elk's lodge in a community near where I have a summer home.  "My" lodge is a gritty, low-key affair where dedicated efforts are put toward veterans programs and combatting the heinous opioid crisis in the US northeast. The Elks are known universally for, among other things including patriotism, their reciprocity in welcoming fellow members to their lodges, so imagine my horror to be FORCIBLY thrown out of our local Aspen Elks lodge where I had joined other visiting members for a drink.  I was told by the reluctant lodge manager that "the city manager had banned me for life from that establishment." 
 
THIS is Steve Barwick: a weak and impotent man who has coasted in his role as CEO of the city of Aspen, effectively a corporation with a $120 million annual budget, with zero (council) oversight, who flexes his muscle at a local institution known around the world for its non-political, non-sectarian works. (In order to be a member, one must be a citizen, believe in God, and be of good moral character.) Just as he tried to punish a fellow Rotarian for opposing the local government, Barwick attempted to censure The Red Ant, for being a journalist who covers city hall.  

Be gone, bad man.

 

Wednesday
Dec192018

ISSUE #145: tANTalizing Election Results  12/3/18

"Every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods."

                               -- H.L. Mencken

 

BUT FIRST, A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO GET INVOLVED
As many of you know, the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport (ASE) is likely to be redeveloped in coming years.  This enormous project stands to be the largest infrastructure project on the western slope since Glenwood Canyon over 20 years ago.
 
Please consider participating on one of four volunteer advisory groups that are being established to inform decision-making on the airport modernization and improvement. There will be four distinct advisory groups: 
  • The Vision Committee will serve as the advisory committee focused on holistic project development.
  • The Community Character working group will evaluate and provide input on priority issues related to community values, neighborhood character and quality of life.
  • The Airport Experience working group will evaluate and provide input on how the overall airport experience integrates with the regional community.
  • The Technical working group will evaluate and distill complex technical topics into readily understandable concepts for community-wide discussion.
These volunteer roles will begin in early 2019 and will meet throughout a 14-month "visioning" process.  Six meetings are anticipated, and members should expect to commit to 3-5 hours per month.  I encourage you to apply.  Seriously. Just think of the usual suspects who regularly populate the critical committees in Aspen, and ask yourself, "Do I really want THEM making key decisions on the airport redevelopment?" (I didn't think so.)

To apply, visit www.asevision.com for more info.  Questions? Call 970-309-2165 or email info@asevision.com  The deadline for applications is December 7. Again, this is NOT a major time commitment, and your input is vital.  Please get involved!
AND NOW, THE NOVEMBER ELECTION RESULTS
The Red Ant had a particularly poor showing on November 6, however, one bright light managed to overshadow many head-scratchers and an abundance of outright idiocy.  Mick got whipped. Clobbered. Decimated.  In what was seen by many as a fait accompli, Mick's hopes of yet another elected post (this time: County Assessor), government salary and benefits, and power over those he disdains were surprisingly dashed by political newcomer Deb Bamesberger. Endorsed by her boss, outgoing assessor Tom Isaac, Bamesberger had neither the name recognition, mastery of local campaign how-to, nor support of the local political machine, but she prevailed in a not-at-all-close contest, 62%-38%.  Congratulations, Deb!  
 
As a reader recently wrote, "Hopefully Mick's crushing defeat was a wooden sword through his heart.  The margin was surprisingly large, which certainly reflects his unpopularity.  Hopefully we finally have him in the rearview mirror."  Amen to that.
 
In a quick rundown, here are the results from the ballot measures covered in Issue #143. (For more information on the various ballot questions and The Red Ant's endorsements, please refer to that newsletter.)

Aspen 2A:   To move Aspen's municipal elections from May to March.    
YES 68% - 32%
Look for electioneering to begin in the immediate term; candidates must declare by December 26 and will campaign throughout the winter season for a March 5 election.  Also, look for a concerted effort to register transient "seasonal workers" to the voter rolls.  

Aspen 2B:    To enable the city to issue debt for "enterprise funds" without voter approval.
NO 67% - 33%

Aspen 2C:    To enable city council to grant "franchises" without voter approval.
NO 57% - 43%

Aspen 2D:   To build the Taj Mahal City Hall or purchase a building from a local developer
OPTION B:  Build the Taj    57% - 43%
Look for an open checkbook for this folly as the city finally gets to play developer again and build an edifice to its own incompetence and largesse. While Option A presented a fixed contract price of $45 million for the completed buildings on Hopkins and Galena Streets which will be developed anyway, Aspen voters went with Option B to build the custom Taj based on unfounded construction cost estimates (no construction bids have been obtained but are guesstimated to be between $42 - $52 million, and this does not include the land cost), the perception that the city was over-paying for the Hopkins/Galena buildings due to dubious appraisals obtained by Steve Barwick, and because they didn't want to "put money in local developer Mark Hunt's pocket." Watch this one spiral out of control. City as developer, again. Like a bad re-run.

1A:   To extend and increase the property tax mill levy for Health & Human Services.
YES  69% - 31%
Look for the county to continue to manage an increasingly large budget ($120 million this year) while crying out for "critical" health and human services needs above and beyond this amount.  How about funding these "critical" HHS expenditures as part of the base budget and hitting up taxpayers for discretionary programs when and if money is additionally needed?  But that would make too much sense when the entitled Aspen electorate doesn't pay attention, doesn't hold its elected officials accountable, and instead unnecessarily taxes itself.  Or us, as is the case!

6A:  To raise the property tax mill levy by 1.325 mills to benefit the Aspen Fire Protection District.
YES 72% - 28%

7A:   To create a 2.65 property tax mill levy and bonding authority for RFTA.
YES 53% - 47%
Look for RFTA to be back rattling its tin cup in a short matter of time.  No way they stay quiet through 2040. This was yet another tax measure sold to local voters as "preparation for future growth." In reality, the new revenue will merely cover a budget problem due to underfunding critical capital replacement needs. RFTA inefficiency will continue, just in nicer buses.

7D:     To de-Gallagher Colorado Mountain College (CMC) and enable the elected board to adjust the CMC mill levy upward to maintain revenue levels that will be lost due to implications of the Gallagher amendment.
YES  73% - 27%
Look for potential abuses now that an elected board can monkey with a constitutionally protected mill levy in the name of "addressing revenue shortfalls."  What could possibly go wrong?

Amend A: To change the language in the state constitution to clarify that convicted felons are not slaves.
YES 66% - 34% (In Pitkin County, YES 81% - 19%)

Amend V: To lower the age qualification from 25 to 21 for a member of the general assembly.
NO 64% - 36% (In Pitkin County, YES 53%-47%)

Amend W: To group judges on the ballot by court type.
YES 54% - 46% (In Pitkin County, YES 62% - 38%)

Amend X: To change the definition of "industrial hemp" to align with the federal definition.
YES 60% - 40% (In Pitkin County, YES 75% - 25%)

Amend Y&Z: To develop new processes for congressional and legislative re-districting.
YES on both 71% - 29% (In Pitkin County, YES 83% - 17% and 84% - 16%)

Prop 73: To abolish Colorado's flat income tax rate in favor of income tax brackets, dramatically increasing income taxes on corporations and high income earners, ostensibly to benefit schools.
NO 54% - 46% (In Pitkin County, YES 59% - 41%)

Prop 74: To require compensation from the state/local government for laws and regulations that result in the reduction of private property values.
NO 54% - 46% (In Pitkin County, NO 56% - 44%)
Look for more frivolous, self-serving, idealistic government regulations in the absence of accountability and severe financial repercussions.

Prop 75: To attempt to "level the playing field" among candidates for office by raising the individual contribution limit when a candidate contributes $1 million or more of his/her own money to the campaign.
NO 66% - 34% (In Pitkin County, NO 59% - 41%)
Look for more wealthy candidates "buying" elections with their own money.

Prop 109: To issue $2.5 billion in bonds for transportation infrastructure.
NO 61% - 39% (In Pitkin County, NO 60% - 40%)

Prop 110:  To raise Colorado state sales tax to 3.52% and to finance $6 billion in bonds for unidentified state, local and multi-modal transportation projects.
NO 60% - 40% (In Pitkin County, YES 52% - 48%)

Prop 111:To limit interest rates on "payday loans" to 36% per annum.
YES 77% - 23% (In Pitkin County, YES 84% - 16%)
Look for the number of low-income poor-credit borrowers to increase and end up in a financial death-spiral because this new limit will only serve to incentivize both borrowers and lenders to come to longer loan terms for larger loan amounts at this new lower rate.

Prop 112: To place greater restrictions on the oil and gas industry in Colorado.
NO 55% - 45% (In Pitkin County, YES 72% - 28%)

BOCC:  Patti Clapper 61% - Rob Ittner 39%
Look for more of the same from this career politician who proudly espoused her two greatest accomplishments as a four-term county commissioner as "traveling to New Orleans after Katrina" and arranging for a bear-proof trash can outside of the county courthouse.  Can't make it up!

Sheriff: Joe DiSalvo 78% - Walter Chi 22%

Congress, District 3: Scott Tipton 52% - Diane Mitsch-Bush 44%
Other Races:  Click HERE (State) and HERE (Pitkin County)

NOTEWORTHY OBSERVATIONS
There were four measures (above) where Pitkin County voters were in stark contrast to the rest of Colorado, a state known for its fiscal restraint and moderate-to-liberal social views.  I highlight these to illustrate just how wildly progressive Aspen and Pitkin County are.
 
