Avon Town Councilmembers defend real estate transfer tax amid recall effort

A sale sign sits in front of a home in Avon. In a recent attempt to offer relief on local homebuyer fees, Town Council members in Avon have decided to offer the tax exemption to people earning 75% their income while working in Eagle County.
Nate Peterson |

When Mayor Mark Romanowski of Johnstown, Colorado, faced one of the most memorable recall efforts of the last decade, he had at least performed an action to spur the recall.

Romanowski had switched from diagonal to parallel parking spaces in town. 

Avon Town Councilmembers Amy Phillips, Tamra Underwood and Mayor Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes, however, are now defending themselves against a recall effort which was instead initiated by non-action — leaving in place a real estate transfer tax which has been an established source of income for the town for decades.

The recall committee, which has been communicating with the Vail Daily anonymously, hopes to obtain the nearly 500 signatures needed to require the town to hold a recall election.

Committee members have been soliciting signatures in recent days in hopes of a Nov. 3, 2020 recall election; they have until Oct. 12 to gain 479 signatures from Avon voters. The Mein Haus bed and breakfast business, located on Beaver Creek Blvd, has served as an unofficial campaign headquarters.

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The recall committee, in a press release sent to the Vail Daily on August 14, said part of the reason for seeking a recall includes the Town Council’s hesitation to repeal a real estate transfer tax which has been in place in Avon for decades.

“It puts Avon property sellers at a huge disadvantage when compared to our neighboring communities,” the release states.

Phillips, who is a real estate agent in town and one of the targets of the recall effort, said Avon property sellers are not disadvantaged in any way. 

“People selling homes in Avon are competing with Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch,” Phillips said.

Bachelor Gulch has a 2% real estate transfer tax, and Beaver Creek’s is 2.375%.

2018 campaign issue

Phillips said she has always supported the town’s real estate transfer tax. Hymes and Underwood say they too have always supported the town’s 2% real estate transfer tax. The tax collects $2.5M annually, much of it from luxury purchasers as working people receive exemptions, and pays for the town’s police station and transit center.

Elimination of the real estate transfer tax was brought up during the 2018 Town Council campaign, where Councilmember Chico Thuon campaigned in favor of eliminating it, along with Avon resident Tom Ruemmler, who was not elected.

During the campaign, Thuon — who is himself a real estate agent — described the tax as being tantamount to “having an extra Realtor sitting at the table” for the fees it placed on buyers.

After a few months on council, however, Thuon had amended his stance to a suggestion that the council better address “exactly what we’ve done with (the funds), and “explaining to people what it’s there for.”

In November Thuon, no longer expressing a desire to see the real estate transfer tax revenues drastically altered, voted in favor of a more modest adjustment — an increase in the amount locals were allowed to exempt from the tax. The measure passed the council unanimously.

The other reason cited in seeking a recall include the now-defunct effort to use public funds to move the Hahnewald Barn, the recall committee stated in a release.

“It is clear that these council members were putting there (sic) own opinion in front of the majority of those of the community,” according to the release.

Underwood said in Avon, one would be hard-pressed to find an issue as thoroughly dead and buried as the Hahnewald Barn.

“It’s the definition of a moot point,” she said.

Councilmembers voted unanimously to discontinue financial efforts to save the 110-year-old Hahnewald on April 9, 2019, following a town survey which revealed overwhelming opposition to the idea, which had already been approved by the council.

Sexism alleged

The four councilmembers who approved the original effort to save the barn were the primary targets of the recall, but with Councilmember Jennie Fancher reaching the end of her term in November, she is no longer eligible for recall.

Fancher provided a letter to the Avon Town Council on Tuesday; in the letter — which was read by the mayor as Fancher was not able to attend — Fancher said the recall effort is nothing more than sexism.

“Members of the community are attempting to recall the female members of council, for RETT, and not the male counterparts who voted the same way,” Fancher said, in reference to the November RETT exemption increase, which passed the council unanimously.

Defending the recall committee to the Avon Town Council on Tuesday, Ruemmler said the recall effort was not based on gender. 

Ruemmler referenced the fact that the 4-3 vote which originally approved the barn decision was approved by the four female members of council, with the three male members of council voting against. Ruemmler also said the survey that reversed the decision after showing Avon voters not supporting the idea by a 9-1 measure was the result of pressure from the community. 

“To try to turn this thing into a sexist deal is ridiculous — two people on the committee are females,” Ruemmler said.  

Ruemmler, who publicly feuded with the council, and his neighbors, over an effort to put an unapproved solar project on his Wildridge property in 2018, has been soliciting signatures for the recall in recent days with local resident Michael Cacioppo, Phillips said.

According to documents submitted to and certified by the Avon town clerk, the recall committee includes Avon residents Paul PJ Jenick, Maria Barry, Adrienne Perer, Tamera LaVina Sturgill and Dr. Todd Jon Roehr.

“The people on the committee are not the same people we’ve seen out circulating petitions,” Phillips said.

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