VAIL — The next elected board members who direct the Vail Recreation District will face some significant problems. And like many of us, those problems revolve around money.
The Vail Chamber & Business Association hosted an April 10 forum for the seven candidates running for three seats in the May 6 election. The forum filled fewer than half the seats in the Vail Town Council meeting room, but those who attended heard a number of different ideas about issues ranging from the golf course to how to overcome a financial hole left by declining property tax revenues.
Property tax collections make up the bulk of the district’s revenue. Since county-determined property values have declined over the past few years, so has revenue. This has left a roughly $1.8 million hole through 2016 in the district’s capital improvement budget.
Candidate Tom Saalfeld said that the district has enough money to cover its operating expenses, but expensive capital improvements are coming and need to be funded somehow. He suggested somehow working with town of Vail officials to see if the district could tap into some of the sales tax revenue its events generate for the town.
Newbury, a former Vail Town Council member, said the district and town might want to talk about the prospect of establishing a line of credit between the two governments, given the town’s healthy financial reserves.
DISCUSSING THE VAIL GOLF COURSE
The candidates also talked about the golf course and renovations to both the course’s 18th hole and the clubhouse. That in the past couple of years has prompted a lawsuit against the project, filed by clubhouse neighbors.
Kevin Foley, another former town council member, said he wants the district and course neighbors to repair that fractured relationship. That will require both the district and town to do a better job of communicating with residents, he said.
Answering a question about the golf course’s annual operating deficit, which currently runs about $100,000 per year, candidate Brian Rodine said full use of the new clubhouse, particularly when it comes to weddings and other events, could help close that deficit. Robert Oppenheimer, who works at the Vail Nordic Center at the golf course in the winter, said the operating losses could be stemmed by more effective year-round use of the facility.
On the other hand, Newbury said there aren’t many municipal golf courses that don’t require subsidies.
Still on the golf course, a question from an audience member asked if the district — via the clubhouse — should compete with private wedding facilities. The candidates all said that’s an appropriate use.
“I don’t think it’s competition, but another option for people,” candidate Penny Turilli said.
While the clubhouse is widely seen as yet another venue for weddings, receptions and similar events, the recreation district has long had a policy of not competing with private recreation centers in town. But on this topic, the candidates were split.
Candidate Constance Miller and Turilli said there’s enough public demand for a recreation center that the possibility needs to be investigated fully.
Foley said a public recreation center will require residents, the district and town officials to display “the political will to pay for it.”
But even that might not be enough.
“I don’t know where we’d put it,” Saalfeld said.
Candidates floated other ideas, from a disc golf course in East Vail (Foley) to separating cyclists and pedestrians on the town’s recreation paths (Miller) to adding lights at some of the town’s sports fields to expand seasons (Rodine).
All the candidates, though, said they’re dedicated district customers, from parents to golfers to soccer players. The three candidates ultimately elected May 6 will join current members Bill Suarez and Jeff Wiles. Board members Ken Wilson, Rick Sackbauer and Joe Hanlon are all leaving the board this year.