Beginning with Amendment V, while the rest of Colorado saw the wisdom of having general assembly members be at least 25 years of age, locally, it was far more popular for younger (21) and even less educated and experienced candidates to qualify.  Then there was Prop 73, which sought to abolish Colorado's flat income tax rate in favor of tax brackets, with hearty "escalators" on high income earners.  This "soak the rich" measure was VERY popular locally, tangibly illustrating the pervasive class warfare we all know exists here.  Prop 110 further drove home the point that local voters are just fine with increasing sales taxes, regardless of the dubious nature of the beneficiary.  While much of our sales tax revenue is generated by our tourism economy, this is just more "soak the rich" mentality. Imagine Aspen with a 9.92% sales tax and Snowmass Village at 11.62%?!  Local voters don't care - the tourists are the ones who pay it! And Prop 112, which would have placed severe restrictions on the state's thriving oil and gas industry, was heavily favored by local voters.  Never mind that this measure would not have improved drilling safety nor environmental impacts, local voters simply saw the evil words "oil and gas" and hit the NO button.

While we continue to contribute subsidized housing to local voters through the 1.5% Real Estate Transfer Tax, buyer beware.  While you are housing them, local voters are clearly voting to tax you at every turn.  They will surely continue to prevail locally, but for now, the rest of the state is not quite as punitive. As with any entitlement, the answer is always "more." And with over 3000 units in the APCHA inventory, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who the bulk of local voters are.  They're looking out for their lifestyles first and foremost, and to the degree that you can fund their "land of the free" - free museums, free concerts, free trails, free buses and free newspapers - with your investment, philanthropy and taxes, all the better.  For them.  Look for this trend to continue as transient seasonal workers are encouraged to participate in our upcoming elections.  (Of note, 10,000 Pitkin County voters participated in the November 6 statewide election, of 15,000 registered.)

COMING SOON
Amidst a cornucopia of nonsense such as a ski season-long campaign season culminating in a March 5 municipal election and a ridiculous 2019 summer-long "war on cars" (a "mobility lab" that is going to inconvenience workers, residents and tourists alike when the city tries out an elaborate bribery experiment to reduce auto traffic into town), we will hopefully be voting to approve Gorsuch Haus and the development of the western portal to Ajax now that plans exist to bring a new Lift 1A down to Dean Street.  Stay tuned.  And as always, stay in touch!
Wednesday
Dec192018

ISSUE #144: Awesome EndorsemANTs  10/26/18

"I believe that voting is the first act of building a community as well as building a country."

                               -- John Ensign

 

 

CHECK THESE OUT!!

Don't just take my word for it - check out the endorsements of these candidates and issues by those who really know!

ROB ITTNER FOR BOCC
When his colleagues on the BOCC (Michael Owsley 2005-2017, Dorothea Farris 1997-2009 and Jack Hatfield 2001-2013) overwhelmingly support Rob's candidacy vs his opponent, take it from them, he's the right guy for the job!!

 

Please support Rob's campaign with a donation.  Go to www.VoteRobIttner.com

 

DEB BAMESBERGER FOR COUNTY ASSESSOR

Retiring County Assessor, the long-serving and well-respected Tom Isaac, emphatically endorses Deb over Mick, saying "she is the perfect choice to run the assessor's office."  Read his full endorsement HERE.  Everyone is SICK OF MICK.  Visit the website www.SickOfMick.com 

OPTION A: CITY HALL AT 517 E. HOPKINS AVE
City Councilman Bert Myrin has a list of 4 compelling reasons for voting for Option A (Question 2D).  These include:
  • Option A means one less monster construction project, one less monster building full of people competing in housing lotteries and contributing to traffic congestion in perpetuity.
  • Option A preserves the opportunity to build 15-20 units of affordable housing (including additional parking) in a smaller footprint than what is consumed by the enormous Option B shell.
  • Option A preserves 20 existing parking spaces consumed by the enormous Option B footprint.
  • Option B is a 3-story Taj Mahal 1.5 times bigger than the square footage of the Art Museum.
Click HERE to read a dozen more details on why Option A is far better than Option B.

Get your ballot in today!!
Friday
Oct192018

ISSUE #143: VOTE! Without ANTipathy!

"No part of the education of a politician is more indispensable than the fighting of elections."

                               -- Winston Churchill

 

 

IT'S BALLOT TIME! 

HERE is the Pitkin County ballot for the November 6, 2018, election.  It's a 5-pager should you print it out, but after reading this issue, if you want my "cheat sheet," print THIS instead. Your ballot was mailed to you on October 15.  If you don't have it yet, it's on its way.
 
This issue is solely an overview of how I am voting, and why. I am not telling anyone to vote in any particular manner.  But, what you have come to expect from The Red Ant is that I do my research.
 
Now, before anyone gets all hysterical about my choices and comes to any great conclusions ("OMG, she's a Republican!"), I will say it again, this is how I am voting.  Vote any way you'd like.  But I dug in and did the dirty work to form my opinions and am sharing them with you in this issue.  I do hope you find my research helpful.
 
Most importantly, vote, although it is indeed your right to abstain.  (Heads up, there's a strange undercurrent in Aspen to compel voter participation in the future.  Look for that to raise its strangely-shaped and ugly head!)  And don't forget, it's also a-ok to leave any of the issues blank. If you really don't have an opinion, or just don't care, it's ok, skip it!  Be deliberate!
 
ASPEN MEASURES
ASPEN 2A: This measure seeks to move Aspen's municipal elections from May to March, ostensibly to increase voter participation.  Since May technically falls within Aspen's off-season, recent cries of "voter disenfranchisement" have led to a citizens petition to get this on the ballot.  (Technically, it's our cabal of Whiny Millennials who haven't figured out how to submit their mail-in ballots.)  When I hear about "voter disenfranchisement," the first thing I think of is - what are they REALLY up to?  Aspen and Pitkin County voters are among the most enfranchised voters in America.  To say they are "disenfranchised" is a slap in the face to Linda Manning and Janice Vos Caudill (our city and county clerks, respectively), who move mountains to ensure everybody who wants to vote can vote. No clerk in any other locale would make it ok to vote (provisionally) via fax from Bali when a resident forgot to send in his ballot!  First of all, our elections are mail ballot elections.  Up until 3 weeks prior to any election, you can arrange to have your ballot mailed to any address.  And you can do it in about 30 seconds online.  When you receive your ballot, you have 3 weeks to drop it off or mail it back in.  Those who cannot figure this out are either stupid or lazy. Likely both. That alone is one reason to vote NO on this measure.  

Another is, if the whiners really want to increase voter participation, city elections should be aligned with the state/federal election cycle (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November).  Obviously.  Furthermore, there is a concerted effort in Aspen to register seasonal workers to vote in our elections.  This will clearly impact the power of SkiCo to push its progressive and environmental agenda, while also encouraging the transient workforce to impact our elections despite only being here seasonally.  And lastly, as if those reasons aren't enough, a March 5 election sets the ballot by December 26, with voting beginning February 11 (in the very height of ski season).  Read more HERE. While it might be tempting to elect a new mayor ASAP to get rid of Steve Skadron earlier than next May, who can run for elected office in this high-season timeframe?  Those who do not have to work, that's who.  We desperately need qualified candidates to join the circus!  We certainly should not be precluding them simply because they're out there earning a living and contributing to our resort economy when town is packed to the rafters!  I am obviously voting NO.
ASPEN 2B: This provision will allow the City of Aspen to issue debt in support of its "enterprise funds" (electric, water, sewer and storm drains). In essence, it permits entities created by the city to obtain funding sources outside the city budget process and without voter approval.  I for one don't want city council or city staff doing any such thing.  I'm voting NO.
 
ASPEN 2C: This overly broad provision would essentially allow city council to grant monopolies in the form of a "franchise." Without voter approval.  Clearly, it is an invitation for favoritism and spoils.  Besides, city attorney Jim True claims that the franchise agreements are too complicated for voters to understand so these decisions are best left to council (because council does whatever staff tells them to).  Huge red flag. The less power we give city council the better.  I'm voting NO.
 
ASPEN 2D:  This is the question we've all been waiting for! Kinda. To Taj or not to Taj. It comes down to Option A vs Option B.  One is awful, the other is good+.  But Option B is the dreaded Taj Mahal City Hall on Galena Plaza.  (I've written about it HERE and HERE.)  And finally, this is the vote to shoot it down for good.  Instead of a long-desired vote up or down on the Taj, we find ourselves with a good-but-not-perfect alternative, Option A: office space at 517 E. Hopkins, 50 feet across the street from the Armory (which will remain the primary location of city government). It's already under contract pending the outcome of this election.  Yes, it's true that genius negotiator Steve Barwick did yet another astonishing deal that spends between $5 - $7 million more taxpayer dollars than the property's appraised value (that's another story for another day), but Option A is a known entity, to be built by the developer at a fixed price.  Read more at www.VoteOptionA.com.  Option B finds the city as developer, again.  And we sure don't want that!  I won't even get into the numbers put forth for Option B because a) they're too incomplete and sketchy, b) the city is not being transparent and releasing a comprehensive cost analysis, and c) the city can never stay on budget, which makes their estimates - whatever they may be - absolutely worthless.  A commercial building is going in at 517 E. Hopkins one way or the other.  Let's put city offices there, in the downtown core across from the Armory, and preserve Galena Plaza.  Oh, and regarding the street-front level of 517 E. Hopkins, don't worry, those spaces aren't for sale, they will still be stores.  And don't forget that Bill Stirling and Howie Mallory AGREE with me!  Anything but the Taj.  I'm finally voting for Option A.
 
