A group of Aspen residents are collecting signatures this week to bring a citizens’ initiative to the fall vote calling for voters to approve real estate tax reuse so that half goes to the Wheeler Opera House and the other to art uses.
The poll question, which would have to be approved by 60% of Aspen voters, would also aim to lift the existing $ 100,000 limit on Wheeler’s property tax revenue spent on cultural, arts and music organizations in the valley.
According to city clerk Nicole Henning, the city’s home rule charter requires the group to collect 925 signatures from registered voters in Aspen by Friday in order to meet the September 3 deadline for the November 2 elections.
The group’s representatives – Raifie Bass, Kurt Hall, and Ken Ramberg – said they were up to the task.
They also said Monday that they have been working with members of Aspen City Council and city manager Sara Ott for the past few weeks to draft the wording of a possible voting issue, but they got caught in a stalemate from receiving no assistance from officials.
“We tried to do this in partnership with the city council and we really tried to work behind the scenes,” Hall said.
Henning accepted her petition Monday after rejecting a previous one calling on voters to lift the $ 100,000 cap and approve a $ 10 million grant to them Aspen School District upgrade and renovate the Aspen District Theater with 550 seats and the Blackbox with 150 seats.
The language of the petition was not a legislative matter, concluded Henning, and stated in a letter to Bass and Hall that the granting of funds was an administrative act by a government agency.
A similar effort was done by a group of parents three years ago to convert part of the Wheeler RETT for the district theater, but it fell by the wayside due to the lack of city support and timing for an issue in the November 2018 vote.
“We’ve been around for a long time,” Bass said on Monday, adding that three proposals for the latest effort have been tabled and rejected by officials. “We are accused of rushing this, but we’ve been at it for a while.”
The current balance of the Wheeler RETT Fund is $ 39.3 million and grows with the ongoing real estate boom in Aspen.
“We fear that money will be accumulated and not used for the community,” said Ramberg.
The RETT, a 0.5% tax on all property transfers in the city, was first adopted by voters in 1979 and was specifically pledged to provide financial support to the Wheeler Opera House, plus an annual amount of $ 100,000 in arts grants.
City officials increased the arts grants by $ 300,000 annually a few years ago, which comes from revenue from Wheeler’s operations.
In 2016, voters extended the RETT until 2039.
Tax revenue averages between $ 2 million and $ 4 million per year, although that number was higher in 2020 and will likely be in 2021 as urban exodus continues here.
The group wants Aspen voters to unlock future revenue while keeping the tax intact.
“Keep the existing fund as it is, nobody wants to jeopardize the Wheeler or the ability to collect the RETT,” said Bass.
Hall and Ramberg pointed out that it was still up to the city to provide 50% of the future RETT funds as part of their revised funding process for art and cultural organizations.
“We would be at eye level and open it up to all the arts in the valley,” said Ramberg.
The group would apply for an allocation so that the district theater could be remodeled for world-class performances and brought up to date with changing rooms, separate entrance, and other upgrades.
“You already have the asset, use it,” said Bass. “It is the greatest and best use than having the money there.”
Ramberg said this is the most environmentally friendly way to provide entertainment space for the community.
“It is in local traffic, belongs to the community and has parking spaces,” said Ramberg. “It’s such an obvious win for the church and a win for the council.”
The additional money released could fund dozens of local nonprofit and cultural nonprofits and organizations in need, Hall said recent breakup of the 25-year-old Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.
Aspen City Council has been debating for months about how much money should be diverted and where it should go.
Identified Areas of need This council has focused on childcare, health and social services, rainwater, and the non-profit arts community.
Council members have said in recent sessions that they would prefer to ask voters a question about Wheeler’s RETT reallocation in the fall of 2022.
The group that released the petition this week said it was time to free up money for a ramshackle district theater and organizations in need of more money.
“I’m incredibly grateful for people who work in the public sector, but this is about putting that money into better and better use while protecting the wheeler,” said Hall. “Our community has needs, let’s use them.”