Column: Vail’s world class status has price
Vail CO, Colorado
A topic of much debate ” both internally at the Vail Recreation District and externally in the community ” has been the punctuated increase in assessed values of Vail real estate. Whether viewed as an unfair “catch-up” scenario or simply a long-overdue adjustment to more accurately reflect true market values, the reality is that property taxes are going up. Property taxes are the largest source of funding for the recreation district.
Property tax revenue contributed $1.7 million towards operations and $325,000 toward debt service of the Vail Rec District (VRD) in 2007. Some taxpayers have been asking our organization if we are going to reduce our mill levy so that our property tax revenue stays more in line with historic levels, subsequently giving taxpayers a break on this realized increase come tax payment time in January.
The answer is that we are maintaining our mill levy, and putting the increased tax revenue to use for deferred maintenance and capital purposes. While this will ultimately benefit recreation in Vail, we feel obliged to recognize the source behind these funds, namely the Vail Recreation District taxpayer, and have done so by unanimously voting in favor of maintaining all recreation fees at 2007 levels for 2008, imposing no increase in participation fees for the coming year. In most other years we rely heavily upon year-over-year revenue increases that result from increased program fees. By maintaining our mill levy we will not only be able to attain our goals, but also keep recreation in Vail affordable and accessible to users.
Our operating mill levy assessment is 2.76, which is low compared with neighboring resort communities, and our debt service mill levy assessment is 0.527. Given the rise in assessed real estate values, the VRD stands to realize an approximate increase of $1 million in property tax revenue in 2008 versus 2007.
While many have called this increase in tax contribution a “windfall” of funding, the sad reality of recreation in our community, as evidenced by our comprehensive engineering report conducted by Denver-based Borne Engineering, is that the Town of Vail and Vail Rec District need in excess of $10 million to simply maintain and repair our community’s facilities over the next 10 years ” $2.8 million of that is needed in 2008 alone, per the Borne report. Furthermore, as we look to implement our collaborative recreation master plan, at what point do we decide it makes more financial sense to possibly rebuild certain ailing facilities altogether, rather than maintain and repair facilities that are arguably sub-par and not world-class?
This approximate $1 million increase in tax contributions lets us begin the process of either fixing up our antiquated facilities, rebuilding certain facilities that have reached the end of their useful lives, or a combination of the two. There are numerous financial options available to utilize this increased funding as a means to realize our goals, all of which will be conveyed to the public in order to gain buy-in and approval. World-class recreation is what Vail’s residents and guests have come to expect, and we aim to deliver.
In 1996 Vail Recreation District taxpayers voted in favor of waiving the application of the Colorado TABOR limits, essentially “de-Brucing” the rec district. This means that, regardless of fluctuations in taxes owed, the district can maintain its mill levy assessment, with the option to reduce but not increase. If we were to reduce in light of increased assessed values, we would gain no ground in our efforts to improve the state of recreation in Vail, but rather remain at the status quo. This is a status quo that is simply not sustainable because of our deferred maintenance and capital needs.
The Vail Recreation District delivers diverse, affordable and accessible recreation opportunities at the Vail Golf Club, the Vail Nordic Center, the Vail Nature Center, Dobson Ice Arena, VRD Sports, VRD Youth Services, Ford Park Tennis Center, and the Vail Gymnastics Center. It is very important for us to deliver and enjoy world-class recreation facilities and programming at these numerous locales.
We understand the need to communicate a clear plan of action that outlines how exactly these funds will be used. Transparency is absolutely critical.
To that end, we invite you to visit our recreation master plan on http://www.vailrec.com, as well as make your opinions heard at our VRD board meetings, held every second and fourth Thursday of the month at 5 p.m. in the Vail Town Council Chambers. We can show you to the penny how we are putting the $1 million in property tax revenue to use for deferred maintenance and capital purposes if you are interested.
Scott Proper is the chairman of the Vail Recreation District Board of Directors.