PITKIN COUNTY MEASURES
1A:  This measure seeks "a stable funding source for health and human services, and community non-profit programs" though the extension of the existing mill levy and a property tax increase.  I am always wary of a tax increase.  I also see the good that comes from these programs.  But it's not about that, nor are these programs technically in financial jeopardy.  (The county has plenty of money to fund them, it's a matter of prioritizing them.)  My beef with this increase to and extension of the existing mill levy is rather straightforward.  This mill levy is constantly held up as a "critical" funding source for the many programs that rely on it.  But as "critical" as these programs may be, this funding source regularly requires a vote to fund it!  This is a perfect example of how governments intentionally ask voters for extra money to pay for "critical" items, while the bureaucracy is funded from ongoing sources that are safe from the voters.  It's quite disingenuous to tell voters how "critical" something is and then ask them to pay extra for it.  If this is so "critical," why doesn't the county prioritize funding these grants from its recurring revenues as part of its base budget?  There are certainly several million dollars in base operating costs that are of lower importance to the community than the healthy community fund! How about fund the "critical" stuff with the money taxpayers already provide the county, and then decide whether or not to ask voters to fund the genuinely discretionary parts of the budget? And again, don't worry, nobody is going to let these grants go unfunded. It will send a loud and clear message to the county to fund these "critical" programs as a priority from their existing budget, that's all.  For that reason, I am voting NO.

6A:  The city of Aspen has relied on the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department since the 1880s. Its current 0.874 mill levy has been in place since 1953.  Even with the requested 1.325 increase, the first in its history, Aspen will still have the lowest mill levy of any fire district in Colorado.  Read more HERE.  Did you know that despite the enormous city ($150 million) and county ($120 million) budgets, the AVFD does not get a single dime from either?  Aspen Fire protects over $25 billion in real property value throughout its 87 square mile district on a $2 million annual budget. That's significantly less than the Aspen Chamber's advertising budget!  Currently, the fire department's 37 volunteer firefighters are supported by 6 paid staffers. The new revenue will fund a paid training officer, support the construction of firefighter housing near the North 40, provide funds for capital improvements to equipment and stations, and establish a reserve fund in the event of a wildfire or other emergency. (This issue comes to us now because of the impacts of the Gallagher Amendment** which requires that 45% of all property tax revenues come from the residential sector and 55% come from all other property types.  The recent growth in Denver has created a scenario that despite residential property values soaring, the property tax revenue remains at 45% of the total, dragging down the revenue that counties and special districts collect.  In the case of the Aspen Fire Protection District, the estimate will be a $557,000 decrease, a crippling scenario for a department that strives to maintain its volunteer model.)  How about those fires over the summer??  Given Aspen Fire's vital role in protecting our community, and its long history of fiduciary responsibility, I am unequivocally voting YES.
 
**THIS VIDEO contains an incredible explanation of Colorado's Gallagher Amendment.
7A:  If you think a MASSIVE property tax increase for RFTA "to pay for the cost of growth" will reduce congestion along Highway 82, you surely think pigs can fly.  This one is a pig.  We are already taxed to support RFTA via our sales tax, and I'm sorry, unless there are wholesale changes to the commute on the entirety of 82, I don't care if you're in a nifty new Veloci-RFTA electric bus or on an old Greyhound, you're still gonna be stuck in traffic.  There's a lot of nice-sounding fluff built in to this measure, such as access to and maintenance of the Rio Grande Trail, construction and maintenance of down-valley park-and-ride lots, and of course the purchase of new electric buses, but in the end, the key is getting commuters out of their cars.  Enough carrots.  Time for the sticks.  Over the years, throwing more and more money at RFTA and buying some new buses have helped to a point, but now we're at or likely beyond the point of diminishing returns when it comes to efficiency (too many empty seats being driven around the growing service area). Read THIS.  It seems that RFTA is not really preparing for future growth; they're covering a budget problem due to underfunding their capital replacement needs.  When it comes to RFTA, I am not going to give them permission (via hiking my property taxes) to perpetuate their inefficiency. And in case you're wondering, I'm a RFTA rider.  Hunter Creek is my jam.  Charge me to ride if it helps.  It's ok, and frankly long overdue. But I'm voting NO.
 
7D: Colorado Mountain College (CMC) is asking voters for relief from the impacts of the Gallagher Amendment by enabling their elected trustees to adjust their mill levy in order to maintain the revenues that would otherwise be lost. Affected by the same legislation, Aspen Fire (6A above) approached it differently.  They touted their issue, their needs and their reputation, and boldly asked voters for a mill levy increase.  The ability of a board (elected or not) to monkey with a constitutionally protected mill levy formula is not my preferred choice for addressing revenue shortfalls, regardless of how justified they may be. I'm sympathetic to the need, but I just don't like the method.  I am voting NO.
 
STATE OF COLORADO MEASURES
Amendment A: While it didn't pass last time (WTF?), this amendment changes the language in the state constitution dealing with imprisoned convicts. Current language mimics the 13th amendment to the US Constitution, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime where the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States."  The proposed language prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude in all circumstances. Convicted felons are not slaves, they are convicted felons. Maybe we can get it right this time. I am voting YES.

Amendment V: Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning a reduction in the age qualification for a member of the general assembly from 25 years to 21 years?  Seriously??  All you need to do is look at the buffoons in our city government to know that having little-to-no real world work experience (having a real job, budgetary responsibility, making a payroll, ability to read a spreadsheet) is not a great resume for public office.  Do we really want college students in the state assembly?  I don't really see that as highly likely, however, 25 is still plenty young and millennial, but still with a modicum of time to gain scant real-world experience.  More experience, even in life, is more.  Good grief. It should be 30.  I am voting NO.
 
Amendment W: Under current law, a separate judicial retention question must be listed for each judge or justice on the ballot. This amendment to the state constitution would allow for judicial retention questions to be grouped together on the ballot according to court type.  This will help shorten the ballot by allowing the clerk to use one common caption for each level of court with the mandatory language, and just the names below.  Easy.  I am voting YES.
 
Amendment X: Amendment X is a housekeeping measure that removes the current definition of "industrial hemp" from the state constitution and gives the term the same meaning as in federal law and state statute. In the event that federal law changes, Colorado would maintain compliance with federal regulation.  I am voting YES.
 
Amendment Y  
Amendment Z:  
These kissing-cousin amendments address the very real problem in American politics of gerrymandering, the manipulation of boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or class.  Y & Z amend the Colorado constitution to establish new processes for state congressional (Y) and legislative (Z) re-districting.   The formation of 12-person commissions, comprised equally of representatives from the Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, will replace the state legislature (Y) and apportionment commission (Z), who currently have these responsibilities.  This is to ensure that no political party controls the re-districting process, lobbyists are prohibited from serving, there is a structured court review process, and approvals require a super-majority (8 of 12) which encourages compromise.  I am voting YES on both.
Amendment 73: This constitutional amendment puts an end to Colorado's flat income tax rate (currently 4.63%) and creates a massive income tax increase from Coloradans earning more than $150,000 a year by establishing income tax brackets. The amendment exempts itself from TABOR, so it can increase unabated in excess of TABOR's annual limits. Income tax on both individuals and corporations will be impacted.  (Corporate rates will increase 1.36%.)
Here's how:  
Yes, our school funding is definitely screwed up, but the issue has far more to do with how current funds for education are allocated and individual district's willingness to fund their educational systems. Almost half of Colorado schools already spend more than the national average per pupil.  (Aspen's per pupil funding is $21,283, the second highest in the state FYI.)  The problem is not the amount of money spent on education but how it is prioritized and allocated.  I am voting a resounding NO.
 
Amendment 74This measure will expand the circumstances that require a state or local government to compensate a property owner if a law or regulation reduces the fair market value of his or her property.  Currently, the loss in value must be near total to trigger compensation. This Libertarian's dream will have far-reaching consequences due to the potential liability for large payouts. Municipalities, such as ours, will have to think long and hard before enacting restrictive laws and regulations that negatively impact our property values.  The dollars at risk will be enormous.  In the end, many frivolous, self-serving, idealistic regulations will surely be avoided by our local government for fear of devastating financial backlash.  I am voting YES.
 
Amendment 75:  This measure attempts to "level the playing field" between candidates for state office by increasing the amount candidates can collect from individuals when another candidate contributes more than $1 million to his or her own campaign.  Current individual contribution limits in Colorado range by office from $400 - $1150.  A candidate may make unlimited contributions from personal funds.  This, while definitely an individual's right, creates a tremendous disparity.  Colorado's individual limits are among the lowest in the country, and candidates who rely on individual contributions are at a significant disadvantage when running against a wealthy opponent.  I am sick and tired - and outright disgusted - by the obscene spending on elections. This measure is not likely to change that, unfortunately, but it will make it more difficult for a wealthy candidate to simply buy an election.  I am voting YES.
 
