Vail Rec District finances drive candidates
Ryan Summerlin April 24, 2014
VAIL — Vail Recreation District isn’t impoverished, but it is facing declining revenues as the need for facility repairs and maintenance continues.
The district runs numerous recreation programs in Vail, from running and cycling races to skating, tennis and more. It also manages the town-owned golf course, ball fields and Dobson Ice Arena. To do that, the district will spend about $6.9 million in 2014 on operations, debt service and capital expenses. Overseeing those operations is a five-member board of directors.
Three members of that board — Ken Wilson, Joe Hanlon and Rick Sackbauer — can’t run again due to term-limit laws. In their place, seven candidates hope to add their voices to the way the district is run during the next four years.
This is part two of a look at the people running for seats on that board.
• Occupation: Vail Environmental Department.
• Why do you want this job? To ensure the district has the tools and support it needs in order to provide the first-class recreation opportunities for Vail residents and guests alike. I want to keep personal agendas out of the decision making and continue to focus the board on increasing net benefit to residents and property owners of Vail.
• What’s your opinion about the way the district is run now? The staff has done an amazing job in running the district with short-term budget shortfalls, but it’s not sustainable — as a community we need to decide if recreation opportunities, youth and adult sports and camps, and district events are things we value and want to continue. I say yes and want to support them accordingly.
• Tell us two things the district needs to really focus on during the next two years: Securing long term finances and improving communication of the overall value of district programs and events to the community.
• Occupation: I wear a lot of hats in order to live in Vail. My current or most recent job descriptions include: establishing a real estate investment company while maintaining a 20-year practice of massage therapy and working as a Nordic ski technician, instructor and winter backcountry guide.
My investment company kept people out of foreclosure and bankruptcy by finding compromises in the face of very desperate market situations. I have also learned a few things about redeveloping both residential and commercial properties inside of a tight budget.
• Why do you want this job? I am running for a seat on the Board of Directors of the Vail Recreation District in order to be more involved with the things that have been important to my life for the past 19 years. I live here, to play here. And I want to be part of the reason that Vail continues to be a great place to live.
• What is your opinion about the way in which the district is run now? The district is here to serve the taxpayers of this community, but we survive by attracting people from all over the world, who want to join us in our athletic events.
The district has been good about attracting new ideas to make all of this work. The GoPro Mountain Games have become a staple in our economy that brings people to town earlier in June. Now, we are hosting the Kids Adventure race in our historically slow time in August. Last year’s Kids Adventure series boosted our late season revenues by 103 percent.
The district has to continue to find ways to meet financial obligations because the business of the whole town depends on it. We have to find ways to maintain a break-even point within these peaks and valleys of our seasons. Sustaining a positive bottom line means finding creative ways to fill the voids in some of our facilities.
The Ford Park athletic field is a good example of better utilizing a facility. The newly engineered park will be able to hold more events at less of a strain on our limited resources and manpower. The quick turnover and better facility layout will allow for increased revenues for years to come.
• Tell us two things that the district needs to focus on during the next two years: The clubhouse issue at the Nordic center and golf course was a lesson in designing something positive but creating a negative response from the community. The necessary steps of community cooperation and compromise were missed. There is a way to rebuild the clubhouse that will give the district a chance to better utilize the facility and work with the taxpayers who are most affected by those changes. There is a solution! We have to communicate and find an agreeable plan before the current facility becomes too unsafe to use.
We have other facilities or mechanical systems that have reached the end of their usable life. The way in which our town manages the necessary replacement of these buildings or mechanisms will have a huge impact on our future.
It’s important to me to step up to the plate and find solutions to issues that are facing our town. I am currently following up on public input for ideas that will better utilize buildings that sit idle for many hours of the day. I want to know that the district has absolutely found the most efficient way to operate so that we can avoid any increases of mill-levy taxes. I welcome your comments at email@example.com because I want your vote May 6.
• Occupation: Full-time mother and part-time gymnastics coach.
• Why do you want this job? I have over 20 years experience with the Vail Recreation District personally through sports, employment and volunteering. During the past 10 years, I have been active primarily as a parent of two school-aged children who are very busy with different programs that the district offers.
I am running because I believe my unique perspective as an active district parent and resident will add to the conversation on the current board, which currently has no school-age parent members. I am running to help address the issues that matter most to local parents, residents and visitors I would also like to help unite the community, district and the town of Vail, who are all tied together with each initiative and need.
• What’s your opinion about the way the district is run now? I feel as if the district has been working off an old strategic plan. When it was created over seven years ago, property taxes were reaching an all-time high and thus priorities were different than they are now. With an economic drop and lower assessed home values, the district has less money to work with. Homeowners’ tax dollars make up 48 percent of the district’s budget. This led to district staff working more hours for less money. When a salaried employee left, the district chose not to fill the position with another salaried employee, opting for an hourly employee instead. This very much limited resources and overextended salaried staff. In addition, I think that the lack of communication regarding the clubhouse at the Vail Golf Club really put a damper on progress.
• Tell us two things the district needs to really focus on during the next two years. The district first and foremost needs to look at the $1.8 million projected shortage for the capital projects that are currently on the table. Second, I’d like to see programming expand in a responsible way — for example, “bridging the gap” from Vail youth sports in club sports downvalley and expand on the future possibilities of special events such as the Keen Adventure Games. We live in an amazing community surrounded by natural beauty; let’s create more opportunities for homeowners and visitors to recreate in our amazing town.