Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the Vail Homeowners Association monthly report. We publish weekly excerpts from the association, which keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the town. The newsletter electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at www.vailhomeowners.com.
Recent events have moved the cleanup of Gore Creek pollution to center stage and challenged political leadership to find fair and responsible solutions. New regulations have resulted in Gore Creek being designated as an impaired waterway by the state of Colorado. The Gore Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan recommends consideration of the establishment of a new government agency, with a dedicated source of local taxpayer revenue, for management of the cleanup. There is the potential, if other solutions are not found, for local taxpayers to build a costly stormwater collection and treatment system. Many questions are involved, including the nature of the pollution, how it can be effectively cleaned up, who will take the lead and what the ultimate price tag will be.
Forming A Consensus
The town of Vail has committed to have its own Strategic Action Plan ready by the end of this year to comprehensively clean up Gore Creek. Perhaps, before the Vail community supports the proposed Eagle River Water & Sanitation District tax increase and TABOR spending limits waiver, it would be advisable for all interests, including the town of Vail, ERWSD and taxpayers from all the affected communities, to have the opportunity to come to a consensus about how the overall cleanup of Gore Creek and the Eagle River is to proceed and be financed.
In forming this consensus, it would be helpful to be guided by a proposed management pro forma, which should include an analysis of the soundness of the financing obligations incurred by the election issues under discussion as well as the other costs that will be required to get Gore Creek back to its proper status.
At the same time, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District is moving forward with a $95 million master plan to upgrade its three Gore Creek and Eagle River wastewater treatment plants. However, the proposed upgrades will not offset pollution in the Gore Creek drainage above the Vail treatment plant. The ERWSD has decided to seek voter approval for a $25 million tax increase and a TABOR revenue limitation “de-Brucing” waiver to fund Phase 2 of the work. The district, to take advantage of potential state or federal grants that might reduce taxpayer debt, wants to remove TABOR voter approval requirements allowing them to exceed mandatory revenue and spending caps.
The district is proposing to extend and add to its current tax rate effective in 2017. The tax proposal would amount to $29.21 annually per $500,000 of home value, although the actual mill levy could vary year to year during the 30-year life of the bonds. Phase 1, already authorized for $28 million, is slated to begin construction in 2014 and is paid for by a ratepayer increase of $6 per month beginning in 2015. According to the ERWSD, if the May 6 tax increase ballot measures fail, then monthly customer rates will again rise by nearly $5. This being the case because of the availability of other potential funding sources; revenue bonds — even though more expensive, may be the most economical approach. Relying on revenue bonds, which impose uniform rates upon all customers, creates the incentive for the district to negotiate the best funding options with state authorities before increasing its taxpayer debt or customer rates.
The district has not yet determined how it intends to fund the $42 million balance of the master plan. What the district is doing is much more extensive and the cost is greatly in excess of the proposed tax increase, but the district’s actions have received little public attention, scrutiny or critical debate within the context of the larger cleanup obligations, particularly among non-resident property owners, many of whom are eligible to vote in the special district elections.
The upcoming May 6 special district elections will provide district property owners, registered to vote in Colorado, an opportunity to not only decide the ERWSD’s proposed tax increase and TABOR waiver, but also determine the make-up of their seven-member board of directors, as four of those seats are up for election and another will be appointed by the board after the election as no candidate stepped forward to run in director District 3. The newly elected board will oversee implementation of its long-term master plan.
The Vail Homeowners Association gives candidates the opportunity to provide written answers in their own words. Each candidate’s responses are posted on the association’s website.