Proposition 109:  This proposition authorizes $2.5 billion in transportation bonds for transportation projects to address our failing transportation infrastructure.  It proposes to compel the state to issue bonds without any new taxes or fees to pay them back, and to complete 66 priority projects already identified by CDOT as priorities.  This would require the legislature to re-prioritize funds from the state budget to pay for these improvements.  It's a priority - they should.  But to borrow $2.5 billion (with a 20-year repayment limit of $5.2 billion) specifically dedicated to road and bridge expansion, construction, maintenance and repair is a heck of a lot of debt to take on when the state (in 2018) has made $1 billion in initial commitments from existing funds, and under current leadership, CDOT has not been held to account.  And where is all that gas tax revenue going?  It's increased 30% since 1999.  Without CDOT transparency and a specific plan, the proposition in its current form is irresponsible. It's headed in the right direction, but still needs more time at the drawing board. I am voting NO.
 
Proposition 110:  Where Proposition 109 (above) asks voters to use existing revenue to build 66 identified projects, Proposition 110 asks them to increase the state sales tax rate from 2.9% to 3.52% to generate $766.7 million annually, and to finance $6 billion (with a B) in bonds, and pay for unidentified state, local and multi-modal transportation projects. Yes, our transportation system certainly needs funding, but this is a general revenue raising measure that is not tied to any performance requirements or specific improvements. For perspective, Aspen's sales tax is currently 9.3%.  It will go up to 9.92%!!  And Snowmass Village!!  You're looking at a 11.62% sales tax! No way. I am voting NO.
 
Proposition 111:  This proposition, clothed as a moral issue, would restrict the annual interest rate charged on payday loans to 36% per anum, but it would likely result in the very opposite of its intended outcome.  Payday loans are a form of credit, utilized by individuals who are unable to qualify for bank credit, or who choose to avoid the credit markets for whatever reason.  These are intended to be short-term loans, lasting no more than days, to bridge the gap between a cash-flow need and an individual's payday. Currently, payday loans can include a finance charge of up to 27.5%, an interest rate of up to 45%, and a monthly maintenance fee of up to $7.50 per every 30 days a loan is outstanding.  By lowering the cost of this last resort source of credit to 36% per anum with no fees, this initiative will likely increase not decrease the number of low-income, poor-credit borrowers who end up in a debt spiral.  This is because it will incentivize both lenders and borrowers to come to longer loan terms for larger loan amounts.  This is a bleeding heart proposition that will have grave unintended consequences. I am voting NO.  
 
Proposition 112: This measure seeks to increase setbacks for oil and gas development from occupied structures or vulnerable areas to a minimum of 2500 feet from the current regulation of 500 feet for residential and 1000 feet from high occupancy buildings, such as schools and neighborhoods with at least 22 buildings.  It also increases the land unavailable for exploration per well to 450 acres from 18 (residential) or 72 acres (high occupancy building), effectively barring exploration from 80% of non-federal land. I'll say it again, barring exploration from 80% of non-federal land.  This proposition won't improve drilling safety or environmental impacts, but it will make Colorado less competitive in the energy sector.   It will reduce revenue, dramatically reduce private property mineral right values and create incentives for drillers to seek permits on protected public lands, including places like Thompson Divide. While the Democrat and Republican candidates for governor, Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton, disagree on how to best regulate the oil and gas industry, both oppose this measure.  I am joining them in voting NO.
 
THE CANDIDATES
I am voting for the following candidates:
 
Representative to the US Congress, District 3: Scott Tipton
Re-elect our incumbent congressman, a small business owner and entrepreneur who understands and values not only the importance of agriculture and water in our unique district, but also the critical balancing act of being able to access and preserve our public lands while responsibly developing them.
 
Governor:  Walker Stapleton
Regardless of your political leaning, Colorado is a fiscally conservative state with economically responsible voters who have supported Walker through the past 8 years (two terms) as State Treasurer.  Colorado's Public Employee's Retirement Association has underscored his fight for fiscal sanity in the face of bipartisan criticism. Proven economic stewardship.  Yes, please.
 
Secretary of State:  Wayne Williams
Responsible for election integrity, among other things, Williams was lauded by The Washington Post (HERE) for his dedicated efforts to make Colorado the safest place to cast a ballot.  In his first term, Williams has paved the way to establish Colorado as the leader in election security, doing "virtually everything election experts recommend" to stave off a repeat of 2016, when Russian hackers targeted 21 states in their election interference campaign.
 
State Treasurer:  Brian Watson
 
Attorney General:  George Brauchler
I love a former DA and military prosecutor in this role.
 
CU Regent (at large):  Ken Montera
 
CU Regent (District 3)Glen Gallegos
 
State Senator, District 5:  Olen Lund
Bipartisan community leader Lund has a proven record of working across the aisle and against big-spending politicians of both parties.  He will bring those skills to the state house to stand up for western Colorado priorities: roads, access to healthcare, and creating good jobs. 
 
State Representative, District 61:  Mike Mason
 
Pitkin County Commissioner (District 1): Rob Ittner
It's time to get this strong business and community leader back on the BOCC, where he served as chairman of the board in 2014.  As owner of local-favorite Rustique restaurant for the past two decades, Ittner has lived the daily challenges facing his constituency in this seasonal resort economy, including retention of employees, housing, access to healthcare, and parking impacts, among others. The perspective of an independent local business owner is invaluable at the table where governing happens.  He knows the real-world implications of bureaucratic decision-making and how good ideas can easily become laws of unintended consequences instead of solutions.  Too many of our elected leaders lack fiscal understanding, not to mention discipline, and live in a parallel universe where the harsh realities of their idealistic decisions have terrible impacts on those who actually make our economy run. Rob is who we need on the BOCC as we look toward generational decisions for the future, specifically the improvements to Sardy Field and the new Aspen Airport Terminal.  www.VoteRobIttner.com
 
Pitkin County Commissioner (District 2): Kelly McNicholas Kury
 
Pitkin County Clerk:  Janice Vos Caudill
Yay, Janice!  She's running unopposed so we get this kind, honest and dedicated woman as our county clerk for the next four years.  We are incredibly lucky!
 
Pitkin County Sheriff:  Joe DiSalvo
I'm no fan of Joey's sanctuary city policies, but we still have law and order in Pitkin County and for that I am grateful.

JUDGES
I am voting to retain all.
 
Pitkin County Assessor:  Deborah Bamesberger
If you need just one reason to vote for Deb, it's "Mick." Yes, the meanie is back.  Seeking not only a government paycheck and health insurance, this vengeful man wants nothing more than the power to pry into your private property ownership records and tax you. My favorite comments on his bid for office include: "Ireland keeps turning up like a bad penny," and "What better way for a notoriously mean and vindictive person to punish his enemies than to become their tax assessor."  Deb currently works for retiring assessor Tom Isaac.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it.  Aspen is SICK OF MICK so let's keep him out of office.  If you vote in this election and don't care about anything else, vote for Deb.  Read more HERE.

 

 

Monday
Oct082018

ISSUE #142: ImportANT 2018 Election Info  9/17/18

"Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'"

                               -- Isaac Asimov

 

As a matter of housekeeping, The Red Ant is happy to keep you apprised of the facts pertaining to the 2018 General Election on Tuesday, November 6.
 
Go to www.PitkinVotes.com  This website will enable you to check/update your voter registration.  You can also designate a "ballot mailing address" if you won't be home to receive your ballot when it is sent out on October 15. (The post office will not forward your ballot.) 

 

And overseas voters - your ballots go out on September 22.  Please wait for The Red Ant endorsement issue (or contact me) before voting!!
 
October 15 is also the last day to register to vote.
 
If you're keen on voting in person, you can still practice this lost art beginning on October 22.  See the site for details on time and place.
 
Remember, your ballot must be received BY 7PM on election day. And postmarks don't count.
 
Any questions or issues?  Please contact the County Clerk, Janice Vos Caudill, or the election manager, Elizabeth Granado, at 970-920-5180.  Pitkin County has long been known for its helpful election staff who always go to great lengths to help people get their ballots.
 
The Red Ant will be issuing a full election endorsement issue to coincide with ballots being mailed out.  This is for your convenience, however, I encourage you to do your own research on what has shaped up to be a cumbersome ballot.  The Red Ant endorsement issue will explain why I am supporting an issue or not, but I will not be laying out all of the pros and cons.
 
In addition to the standard general election fare (Gubernatorial, House of Representatives), Pitkin County has a bevy of tax measures coming your way, and several CRITICAL elections and measures:
  • BOCC:  November 6 is when we can vote to put Rob Ittner back on the Board of County Commissioners. Please go to www.VoteRobIttner.com and make a donation to his campaign!  HEREis why we need to get him back at the table.  And ONE MORE reason. 
  • County Assessor: With the retirement of longtime assessor Tom Isaac, the position is now up for grabs.  And like a phoenix who rises from the ashes,  Mick Ireland is back, rearing his ugly head.  Desperate for both a paycheck and health insurance, our old nemesis really just wants the power to oversee and control YOUR property tax bill.  And if you don't think he'll make punitive changes, you have a very short memory. (Get refreshed HERE.) Mick has even floated the nefarious idea of raising property taxes on those who are not full-time residents. His campaign slogan? "Let Mick do the Math."  NO THANKS!! Thankfully, a gracious and longtime employee of Isaac's in the assessor's office is running against him.  Deb Bamesberger doesn't have the name recognition that Mick does, but what she does have (experience, ethics, honesty and demeanor) is what we want and need in that critical role.  Besides, her work in the assessor's office has been and will continue to be her job, not a political career.  Please help Deb by donating to her campaign today HERE.  Every little bit helps!  And you don't have to be a resident or registered voter to donate!  Don't just take my word for it - read THIS letter and THIS one too!
We also can look forward to Aspen's Whiny Millennials and their ballot measure to change Aspen's municipal election date to early March (from May).  They say it will enable more of them to vote.  Never mind that Aspen's city clerk is perhaps the most gracious city staffer imaginable, bending over backwards to get ballots to any registered voter, wherever they may be!  It's actually just a ploy to get seasonal employees registered here and enabling THEM to vote.  And it will additionally keep hard-working Aspenites from running for office since campaign season will coincide with high season, when the people we ideally want representing us actually have to work! (Yes, Skippy's mitts are all over this one...)
 
