Commissioner says Eagle County is getting stronger
Eagle Valley Enterprise
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE, Colorado – Eagle County isn’t out of the woods yet, but the future is looking brighter.
Commissioner Jon Stavney presented a State of the County Address to more than 60 county employees at Tuesday’s regular commissioner meeting and commended them for doing well in tough economic times.
“A lot of you in this room have done a lot more with less than you ever had before and I would challenge citizens to come up with examples of how they have a lower level of service than they had before we’ve made all these changes,” he said.
He referred to the realignment process that county staff has done to consolidate departments. The realignment started last year in response to a steadily declining budget that isn’t expected to bounce back anytime soon.
“Financially, if Eagle County were a boxer, I would say we’ve dropped down a couple weight classes but we are becoming stronger,” Stavney said.
He said goals for the county include bringing an assisted living center to the area, an international terminal, redeveloping the Eagle-Vail commercial district and serving communities with a better transit system.
Stavney prefaced those goals by presenting a statistical snapshot of Eagle County’s economic performance and issues to come in 2012.
“(Eagle County) just saw the first year-over-year improvement of monthly unemployment statistics in four years,” he said. “Prior to 2008, unemployment in the valley hovered around 3 percent. We’ve hit monthly peaks of 11 and 12 percent in the last 14 months – that’s a lot. (Last year) ended on a positive note, in December, when there’s a lot of jobs, at 6.9 percent. So I see that as something that’s positive but still a challenge.”
Foreclosures remain high
He said the new economic climate is forcing the area’s economy away from an over-dependence on the construction industry.
“Between 2008 and 2011, the total number of home foreclosures was 1,864,” Stavney said. “Indications are that this trend of about 600 foreclosures per year is probably going to continue through at least this year.
“It reads different ways for different people, but our 30 percent property drop in 2009, and the assessment for 2011 for the next two years was another 23 percent drop. That’s a significant drop and those shifts in value are not evenly distributed.”
An indicator of improvement is sales tax revenues.
“They have stabilized and actually increased in some places in the valley,” Stavney said. “Many local retailers continue to struggle. One exception is Vail, which underwent a massive public and private reinvestment in varying community infrastructure – that grand investment is bearing fruit as most-earned total sales tax revenues in the county to an increase of 6 percent from 2010 to 2011.”
Overall, sales tax revenues, however, remain relatively flat from a county perspective, Stavney said, noting those revenues are different for various towns because they can collect sales tax on some of the things the county can’t.
Programs for kids
Stavney said there are different challenges from one side of the county to the other.
“Vail has a really important role for our visitors and Eagle County has a different role for those who work here,” he said, segueing into community issues such as schools. He said he recently saw children getting off a school bus at Lake Creek Village Apartments.
“It was stunning how many kids got off the bus,” he said. “The Vail community just fought to keep its last public school open with about 280 kids. We’ve got 270 units at Lake Creek and we track how many kids live in each unit. There are 836 kids there. We’re taking a look at Lake Creek and we’re realizing that it wasn’t built for kids. It doesn’t have the amenities and programs there. I think that’s something we need to be aware of. That’s something we’re just becoming aware of and we don’t have an answer for it yet.”
A large part of Eagle County’s quality of life is the land, Stavney continued, announcing that the county’s open space program is 10 years old this year.
“I’m proud of how we’re taking advantage of this point in time,” he said. “We’re making a lot of purchases – and there’s grumbling about what those are. There should be discussion about what those are. We’re really leveraging the money in the bank we’ve collected by being frugal for strategic acquisitions on the Colorado River that I believe are not only good for our residents but also for our community development.”
He said the county’s ability to create recreation opportunities at the edges of our residential areas and daily lives is a prominent reason why many people come to live here. It also underscores the well-being of Eagle County to be mindful of the need to help the economy and job production.
“We often pose this question of development or preservation in really simplified terms, as if we can just choose one or the other,” he said. “We need to find projects and properties that allow us to highlight a sense of place and give us both.”
“Frankly,” Stavney continued, “the mix of natural resource protection and development of outstanding urban places like Vail and Beaver Creek are really the highlight of our economy. That’s our quality of life and businesses have come to thrive because people come here because of that.”
The county’s economy can’t be reinvigorated simply by approving projects, Stavney said.
“Only the best-positioned projects with the highest quality standards and best planning have any hope of succeeding while we continue to be in an over-saturated market for years to come,” he said.
Stavney said it’s a bright spot of hope for things to come that so many grand plans continue to take shape. He pointed out that there are residential, retail mixed use projects slated for Minturn, Battle Mountain, Avon, Wolcott, Eagle, Gypsum and El Jebel.