Who will lead Vail’s recreation district?
Ryan Summerlin April 23, 2014
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected from the print version.
VAIL — With a new clubhouse and new ball fields on the horizon, this is an exciting time for people who rely on the Vail Recreation District for at least part of their high country fun. But the district is also facing declining revenues even as the need for facility repairs and maintenance continues.
The town of Vail owns the golf course, ball fields and Dobson Ice Arena, but those facilities are operated by the recreation district. 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 — aren’t seeking new terms. In their place, seven candidates hope to add their voices to the way the district is run over the next four years.
We’ll publish short profiles of those candidates today and Friday. Here’s the first of the replies.
Constance (Connie) Miller
• Occupation: Executive director of Small Champions of Colorado, Inc. and co-owner of Peace of Mind Property Management, Inc.
• Why do you want this job? I believe I have insight, ideas and experience working with and for people that would be helpful for the district. Through my passion for sports and my experiences with diverse and exceptional recreational opportunities by my involvement with Small Champions (to provide physically and multiply challenged children of Eagle County the opportunity to experience sports activities), Camp Vail, Vail Ski School, golf and many of the district’s recreational offerings, I want to give back to our community.
• What is your opinion about the way the district is run now? The district has gone through many changes in the last 15 years. It has evolved into an effective cohesive group that works hard to achieve its mission with collaborative discourse and planning with the town of Vail (the district’s landlord). Each department in the district takes great pride in providing great recreational opportunities and events for Vail residents and visitors.
• Tell us two things the district needs to really focus on during the next two years. Funding for capital projects and projected $1.8 million loss to the district budget by 2015 due to the decline of property tax revenue since 2008 will be key issues. District programming not only provides recreation in Vail, it also provides events. These events in turn provide “heads in beds” for the town and are a great source of sales tax revenue for the town. At this time, the district does not receive a portion of these sales taxes.
If the town would set aside a portion of this tax revenue for capital improvement funding of district-run facilities, then it could go a long way to offset the projected losses the district is currently experiencing in its capital budget and be a good investment.
A joint effort with the town, residents and district department involvement, we can find solutions, set time lines with checks and balances to secure funding needed to provide for the capital projects needed for our aging facilities.
Occupation: Owner of Ptarmigan Management, a real estate management company specializing in homeowners association management.
• Why do you want this job? As a former member of the district board from 2000-2004, I am familiar with the district’s programing, facilities and staff. This knowledge and experience will be valuable to the district should I be elected to the board. Serving the district is my way to contribute to our community.
• What is your opinion about the way the district is run now? I think the current board has done a good job with strategic planning, managing budgets and cutting costs. There are still financial challenges to be met in a fiscally responsible manner. The district has an enthusiastic, well-trained staff led by an exceptional executive director.
• Tell us two things the district needs to really focus on during the next two years. The most obvious is the reported $1.8 million shortfall for capital expenditures over the next few years because of the decline in property tax revenue due to lower assessed values. Currently, the district makes enough money through taxes and fees to fund current programing and operations, but it also needs to upgrade and improve fields and facilities and equipment through capital improvements.
Another area of focus is to work with the town of Vail officials to expedite the building of a new clubhouse. Fences need to be mended with neighborhood residents who are still upset with initial lack of communication and lack of due process. Only the attorneys representing the parties involved are served should this conflict linger with continued appeals and delays.
Occupation: Resident manager at the Lifthouse Condominiums.
• Why do you want this job? I believe we need better communication between the district board and our landlord — the town of Vail. My experience with town government (14 years as a town council member) makes me realize that we need to meet regularly with the town to develop and maintain our relationship. The 18th hole/clubhouse remodel controversy could have been less contentious with a stronger effort to make the taxpayers aware of the overall golf course plan.
• What is your opinion about the way the district is run now? The district seems to be a lean machine maximizing our tax revenues; a review of financials/personnel/facilities should be a priority for the new board.
• Tell us two things the district needs to really focus on during the next two years. Three things I feel we should concentrate on achieving: First is making sure the Ford Park renovation is completed successfully and on time. Next is working with the town to plan and execute the golf course clubhouse renovation. Third is establishing a disc golf course in East Vail to provide another recreation opportunity for residents and visitors.
• Occupation: General manager at the Inn & Suites at Riverwalk.
• Why do you want this job? The district provides exceptional opportunities for our residents and guests to participate in their favorite recreational activities in our beautiful community, through classes, camps, races and programs. I think that the organization has made great strides in the past decade in expanding and improving those opportunities, and I would like to help make the ongoing decisions that will continue to enhance the offerings and benefit the community.
What’s your opinion about the way the district is run now? Looking at a the big picture, the district seems to run successfully. Revenue from user fees and taxes is currently adequate to fund daily operations, thanks to decisions over the past few years to reduce costs in response to the downturn in the economy. Changes have been made to keep current with trends in the industry, and it seems that the staff works diligently to come up with new ideas to keep district programs competitive and interesting. That said, I think it is the duty of the board to regularly review operations and procedures to be sure that the organization is running as efficiently and effectively as possible.
• Tell us two things the district needs to really focus on during the next two years. Despite a significant drop in revenue from property taxes in the past three years, the district has done an excellent job making appropriate modifications to ensure that the cost of operations are covered by revenue. That said, many of the facilities the district manages are aging and in dire need of capital improvements, and the current revenue stream will not cover those costs.
The main focus over the next two years must be on prioritizing expected capital improvement projects and determining how to fund those projects. A second area of focus should be on working with the golf course neighborhood, and the community as whole, to ensure that the redeveloped clubhouse is managed strictly in accordance with the policies outlined in the adopted operations plan. That plan has been designed to minimize impacts to neighbors, but to be successful the district must make a concerted effort to abide by the plan and to work closely with neighboring homeowners to be sure that everyone understands how to best run the facility so that its operation is a benefit, not a detriment, to the community.