And finally, after all this time, we actually get to vote NO on the Taj Mahal City Hall on Galena Plaza.
 
Please check your voter registration and mailing address today. Your vote REALLY counts in Aspen!  And look for The Red Ant endorsement issue around October 15.

 

P.S. Please contact me for your Sick of Mick sticker!!  (The Red Ant proudly had these made in 2011 when Mick was running for his third term as mayor.  I knew I held on to the extras for a reason!)
Monday
Jul022018

ISSUE #141: ANT ALERT - Taj Mahal City Hall Alternative  6/29/18

"Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage."
                          -- Dwight D. Eisenhower
Please plan to attend a special city council meeting this coming Monday, July 2, at 5p in council chambers to state your opinion on the city's acquisition of 517 E. Hopkins Avenue (the old Aspen Daily News building).
 
The Red Ant sees this acquisition as a critical component in preventing the city from condemning the open space at Galena Plaza for its plans to build a 37,500 sf edifice to bureaucracy, once and for all.  (See the history of the Taj Mahal City Hall HERE.) 
 
Thanks to the tireless (and unpaid!!) work of local government watchdogs Toni Kronberg, Steve Goldenberg and Marcia Goshorn, which began in early 2017 with both an abuse of power lawsuit and a referendum petition effort (for the right to vote) to overturn council's land use approvals for the Taj Mahal City Hall, we are now thiiiiis close to actually killing the Taj. 

Kronberg and Goshorn sued the city, citing abuse of council power because the land use approval involves the conversion of open space which must be approved by voters per the city charter (Lawsuit #1). Goldenberg and Goshorn, like so many of us, preferred that the city ask the voters to approve (or disapprove, as the case would likely have been) the land use approvals for the project.  However, fearful of a "no" vote and the ensuing political backlash when they inevitably moved forward anyway, city council - with the exception of Bert Myrin - elected to bypass the voters.  Since there was enormous community support for a vote on these land use approvals, within a remarkable 2.5 day period, 760 petition signatures were collected in opposition to council's decision.   In response to this outcry, the city was quick to deem the petition effort a failure due to "insufficient signatures" and a "missed deadline," however, they were too quick. When challenged in district court (Lawsuit #2), it was determined that the city had erred, and the petitioners prevailed with a procedural victory.  Furthermore, despite the city's request to dismiss it, the abuse of power suit was deemed by the court to have legal standing.  With these rulings, the city had several choices, including putting the issue to a vote (as originally requested), appealing the judge's ruling, or starting over elsewhere.  

The Red Ant is pleased that alternative sites were quickly identified, and thanks to some creative thinking by local developer Mark Hunt, the 517 E. Hopkins parcel was under contract as of June 18.  We are currently in the due diligence period.
 
Here is why this purchase should be approved post haste:
  • Like it or not, more space for city offices is going to be added to what is currently available at the Armory.  That train has left the station.  The only question is where and at what cost.  517 E. Hopkins is a far better option than the Taj Mahal City Hall.
  • Hunt's plans to develop the 517 E. Hopkins parcel for the city contain the potential for unique space elements (see below) that provide:
  •  
    • 517 E. Hopkins                         22,000 sf
    • City Hall (Armory)                   21,000 sf
    • Land Beneath Connor Park      11,500 sf
      • TOTAL                         54,500 sf
  • $23 million is the magic number.  When comparing the 517 E. Hopkins parcel with the planned site for the Taj Mahal on Galena Plaza, $23 million comes up.  But in the case of the Taj, $23 million is only the NEW CONSTRUCTION COST.  $23 million does not include the land value of $7 million.  Whereas, 517 E. Hopkins presents a scrape-and-replace finished construction cost of $13.5 million on top of $9.5 million assessed land value. Total $23 million.
  • Hunt will deliver a finished, two-story city office building, across the street from the current City Hall in the Armory, potentially (but not contingent upon) integrating Connor Park as a public amenity with office space beneath, and connecting 517 to the Armory via a tunnel below Hopkins Ave.
  • Remember, the Taj would be 47' tall on land specifically designated as public open space in 2006.
  • Most notably, the redevelopment at 517 E. Hopkins already has site-specific approval from the City of Aspen, meaning that the shape, style, mass, scale and materials have been approved.  These vested rights are already in place, and that building is going to get built.
  • For our council members who are loathe to weigh what the electorate thinks about the matter when making the decision to purchase (that's you, Steve, Ward, Ann and Adam), rest assured.  The purchase contract is an administrative action, not a legislative one, therefore it prevents a citizens' referendum to force a vote.  In other words, you don't have to worry about a citizens' uproar if you move forward to purchase the 517 E. Hopkins parcel.
  • Besides, Carl Heck likes it, writing to the Aspen Times, "Finally, the new City Hall issue is settled and should make all sides happy! Buying the Daily News building from Mark Hunt solves the problem and eliminates a huge construction project at Galena Plaza. Plus, the future possibility of connecting the building with City Hall and improvements to Connor Park is a great bonus for Aspen."  Indeed.
Let's do this.

Click HERE to see the 517 E. Hopkins parcel's proximity to the Armory, including Hunt's concept.

Of special note: Kronberg, Goldenberg and Goshorn were represented in the two cases by Denver attorney J.D. Porter.  It's such a shame that it takes citizen activism and pricey litigation to reverse council's and the city's tone-deaf and often ill-advised decisions.  But it often does.  To Toni, Steve and Marcia, I salute you.  When you see these three, please thank them.  It is unbelievably hard to fight city hall. But it can be done!  Bravo!!
Sunday
Apr222018

ISSUE #140: Call An AmbulANTs  4/2/2018

"Parties are only bad when a fight breaks out, when men fight over women or vice versa.  Someone takes a fall, an ambulance comes and the police arrive. If you can avoid these things, pretty much all behavior is acceptable. 
"

                          -- Bill Murray

 

 

Heard about the $7.5 million soon-to-be-built "Ambulance Barn" at the hospital?  Me neither, that is, since we approved a mill levy increase for the Aspen Ambulance District (AAD) in 2014.  The Red Ant advocated for this increase as a matter of public safety, especially to serve the needs of our growing (and aging) full- and part-time population.  What I did not advocate for was the AAD to operate in a dark vacuum since then, with little-to-no public outreach and, according to public records, nary a public meeting in the past three years! It's true, the government, including special districts, CAN build for the public without going through the standard reviews and processes, but this one is especially squirrelly.
 
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE ASPEN AMBULANCE DISTRICT (AAD)?
Good question.  The AAD is the provider of ambulance services in Aspen.  It is a stand-alone taxing district within Pitkin County that was formed in 1982 with a mill levy of 0.82.  Over the years, due to the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR), as property values increased, the mill levy had been reduced to 0.22.  In 2014, voters within the AAD approved a property tax levy of up to 0.501 mills to ensure that AAD's facilities are adequate and that its revenue model can sustain the district beyond 2017.  
 
The AAD district boundaries include Aspen and unincorporated Pitkin County, from Watson Divide up to Aspen, but does not include Snowmass Village, the Snowmass Creek and Capitol Creek valleys, or the Crystal River Valley.  These areas are served by the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District, Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District and the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District, respectively.
 
And governance?  The AAD board is "coincidentally" Pitkin County's Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), who rarely discuss this little-known cash-flowing district.  In fact, two of the 5 commissioners live outside of the AAD boundaries, and should therefore be ineligible to vote on AAD matters if the county's other district board member qualifications are applied. (George Newman lives in Emma and Steve Child lives in Old Snowmass.) And that's not to mention that the BOCC folks are duly elected by citizens inside AND outside of the AAD boundaries, so yes, residents of Redstone and Old Snowmass technically get to vote on AAD representatives.  This group recently approved the issuance of Certificates of Participation (COP) to fund the AAD's proposed $7.3 million facility and a $250,000 new ambulance (recall that COPs do not require public approval) now that the district's new mill levies have kicked in and can service the debt.  This sidestep of the taxpaying public is a problematic practice, most recently seen in the City of Aspen's decision to use COPs to finance the Taj Mahal City Hall instead of going to the voters for bond approval.  It's the old "If you can get your sticky mitts on it, spend it" mentality... yet again.
 
