By Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer, 03/06/08
Don Taylor, Aspen’s newly hired finance director, has spent much of his career in other Colorado mountain towns as they struggled with many of the same issues that Aspen faces.
"The problems are all the same, with differing degrees of severity," said Taylor, mentioning affordable housing and parking.
Working as finance director for the city of Steamboat Springs from 2000 through 2007, and finance director for Breckenridge from 1984 through 2000, Taylor said he always recognized Aspen’s leadership on mountain town issues.
"I’ve always found that Aspen deals with those problems first," he said.
Taylor’s selection to replace Paul Menter, who stepped down in December to head the financial operations of the Aspen Community Foundation, came after a national search.
"Don has roughly 30 years of experience managing the finances, accounting, budgeting and information systems in local government, specifically in tourism-based communities," City Manager Steve Barwick said in a press release. "Don is someone who can really hit the ground running, and we’re thrilled to have him here in Aspen."
According to a report in the Steamboat Pilot and Today, Taylor was "let go" from his job in Steamboat last summer in a wave of staffing shakeups led by City Manager Alan Lanning. The split was based on "philosophical differences," Lanning told the paper.
Taylor could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening regarding the nature of his recent differences with the city of Steamboat Springs.
Since the announcement of his hiring _ Taylor’s official first day is March 24 _ several people have asked Taylor something along the lines of whether he realizes what he is doing, stepping into a community characterized by passionate, and often thorny, debates on the issues.
"The nice thing about finance is that you don’t have to weigh in on a lot of the issues," Taylor said. While the community and the elected officials can debate the political decisions, his role is to step in after the decision has been made and "figure out creative ways to get done what is collectively decided ought to be done."
Steamboat and Breckenridge, after all, are fellow mountain towns with a passionate and engaged citizenry.
Steamboat, in particular, was "right down the middle on a number of issues," Taylor said. For example, Steamboat is only now starting to build an affordable housing program. The government there is in the first phases of identifying land, getting the first projects off the ground and creating affordable housing mitigation requirements that would apply to new development.
"The community is pretty split on whether it’s necessary for the city to get into (affordable housing)," he said. "I’m sure some from Aspen would chuckle," experienced as the town is with the inevitability of escalating housing costs.
Taylor’s resume cites a number of accomplishments, including pushing forward an urban renewal district in Steamboat that is making infrastructure improvements at the base of the mountain. The new government entity, which collects a special tax from occupants of the district, was made possible after the existing development at the base of Steamboat was deemed "blighted" by a study group. Similarly, Vail had the Lionshead area declared a blight in the runup to the massive redevelopment occurring there, which included the creation of an urban renewal district.
"They paved the way," he said. "When they passed the straight face test, we followed."
In Breckenridge, Taylor helped craft incentive packages to encourage the development of affordable housing.
"I was actively involved and at times led the negotiations with private sector owners of the projects," he wrote in his resume.
Taylor is also a licensed real-estate broker, which has been his primary occupation since leaving the Steamboat Springs finance job in August. He cites his hobbies as backcountry ski touring, rafting and diving.
Taylor acknowledged he "has a lot to learn" about the particulars of Aspen’s issues. Housing is on his radar, as the city and the county will likely be coming to voters in November with a debt issuance package, which will top $100 million, to build housing on land recently acquired by the city.
For his own housing, Taylor, who is single with grown children, said he is planning to rent, at least for the short term, an apartment in Aspen. Living in town would help him "get a good sense of what’s going on," he said.
As far as his priorities on the job, Taylor said he needs to "get in there and make an assessment of my priorities and see what the important issues are for the community."
Before relocating to Colorado, Taylor was the finance director for the town of Leesburg, Va., from 1978 through 1984. "Over the years I spent considerable time in the Roaring Fork Valley area, and have always thought it would be a great place to land some day."