County won’t increase tax refunds to towns
Speaking on behalf of Avon, Vail and the Beaver Creek Metro District, Avon Town Councilman Mac McDevitt ticked off a list of demands that amounted to to reducing the towns’ tax contributions to the county by $15 million, saying the towns already funding some of the services the county provides.
Michael Gallagher, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, didn’t attend Monday’s meeting because he was in surgery, but said the town’s request of getting taxes returned “is fraught with difficulties.” Commissioners Arn Menconi and Tom Stone agreed, saying the county also returns 15 percent of its sales taxes back to the towns and that their tax structure is bound by state law.
“This request isn’t in the spirit of what I wanted to be involved with,” Menconi said. “I want to be part of savings and consolidation of services. It’s not that simple to say we can return $15 million.”
All towns contribute taxes to the county at the same rate as unincorporated areas of Eagle County, such as Edwards, whether or not the towns duplicate services provided by the county.
“The county should repay these towns the entire amount of these contributions for services they don’t use,” McDevitt said. That amount, he said, could add up to $20 million if it includes housing, transit and recreation.
“This would infer that the county should rebate to these jurisdictions the entire amount of their tax contributions,” McDevitt said.
Almost all Eagle County’s towns are feeling financial pressure in a sluggish economy, and are looking for additional revenue sources.
Instead of asking for a reduction in contributions, said Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad, is for the towns to look at capital improvements.
“Improvements that will benefit all residents,” he said. “Also, we can sit down with the town managers and look at what services we could stop.”
But Stone said that it would be impossible to cut the budget without a reduction of services.
“Town officials have to understand that the towns create an impact on the county, and that the county needs money to pay for those impacts,” he said. “For example, the Wal-Mart in Avon will have an impact on the county and other towns, as well.
“That’s why the sales tax was enacted, because the towns were generating impacts that the county couldn’t afford,” he said.
Ingstad said cannot change the ways it assesses taxes in unincorporated and incorporated areas.
“They’re asking for things that are not allowed by law. Taxes are assessed by state law,” he said. “We are an arm of the state government. We can’t take revenues from one area and spend it all there.”
Stone said that for every dollar the county gets from the communities in the Roaring Fork Valley, it spends $2.
“The government can’t look at things in one way,” he said.
Their fair share
Some 60 people attended Monday’s informal roundtable discussion at the Eagle County Building, where there were some tense moments when town officials vented their concerns.
“It seems we are spending more than our fair share for the services we are getting from the county,” said Avon Mayor Buz Reynolds. “The county hasn’t helped financially for capital improvements in the town.”
“I came to the meeting to understand how the county decides on its discretionary spending, the ones that aren’t mandated by the state,” said Brian Sipes, Avon town councilman.
“I think it would be reasonable for the county to help with the conference center in Vail. That project will benefit the whole county,” said Vail Town Councilman Greg Moffet.
“We’d like to see a plan of equality throughout the county,” Gypsum Town Council Tom Edwards told the commissioners.
The towns questioned the need for a new recreation center in the valley, saying the Avon recreation center lost $750,000. Eagle is building a covered ice rink and a pool and Gypsum has a recreation center in tap.
The next step
But not all the towns had requests and concerns. Red Cliff and Minturn officials said they were happy with the services they get from the county.
“Monday’s meeting was one of the best opportunities I’ve had to work with the towns since I became a commissioner,” Menconi said. “Unfortunately we didn’t agree on the next step.”
McDevitt proposed hiring a public accountant to review the county budget and sources of revenue to determine the value of compensation due to towns and special districts.
Menconi agreed to that, but Stone said he was concerned with the expectations this could bring.
“I don’t see how somebody could come in and understand everything in our budget and then make a recommendation,” Ingstad said.
Despite some disagreements, Vail Mayor Ludwig Kurz said some progress was made at Monday’s meeting.
“There’s a list of things where Eagle County can help Vail and, as your constituents, we have concerns that need to be addressed,” he said. “But we first need to look at our own houses.”
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at email@example.com.
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