As we fill in the box on the November ballot for the Wheeler real estate transfer tax (WRETT) question, we must holistically contemplate the needs of our community. Aspen was just chosen as the best small city in America by a luxury lifestyle and traveler magazine. Aspen has natural beauty, high-end rentals and world-class arts. Aspen workers struggle to find housing. There is a lack of child care facilities. The stress and anxiety the luxury travelers cause the local workforce is undeniable.
Currently, the Wheeler fund provides $400,000 annually to Aspen grants for the arts. The $100,000 allowed by the WRETT has been supplemented by event and rental income from the Wheeler building. The Wheeler Fund is about $40 million. These funds are dedicated to the Wheeler — they cannot be used for any other community needs. The arts enrich our lives. Child care and mental health programs provide a future for our community.
I did not vote to place the WRETT on the 2021 ballot. The WRETT question was rushed for this year. I believe a false sense of urgency influenced the majority of our council to put the question on the ballot in 2021. I, in my heart, place the needs of our workforce above the arts. I advocated for funding for child care and mental health from the WRETT without new taxes. I wanted to support a WRETT vote after I knew that funding was in place for the dire needs of our workers.
I ask for a commitment from everyone that votes to approve the WRETT ballot question to also support future funding for mental health and child care. If there is a ballot question to generate funds to build a child care facility, just as you did for the arts, vote to approve it — $8 million is the projected cost of building a child care facility at the Burlingame site.
When the needs of our workers and community are funded, I will 100% support redirecting WRETT funds.
I will support issue 2A because the majority of the council chose to advance it at this time. I do support removing the $100,000 cap on grants, but I know there are more pressing community needs and adequate income from the WRETT for these needs. My heart is not 100% behind it because of the other needs that are not funded. I implore everyone to put their hearts where your arts are and vow to support our workers for child care and mental health funding as well.
Ward Hauenstein serves on the Aspen City Council; reach him via firstname.lastname@example.org.