city council

Aspen Finance Director Pete Strecker presents to Aspen City Council during a Monday work session. The council gave direction on a short-term rental tax question and poll that would go to voters this fall. 

The Aspen City Council on Tuesday discussed a short-term rental tax question that would go to voters in November following community polling.

Staff proposed a 5.4% tax rate plus three different affordable housing mitigation scenarios, taking into account what other Colorado towns have implemented. Staff also asked council members to provide direction on what uses they would like the tax dollars for, what they would like the tax rate to be and what should be included in the polling. 

Council members supported the 5.4% rate and 65% affordable housing mitigation, and said they would like to ask the public for their feelings on those numbers. 

“I don’t want to be the pollster,” Councilman Skippy Mesirow said. “Maybe the public says less, maybe they say more, maybe they say, ‘dead on.’”

Councilman Ward Hauenstein said he hoped it would be made clear to the public that the tax would not be attached to obtaining an STR license, but it would be added onto the vacation rental price so that the tax would be paid by the tourist. Council members also said they would like to spend some time educating the public on the tax before polling so that the community has more information. 

Councilwoman Rachel Richards pointed out there is already some disparity between the taxes that residential short-term rentals adhere to and those that traditional lodges pay, and said she would like to see it equalized. 

“There’s an inequity of [Chalet Liesel, a small lodge] paying a commercial property tax rate and having to pass it along to each one of her guests, and the short-term rental right across the street gets charged 50-60% less property tax,” she said. “Commercial property tax is three times higher than residential, so it’s setting up that you are residential, you get to pay less, and it’s unfair competitive advantage to the actual lodges. It also is shortchanging our community on the impacts.”

Council members agreed to keep that in mind. They also supported putting the tax dollars toward things like stormwater infrastructure, affordable housing and the environment, such as wildfire mitigation. Those ideas will be shared with the public during polling. 

“The poll needs to be at some level about giving information as much as asking for information back. We have to be explaining about the nexuses that are behind these numbers or the impact that’s behind the numbers and then you ask a question,” Richards said. “I know that water and water quality is very important to our public. It consistently polls high in city and county polls, and I think stormwater — taking care of that and not dumping our pollutants into the river — is probably going to be a very real need.”

Staff will use the council’s comments to create a poll and ballot language the public will see later this year. Staff said they felt comfortable with the level of direction they received and Mayor Torre said he also was leaving the conversation on an optimistic note. 

“I expressed my reluctance about the polling at the last meeting we had about this. I want to share that again,” he said. “It’s a blend of art and science, and I don’t know that it worked last time for us, but maybe this time it’s going to be better and different.”