ASPEN AMBULANCE DISTRICT EMPLOYEES
The AAD contracts with Aspen Valley Hospital (AVH), so its 30+/- paramedics and EMTs are hospital employees, despite technically working for an outside entity.  The employees, equipment and responsibilities for the ambulances are "tasked" to the Aspen Valley Hospital district as part of an intergovernmental agreement.  The current ambulance barn is on AVH's property in the County.  The new 11,000+ sf barn will remain there, and the County is planning to name it "The Pitkin County Ambulance Building."  One problem: Pitkin County has nothing to do with ambulances, and the AAD does not serve the entire county.  Not even close.  The AAD boundary is nearly the same as that of the Aspen Fire Protection District (AFPD), served by the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department.  (Sure, Aspen Fire will absolutely assist Snowmass Village or frankly any jurisdiction that requests it under a code of "mutual aid," but these other districts have their own proprietary EMS operations as a first line.)
 
There is obviously a very cozy relationship (more like a tangled braid) between 3 government agencies:  Pitkin County, the Aspen Valley Hospital District and the Aspen Ambulance District.
 
NOTE:  In no way is this analysis any kind of judgment on the many fine professionals who work for the AAD.  We are incredibly fortunate to have such world-class care in our community.  And if you've ever been a "passenger" (as I have), you know just how good these folks truly are.  My beef is specifically with the governance,  the lack of transparency, the lack of fiscal oversight and  perhaps just some plain old archaic thinking.
 
WHAT'S GOING ON?
The AAD is one strange unicorn.  To begin with, 96% of the country (USA, not the county) is served by fire-based Emergency Medical Service (EMS).  This includes our valley:  Snowmass Fire and EMS, Basalt Fire and EMS, Carbondale Fire and EMS, Glenwood Fire and EMS, and Rifle (Colorado River Fire and EMS).  But in Aspen, and Aspen specifically, fire and EMS are two different entities.  
 
It comes down to this: Does AAD really need a new $7+ million facility?  And should this facility be located on the west side of the Castle Creek Bridge at the hospital?  Does this location best serve the needs of our community?  What due diligence was done prior to the approval of this enormous taxpayer-funded expenditure?  Were there other alternatives?
 
The Red Ant has learned that it always helps to follow the money.  AAD has new-found purchasing power after the 2014 mill levy increase.  So much purchasing power, in fact, that the new barn continues to escalate in cost estimates each year, every time it is quietly mentioned, which isn't often.  And with AAD under the purview of AVH, the money owed AAD that is originally billed by AVH stays in the hands of AVH until it is reimbursed.  A slush fund if you will.  And who, especially a hospital, doesn't like a little slush fund?  
 
Pitkin County also sees some slush, as they collect the property taxes in the first place.  Sure, the AAD mills are indeed AAD dollars, but these hit the county coffers first, and are doled out at the discretion of the county administrators.  In the meantime, not at all unlike what the City of Aspen does with the Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) revenues, the county can use the cash on hand on a short term basis at its own discretion.  Who would know?  The power of the purse, so to speak.
 
There is also the mysterious question of whether or not Snowmass Village taxpayers are paying for their proprietary Fire/EMS services PLUS paying for the employees of Aspen's Ambulance District.  After all, Snowmass taxpayers pay into the Aspen Valley Hospital district, and Aspen's ambulance employees are paid by AVH.  The accounting is vague at best, so my best guess is that if not the salaries and expenses, it would appear that the benefits for AAD employees  just might be being paid in part by Snowmass Village taxpayers.  That just doesn't seem right.
 
WOULD OUR COMMUNITY BE BETTER SERVED WITH A COMBINED FIRE/EMS DISTRICT?
It is a bit odd that our two entities are not combined, but that's just the way it is.  To The Red Ant, the reason seems like inertia.  The AAD has flown under the radar with an inherently conflicted board structure and little-to-no transparent governance since its inception.  But when it raises its own profile with a $7+ million taxpayer-funded HQ, the yellow warning lights begin flashing.  I'm sure it's convenient and tidy for the BOCC to meet sporadically on AAD business, despite the mill levy funds rolling in.  In fact, the only report I have heard about the BOCC's opinion on advocating for a stronger collaboration between the Aspen Ambulance District and the Aspen Fire Protection District is the overly simplistic question of how the fire district would handle ambulance billing were the two entities to become more closely aligned.  (One word: Software.)
 
But from a logistics standpoint, regardless of whether or not the two entities remain separate, there are some very real public safety considerations.  The concept of "best location" should absolutely drive the decision-making.  Where do the ambulance calls come from?  According to the AAD's call data, it's an even 50/50 split between the city and the county.  And when I say "county," I mean the portion of the county within the Aspen Fire Protection District boundary, not the entirety of Pitkin County.  Frankly, I found this curious.  It just didn't pass the smell test.  And I'm glad I asked further.  Did you know that ALL ski area ambulance pick-ups are "county calls"?  Yes, all of them, even the gondola drop-off driveway on Durant, Lift 1A AND the top of Spring Street between The Little Nell and the (former) Sky Hotel.  These pick-ups are counted as county pick-ups despite being located technically within the city limits.  They're designated "county calls" because ski area injuries occur on the ski areas which are in the county, not the city.  And AAD and the Pitkin County Sheriff consider all ski area emergencies to be in the county's jurisdiction.  So, in other words, the 50/50 count is grossly misleading. In fact, FAR more than 50% of ambulance calls are from what you and I consider to be "town," mere blocks from the Aspen fire station. But soon, all the ambulances will be forever stationed outside of town in the AAD's proprietary new $7+ million "Hilton at the Hospital."  
 
It seems to me that now would be a really good time to evaluate if this is truly the "best location" and get some much-needed public feedback - before the new HQ breaks ground.  The whole thing makes zero sense to me given our notorious traffic choke-point at the S-curves and Castle Creek Bridge, other than that the AAD suddenly now has a fat checkbook so it wants its very own clubhouse.  Besides, in the cozy relationship with AVH, AAD gets the land, and AVH can utilize AAD employees to supplement their workforce in the ER while on AAD duty.  Clearly, at the very least, the AAD needs some grown-up supervision!
 
Another logistic consideration is to avoid what's called "second call failure."  This is when, say, ambulance A is called to the gondola, and then 4 minutes later a second call comes in from elsewhere in the district.  It doesn't happen often, but it can, and given Aspen's ongoing flirtation with the laws of unintended consequences, it will.  Thus, a second ambulance, ambulance B, is always staffed and ready.  Is the best location for either or both ambulances really out at the hospital?
 
Oh, and let's not overlook the complete foolishness of having all the Aspen ambulances stationed out at the hospital.  They'll be sharing the driveway onto Castle Creek Road with AVH, the Health and Human Services building, and NUMEROUS condominiums.  And did I mention that this intersection with Castle Creek Road is mere feet from the insanely dense soon-to-be-built-across-the-street 488 Castle Creek Road subsidized housing project?!  (See Issue #139)  This bend on Castle Creek Road is going to get really ugly, really fast.  Is there a rational mind that thinks this is a good idea, when little-to-no-cost alternatives are available in town and in the western portion of the district, properly spread out to effectively service the population?
 
WHERE DOES THE ASPEN FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT STAND?
Fire stations are inherently located where they are most needed, so when the Aspen Fire Protection District totally rebuilt its downtown fire station for the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department, it included a bay for 1-2 ambulances as well as bunk rooms for the attendant AAD personnel.  (To this day, the space is underutilized.) 
 
Fire Chief Rick Balentine weighed in last year to Pitkin County leadership with his opinion and those of the Aspen Fire Protection District board on the AAD's plans, including an incredibly generous offer that was ignored by the AAN.  From a "space needs" perspective, the AFPD offered to house ambulances and crews at its existing stations (downtown and at the North 40) at little to no cost, with the goals of 1) enhanced public safety "by facilitating potentially quicker response times in the downtown core and other high density areas within our shared districts," 2) fiduciary responsibility  - "economies of scale to taxpayers," and 3) resource sharing - "integration and better cross-training and response protocols between members of both organizations."   Balentine is confident that "the currently built AFPD stations and crew quarters can adequately meet (AAD's) needs while allowing for future growth and development as both departments continue to evolve."  Furthermore, Balentine  highlighted that the North 40 station served as temporary quarters for AAD during the recent AVH construction.
 
This is not a specific call to combine the two entities, but it is most certainly a responsible call to do the proper due diligence and analysis before the AAD just hauls off and spends millions of taxpayer dollars unnecessarily simply because it can.  Balentine emphasizes "the potential cost savings and enhanced public safety that might be realized through a formulated cooperative resource-sharing plan of both our districts."  (This type of consideration is what happens when a special taxing district such as the AFPD demonstrates leadership and stewardship by meeting monthly and putting public safety at the forefront!)
 
The AAD desperately needs to be separated from the BOCC, obviously.  The question at hand is a good one - would the AAD be better suited under the purview of the AFPD or AVH?  (That is to be determined.) 
 
While a "combination" of the ambulance and fire districts may initially seem to make a lot of sense, there are additional considerations.  Culturally, for example.  The Aspen Volunteer Fire Department has been around since 1881.  That's 137 years.  It has a proud history with proven success, and that's not only in its full-service capabilities: fire suppression and prevention, swift water rescue, wild fire, hazardous materials mitigation, motor vehicle and aircraft accidents, technical rope rescue, as well as emergency medical and other emergencies. It also includes a track record of fiscal restraint and respect for the district's taxpayers.  For example, Aspen has the lowest fire protection property tax mill levy in Colorado, while also protecting well over $20 billion in property.  
 
