VAIL - The town of Vail is pulling out its big guns in order to develop a successful ballot initiative to approve the use of $9.4 million in conference center funds.
David Cunningham, of Summit Information Services, will meet with the Vail Town Council on Tuesday to discuss a ballot campaign and a potential survey the town could implement that would test the various ballot approaches with Vail's electorate.
Cunningham is the same consultant who helped the town successfully pass the 2002 lodging and sales tax that ended up raising the $9.4 million in conference center funds; however, the town did not consult with Cunningham for the subsequent election in 2005 asking voters to use those funds, which failed.
This next election is critical because if voters don't approve projects to be paid for with the conference center funds, all of the money would have to be returned, likely through a decreased tax for a fixed number of years that would essentially "return" the money.
Tuesday was going to be the day for the Town Council to gather comments from the public on the projects that are currently on the table until Vail resident Kaye Ferry told council members two weeks ago that a public meeting in May only sends the message that the town doesn't want the public's feedback.
"The business community will not be here," Ferry said. "If you're really listening, then start out by changing that date."
The council did listen and agreed to keep a public hearing for Tuesday but also add another one in June, when more local residents and business owners will be in town. The council also agreed to hold the election during the regular November election and not in an August special election.
While Councilwoman Margaret Rogers told Ferry the process has been going on publicly for a "long, long time," Ferry disagreed and said it's been happening behind closed doors and not in a truly public forum.
Word on the street
Vail resident Stephen Connolly agrees with Ferry. He said the public has only really started to hear about the projects being proposed for a few weeks.
"You need to hear what people are saying at the post office and on the street," Connolly said. "I think it's imperative you stop this process right now and seek input from the general public and not just a chosen few."
Former Vail Councilman Joe Staufer also thinks more public input needs to be gathered, echoing Connolly's comments that only a few select special-interest groups have been included in the process so far.
Connolly said the word on the street is that the process the town has used to come up with the proposed projects has been flawed.
"Some are speculating that the citizens of Vail will vote this whole thing down and you will lose this $9 million," Connolly said.
When Vail resident Kent Logan presented the ideas at an April council meeting, Connolly said he couldn't detect any enthusiasm for any of the three projects, which include a remodel of the Vail Golf Clubhouse, a new welcome and heritage center atop the Vail Village parking structure and a Ford Park recreation fields expansion. A Vail Valley Foundation proposal for various improvements at Ford Park is now also being considered.
"The No. 1 rule in market research is if you find results that come back that go against your gut feelings, throw out the research and start over," Connolly said. "You should throw out these ideas and start over."
Ferry said the town risks losing the money if the projects aren't well thought out. She said she would vote all three projects down if they were on a ballot question together simply because she is opposed to one of the projects.
Gwen Scalpello, secretary of the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens' executive board, agreed.
"I believe that if someone thinks the town should spend nothing on one of the items, there will be more nos than you anticipate," Scalpello said.
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.