Contributions go beyond just taxes
Colin Laird sees second-home owners’ profound effect on the High Country as a mixed bag.
Laird, director of Healthy Mountain Communities, a Carbondale-based group that focuses on quality of life in the region, said second-home owners bring significant resources and spending to the region.
But he was quick to acknowledge the flip side of that benefit.
“It usually drives up the cost of living for locals,” he said. “The folks who are starting families, that can make it really a challenge.”
Laird sees challenges presented in part by second-home owners that threaten the sense of community in the High Country. Higher cost of living means locals have to work more to make ends meet, Laird said. And more work means less time to give back to the community, Laird said.
“If the bulk of the community has a hard time living there, it’s not going to be much of a community,” he said.
Affordable housing is one solution to the problem, Laird said. But other solutions are necessary, he said.
“If we don’t find other tools to make our communities more affordable to middle-income families, they really don’t become a community,” he said. “It’s a ghost town.”
For all of the perceived detriments to community, second-home owners bring benefits to mountain towns as well, including tax money and construction jobs. A lot of second-home owners are highly engaged in the community, whether it’s as philanthropists or volunteers, Laird said.
“They can bring a real boost to the vibrancy of the community,” he said.
Second-home owners are concert-goers, philanthropists, volunteers, networkers, and ambassadors for Vail, said John Giovando, executive director of Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival.
Seasonal residents make up more than a third of the audience for the Bravo! festival, which runs every summer from late June to early August. The festival organizers depend on them to attend their concerts, Giovando said. And the concerts, in turn, attract more second-home owners and visitors to the valley.
“What we hear from so many (second-home owners) is that one of the reasons they made their decision to choose Eagle County was the accessibility of the arts,” he said.
Not only does the festival bring top-tier orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic every year, it also infuses $10 million per year into the local economy, a recent survey by Bravo! found.
Cathy Stone, a Vail second-home owner from Santa Monica, Calif., and a Bravo! board member, started attending the concerts because she is a lover of classical music, she said.
She eventually became a volunteer for the festival. “It’s really good to feel we can do something in the community other than just being visitors,” she said. “It feels really good to be involved.”
She sought something more enriching than simply enjoying the recreational benefits that Vail offers. “How many rounds of golf can you play?” she said.
Kris Sabel, director of the Vilar Center at Beaver Creek, said most who donate to the upscale performing arts center are second-home owners.
“A lot of them come from major cities , where they support things like the symphony, the opera and museums,” he said.
The Vilar itself gets its name from one of the Vail Valley’s most famous former second-home owners, arts philanthropist Alberto Vilar.
A study by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, a government research and advocacy group, found that 39 percent of jobs in Eagle, Grand, Pitkin and Summit counties were created by second homes.
Also, every new second home bigger than 3,000 square feet creates more than 18 jobs during its construction, the study said.
Deanna Raso, a project manager at Jack Wilkie Builder Inc. in Basalt, said construction of second homes is about 90 percent of her company’s business.
“I think (second-home owners) are essential to our business,” she said.
Jack Wilkie Builder builds high-end, multi-million-dollar homes in the Aspen area, and the company employs 20 people, Raso said.
Beyond its employees, the company also brings in a large number of subcontractors, including excavators, concrete workers, drywallers, stone masons, framers, roofers, painters, electricians and plumbers, Raso said.
And more construction jobs create more jobs in other sectors of the economy, as well.
“All of these people dine out, shop, go out for entertainment,” Raso said.
Second-home owners also contribute a significant amount to of property taxes to counties, towns and school coffers through property taxes on homes that can be valued at over $10 million.
Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon said second-home owners bring benefits because they pay property taxes but don’t use services such as police, fire and hospitals as much as full-time residents because they aren’t here all year.
“They just don’t draw on those services,” he said. “To that extent, they are a great help.”
Millie Hamner, superintendent of Summit School District, said the state’s Public School Finance Act limits the amount of money per pupil that the district gets from taxpayers, including second-home owners.
But second-home owners help the schools when it comes to asking for extra money with ballot questions for projects such as construction, building maintenance and technology.
“What it does help us with is when we are allowed by the School Finance Act to go to our voters for additional funding,” she said.
The Summit district has gone to voters for more money in 2001 and 2004, Hamner said.
Because property in Summit is so valuable, a special tax can raise a lot more money than it could in other counties, she said.
But Laird sees a negative effect of second-home owners on schools. Many jobs created by second-home development are being filled by Hispanics, and schools have not been prepared for the language barriers created by that influx, he said.
“You end up getting strange circumstances in schools,” he said. “Parents start to disengage.”
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14623, or email@example.com.
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