As a volunteer organization, there is always the concern about becoming or being perceived as a "career" (paid) fire department, clearly not what AVFD would ever want.  But to have ambulances stationed in town at the fire station still makes infinite sense, particularly as it impacts response time.  Could anything be more obvious?
 
From Chief Balentine, there are certainly ways for the two districts to cooperate to better serve our community, even while remaining separate.  The first step is always cooperation.  From there, anything can happen.  The new barn is a huge step in the wrong direction.
 
WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE NEW AMBULANCE "BARN" TODAY
In all likelihood, this train has left the station.  The AAD intends to break ground this spring.  But knowledge is power, and given that this project has intentionally been kept on the down-low, The Red Ant is not the only one irritated.  And concerned.  
 
There is an effort underway to Stop This Project.  I hope it can be done so that proper vetting can occur in the light of day.  And that includes new governance of the AAD so that they too conduct open meetings!
 
If you would like to share your opinion, please plan to attend the P&Z meeting on Tuesday, April 3 at 4:30pm in the Sister Cities Room in City Hall.
 
For questions and if you would like to get more involved, click  
 
And as always, feel free to submit your letters to the editors of our local newspapers, THE ASPEN TIMES and the ASPEN DAILY NEWS.
 
NOTE:  At press time, The Red Ant has learned that AAD staff is currently scrambling to "update" its facts and figures.  Clearly, someone is feeling the heat.  Let's turn it up!  

 

 

Thursday
Feb082018

ISSUE #139: ErrANT Expenditures  2/8/18

"Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys."
                          -- P.J. O'Rourke

SMAASH!!!  Hear that?  Sounds a lot like egg hitting the faces of our five esteemed council members.  But more likely, it's the sound of these same smug elected representatives being played like a fiddle.
 
Despite the efforts of numerous citizens to put the kibosh on the ill-conceived subsidized housing project at 488 Castle Creek Road late last year (See Issue #138), council elected to ignore the facts and dire warnings about the inappropriate location, the density, and especially the presented finances, and approved the project, reducing it to 24 units versus the originally proposed 28. 
 
With said approval, Aspen Housing Partners (AHP), the developer (in a public-private partnership with the city), was off to the races in its development of not only 24 units at 488 Castle Creek Road, but two other subsidized housing complexes, at 517 Park Circle (11 units) and 802 West Main Street (10 units) as one multi-property project. According to the developer agreement between AHP and the city, money has likely already changed hands, with AHP receiving the upfront 20% of its $2.7 million (12%) developer fee.  (If it hasn't, it will soon.)
 
HOW WE GOT HERE
AHP was selected as the developer in late 2016 (beating out numerous local developers), ostensibly as it came in as the low cost provider with promises of obtaining tax credits to lower the city's out-of-pocket costs.  The pitch was enticing.  The city would "off load" the entirety of building, owning and operating the three subsidized housing rental projects for 15 years, at which point the city would have the first right of refusal to purchase the projects back for "whatever debt is on the property and whatever taxes have incurred to the property."  In the meantime, the lease on the land will be $10 per year.  Yep, $10.  The deal was a stinker from the get-go, and today, merely weeks later, the chickens are already coming home to roost.
 
THE TAX CREDIT HOAX
AHP's federal low income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) proposal of optimistically 9% and otherwise 4% was dangled before council as much to reduce costs as to expedite approvals.  (Did AHP know that city staff and the lemmings on council are notorious for negligible due diligence - or were they just lucky?)  At the direction of Barwick and city staff (because that's how it works with this council), Mayor Skadron obediently ran the "hurry up" and rushed the approvals right along, never once asking about per unit costs and the resulting public subsidies, nor listening to anyone outside of city hall who knows far more than all five of them combined about development.  Council, not knowing what they were doing or how to evaluate the deal, continued to focus on the most optimistic financial assumptions (9% tax credits) for political purposes instead of demanding a realistic estimate of the project's ultimate cost.  Nor did they think about a contingency plan if the 9% tax credits did not materialize.  Why they didn't consider any of this BEFORE signing the development agreement last July or providing development approvals in late 2017 only further illustrates how ill-prepared they are to make this type of financial obligation on behalf of the public.
 
Alas, what AHP (complicit with city staff) didn't tell council, other than their grandiose promises of doing all the work to secure tax credits for all three projects and thus earning their 12% development fee, was that a 9% tax credit for such projects was never anything more than a red herring.  
 
For some unknown reason, it wasn't until after the three complexes were granted development approvals that city staff and AHP revealed to council that they had met with the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA), the administrators of the LIHTC program, earlier in the fall. When they did meet with CHFA, take a guess what they learned?  You got it - the AHP projects would have "very little chance" of ever receiving a 9% tax credit (yet they waited to tell council until after the development approvals were granted).  Why?  It's simple, and those of us who railed specifically against 488 Castle Creek knew it all along because we did the simple due diligence and looked it up.  Turns out that in recent years, just 30% of applications received the 9% tax credit, and these projects had rental units specifically set aside for the 30% AMI income level (equivalent to the lowest half of the lowest APCHA housing category) AND provided accommodation specifically for the homeless, disabled, seniors and veterans. Oops.  Furthermore, given Aspen's well-known ability to pay its own way, it would be highly unlikely that Aspen would ever receive a LIHTC award at this level.  Oh yeah, and one more thing, the 9% tax credits have NEVER been granted to a multi-property application.  (Surely AHP knew this going in; they're the experts in getting these tax credits, right?)  But that's not all, here comes the bait and switch.  
 
Staff, with its tail between its legs, and in the heavily-conflicted role of being both partner in the development and "boss/advisor" to city council, had to recently inform them of this little snafu.  But don't worry, they say, a 4% tax credit is a better fit for the AHP projects anyway.  Chances are indeed better (there was ZERO chance of 9%) because these credits have been awarded to similar projects to what AHP is proposing, but still, historically only "some" of the applications for 4% credits have been approved.  It all depends on who else is applying in a given year.  In other words, the 4% tax credits are FAR from a sure thing.  In fact there are two 4% scenarios: federal and state 4% credits or just federal 4% credits, and the competition will be robust.
 
But that's not the only "new" wrinkle.  With the better of the 4% tax credit scenarios (federal + state credits) comes some other restrictions, such as the initial compliance period of 15 years PLUS a required extended use period of an additional 15 years.  Yep, suddenly it's now 30 years before the city will be able to buy back the complexes and sell or rent them through APCHA.  (You didn't really think the city was building much-needed rental units for our transient workforce, did you?)  Staff's recommendation to get around this inconvenience?  Just apply for the 4% tax credits at 488 Castle Creek Road.  The 21 units at the other two locations will now be built and managed as rentals by AHP for 15 years, totally unencumbered by the tax credit program mandates.  Staff proudly told council that this latest change "simplifies management" and, despite the obvious drawback of "segregating people based on income more so than originally intended," these impacts are less significant "than the downstream flexibility gained."  
 
FOLLOW THE MONEY
The consequence of a decreased tax credit?  It's not like council asked or staff was terribly forthright, but of course the city will now financially make up the difference.  The quick switch from 9% credits to 4% means that the city's financial contribution to the project development budget goes up at least $4.7 million and could go up $5.7 million, depending on which 4% credit (state and federal, or just federal) is awarded.  It will obviously go up even further if no tax credit is awarded.

Depending on which city or developer document you use (as you can imagine, there are several), the numbers are different. Other than an out-of-date pro-forma included as an exhibit in the council-approved developer agreement from July 2017, one is hard pressed to find a comprehensive pro-forma that shows all sources of income and expenses on a single page.  Without a summary that compares current financials to the originally approved options, it's very difficult to understand what changed and why.
Here is The Red Ant's best effort at compiling a comprehensive snapshot of the AHP project financials for your information, in order to demonstrate how the city subsidy changes now that the 9% tax credit option for the entire project is out of the question. Using the council-approved development agreement, exhibit D (HERE) as a baseline:
 
Originally
  • Total development cost:                             $25.728 million
  • The 9% tax credit equity:                           $11.498 million
  • City of Aspen:                                          $9.927 million
  • Private Mortgage:                                    $4.302 million
Based on my best understanding of the July 2017 pro-forma, the $3 million in estimated remaining debt that will need to be paid off by the city in 15 years was included in these totals.  
  • Total City Contribution:   $9.9 million, or $220k per unit in development costs

But now that 9% is out of the question:

Since approval of the development agreement, city council has reduced the number of units at 488 Castle Creek from 28 to 24, reducing the total number of units at all three parcels from 49 to 45. So the estimated total development cost has actually declined to $24.59 million, according to an AHP spreadsheet dated December 10, 2017 (HERE). These changes in the total number of units and the number of tax credit units being applied for make it impossible to compare the current proposal to the original agreement without a comprehensive summary pro-forma in the same format as the one in the agreement. In most places, the decision makers would demand such information, but not the Aspen city council.
 
Extrapolating from a table provided in a city staff memo dated January 5, 2018, (since no other option exists to derive a comparison to the original agreement), the estimated tax credit contribution to the project in the best case scenario where the city receives both federal and state 4% tax credits, decreases to $8.4 million. These changes increase the city's contribution from the originally estimated $9.9 million to $14.59 million, a $4.69 million increase ($4.3 million for the lost tax credits and an additional $390K in increased project costs).  These changes drive the city's per-unit subsidy up 60.4%, from $202,040 for 49 units to $324,222 for 45 units, and the project is not even out of the planning stages yet.

