County considers tax questions for housing, childcare, open space
EAGLE — The deadline for placing items on November’s ballot is Sept. 7, and Eagle County commissioners are working on ballot language for three issues.
The three topics include asking voters for a sales tax increase to create funding for affordable housing; a sales tax increase to create funding for early childhood programs; and an expansion of uses for the county open space fund, which might also have a question for voters about selling bonds.
The consensus from county residents, as well as county commissioners, at Tuesday’s meeting in the Eagle County Building is that all three issues deserve to be on the ballot; however, the wording and packaging is still being determined.
Vail Valley Partnership President and CEO Chris Romer was one of a dozen people to speak before the commissioners Tuesday in Eagle, saying affordable housing is “far and away the No. 1 issue” the county faces and that it’s “not a tourism problem; it’s a community problem.”
“The time is right,” said Rich Caroll, of Vail Valley Trails Connection, about the open space item.
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With public support for all three items, the county commissioners are working to lay out the framework of ballot language and presentation.
Town staff can group the items into one tax increase question, separate them into individual ballot questions or wait until the ballot in 2017 or beyond.
Currently, the open space fund language is “fairly restrictive,” said County Manager Brent McFall. The idea is to expand uses to include hard- and soft-surface trails.
County commissioners also discussed asking voters to approve selling bonds to “speed up the completion of ECO Trails,” McFall said.
Without bonds and with the current process, McFall said the countywide trail could be completed in 2040, but with bonds, the project could be completed in about five years.
Vail Valley Trails Connection and Eagle County Open Space are two organizations supporting the open space ballot question, with other community support coming from bikers and businesses.
Voters might be asked about a possible sales tax increase of 0.3 percent — 3 cents for every $10 — which would bring an additional $5 million annually to the town for affordable housing needs.
The money would go toward housing assistance programs and possibly constructing affordable housing in the county, as well as other avenues to help locals fighting the housing crisis.
Teak Simonton, Eagle County’s clerk and recorder, said Wednesday that 20 percent of her office can’t find housing or are living with their parents.
EARLY CHILDHOOD PROGRAMS
Another 0.3 percent sales tax increase could be coming to voters to support early childhood education programs.
Another countywide tax would provide about $5 million to fund a new childhood education center, as well as the existing ones in the county.
A 0.3 percent tax increase equates to about $35-$50 per person annually, McFall said.
Commissioners discussed merging the affordable housing question with the early childhood education programs question because of their similarities to create an overall workforce tax addressing both needs. However, by combining the two items, commissioners run the risk of neither passing when one or two could have.
“There’s community momentum on all three issues,” County Commissioner Jill Ryan said.