And consider, if the city only receives the 4% federal credits and is not awarded the 4% state credits, the city's subsidy increases another $1 million, according to the same memo. This outcome increases the city's development subsidy from $14.59 million to $15.59 million, and the per-unit subsidy goes up to $346,444 for 45 units, 71.4% higher than the 9% scenario in July's development agreement.

Notably, none of these numbers include the land costs for each parcel.  According to the Pitkin County Assessor, land costs (all parcels were purchased eleven years ago by the city during Mick Ireland and Steve Barwick's land-banking spree) add another $12.332 million (517 Park Circle - $3.242 million, 802 West Main - $3.69 million, and 488 Castle Creek - $5.4 million).  And don't forget, the city is ADDITIONALLY on the hook for the cost of construction over-runs when these inevitably occur.

What does this mean in terms of per-unit subsidy?  $12.332 million for the land, plus as much as $15.59 million in city subsidies for development cost totals, divided by 45 units is $620,489/unit in city subsidies. (By comparison, the controversial per-unit subsidy paid by the city to develop the for-sale units at Burlingame Ranch back in 2007 was around $330,000.) And of note, in 2017, the Assessor valued the three parcels at $6,589,000 (517 Park Circle at $2.5 million, 802 West Main at $2.671 million, and 488 Castle Creek at a cool $1.418 million), a mere 53% of the $12.332 million the city paid A DECADE AGO!!  Nice use of taxpayer dollars, Steve and Mick.
 
A recent email from AHP to city council places the total per-unit cost at $977,211.  If accurate, this puts the total cost for all 45 units on the three parcels, including land, at $43,974,445.  
 
In the end, it's anyone's guess what the actual costs will end up being. City staff and the developer have created a smokescreen of ever-changing numbers, presented in varying formats and employing multiple assumptions. As a result, it is nearly impossible to nail down exactly what they are estimating the final costs and subsidies to be for comparison and accountability purposes. 
 
In any case, it's a far cry from the developer's pitch to council in August 2016, "We are taking the city off the hook for everything."  Yeah, right.  Did AHP ever even intend to apply for the tax credits for all three parcels? Or was this just a ploy to win the contract?  And, with the new financials, how does AHP stack up now against the other developers who bid on the contract?  Remember, the total project cost is estimated to be $24.59 million.  AHP's cut of that total, according to its summary of development costs dated December 10, 2017, is $2,709,522, or 12%.

AHP: STILL MAKING THE BIG BUCKS FOR FAR LESS WORK
According to the development agreement, despite the enormous change in tax credit application plans and a greatly diminished scope of work, AHP apparently still gets its entire 12% development fee.  Not only have they contracted with Shaw Construction to physically build the complexes, there is no longer the substantial work of navigating CHFA's cumbersome 9% federal tax credit application, and the application for 4% credits is now just for one site, not all three.  Furthermore, AHP, using an outside management company, now only has to operate one of the three complexes, 488 Castle Creek, as a tax credit compliant project, significantly reducing its operating costs and compliance risk until the city buys it back.
 
Yes, the development agreement contemplated the possibility that AHP could only be awarded the 4% credits, resulting in a higher city subsidy.  But my question is, why did council not demand that the developer fee be tied to the construction cost of the units for which tax credits are actually awarded, perhaps even linked to the specific level of credit? The 4% federal credit application for the 24 units at 488 Castle Creek is now a far simpler and less costly "fill in the blanks" process. And it comes with a minimum $4.7-$5.7 million increase in the city's development cost.  The Red Ant has additionally been told that operating a tax credit compliant property is no trivial matter, so doing so for just one complex versus three is another notable reduction in the developer's risk in comparison to their original proposal.
 
Why on earth should AHP continue to get the same $2.7 million developer fee under these new circumstances? 
 
COUNCIL DOESN'T GET IT; PUBLICLY DENIES FINANCIAL REALITIES
We all know that city staff considers price to be irrelevant, especially when it comes to subsidized housing.  But so does council, obviously.  They are so unbelievably naïve that they have been manipulated by both sides of the AHP partnership.  By presenting an implausible 9% tax credit scenario, AHP led our oblivious council down the tax credit primrose path. City staff, with its "subsidized housing at any cost" mentality and financial obfuscation designed to confuse council and thwart oversight, selectively spoon-fed incremental information and continues to do so to this day.
 
The craziest thing is that when notified (yes, by the public) that they had been embarrassingly played, council became indignant.  But not at staff or AHP.  They shot the messenger.  Adam boldly stated that "the city's numbers (on the project) are better" than those from people who build for a living.  No, Adam, they're not.  He still obviously hasn't quite figured out what happened!  And Steve, who grew indignant and emotional when the 488 Castle Creek project was approved for 24 but not 28 units, simply doesn't care.  Like staff, he is fundamentally hell-bent on housing at any cost.  It's hard to tell what Ward thinks.  He pushed for the excessive density at 488 Castle Creek, emphatically stating, "Density is environmentally friendly," regardless of cost, quality of life or context, yet also noted the inappropriate location of the project . With regard to the tax credit bait-and-switch issue, it's likely that his inability to synthesize complex issues prevents him from understanding the dynamics at play.  
 
Unfortunately, Bert was alone in recognizing the mess.  He did recognize it, but inexplicably still voted to approve it!!  He recently asked his fellow councilmen what they understood the per unit cost to be when they approved the project.  Was it $900K?  $600K?  400K?  200K?  The four declined to answer a question they had clearly never contemplated.  It's too bad that Bert is so out-numbered by incompetence.  This dynamic has unfortunately resulted in his timid and complacent "go along to get along" votes, despite writing to The Red Ant, "I sensed the financials were not supportable when this first came to us and now that the land use is approved, I'm absolutely certain the financials are off the charts."  Yes, Bert, they most certainly are! I am still scratching my head. He later told me, "I didn't want to be the one to blame for their failure,"  meaning that he was afraid that a no vote might somehow send the whole thing back to the drawing board where it belonged, upsetting his pals at the council table. Seriously.  
 
And Ann, ever hyper-political and condescending, dismissed developer Dick Butera (who has forgotten more about development than this council will ever know), when he told council last week that the per-unit cost had now risen to at least $900K/unit.  She curtly deemed his figures "incorrect," and rudely called Mr. Butera's public comments "inflammatory."  Watch it:

Ann Dissing Dick Butera
Ann Dissing Dick Butera

Well Ann, you should be ashamed of yourself, and you owe Mr. Butera an apology. Your typical "put it in writing" so staff can tell me why they're right and you're wrong is horribly insulting.  (Recall that the APH principal emailed each council member the very next day and stated that the per unit cost is now $977,211.  Oh, and you can bet that number is going nowhere but up!)
 
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Housing at any cost is a dangerous and irresponsible trend.  Our current council has subscribed to it, as did every council before them.  The only difference?  The dollars are bigger each round.  And the new densities reflect the much higher costs.
 
Consider the case of the complex at 488 Castle Creek, where council was all too happy and eager to re-zone and combine parcels, bought at a premium a decade ago, for an unprecedented 24 housing units on a mere half acre**.  Just think, (realtors and buyers beware) the city and council have just demonstrated that they are willing and able to easily pay above-market prices for ANY parcel, anywhere in town, re-zone it, buck all the rules and build another grotesquely dense subsidized housing project right there.  Yes, even next door to you.
 
There is an alarming undercurrent afoot toward ever more dense workforce housing development, irrespective of urban growth boundaries and existing zoning.  Apparently, this is the new environmentalism.  No longer is open space valued over development density. It's all about "infill" and building taller, denser buildings in order to reduce the number of commuting workers.  Stack 'em up, right in town. Auden Schendler, SkiCo's in-house greenie, recently penned a manifesto for Outside Magazine (read it HERE) calling for "a new YIMBYism -- Yes In My Back Yard" that prioritizes (the workforce) community over self interest (those who dare to care about their private property values).  Apparently Auden, who is also a Basalt councilman, has discovered that trees don't vote.  Now he's pandering to the working men and women who aspire to the mountain life, all but promising that if they come, we will build it (really dense housing, right in town, just for them).
 
** When purchased in 2007, the community was told that 488 Castle Creek would have 12-15 units.  It is now 24, comprised of ten 2-bedroom units and 14 1-bedrooms.  Single occupancy puts 34 people on-site.  But these are rentals, so the units will be packed to capacity. Double occupancy then provides accommodation for 68 souls. (That's with no one on the couch!) The building envelope on the site is just ½ acre.  On top of that (no pun intended), there will be just 34 parking places on the narrow driveway, which enters off a bend on Castle Creek Road, necessitating that any and all garbage, delivery and moving trucks either back in or out.  This is gonna be fun to watch.  But not really.  (I just hope no one gets killed.)  Because of this impending disaster and the stacked-like-cordwood living conditions to come, The Red Ant proposes we name the complex SMAASH, short for Steve-Myrin-Ann-Adam-Skadron-Hauenstein (mayor Steve gets both his names included as a prize for his tears at the approval meeting after losing 4 units on the top floor).  And for that egg on all of their faces. Congratulations, guys!