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Donations that leave town

Kaye Ferry

I told you last week about the Vail Valley Foundation obtaining donations for the Ski Classic from the town of Vail. So far so good. The problem was what they did with the profits from that event. They sent checks to three out of town charities: Waterkeeper Alliance, Hole in the Wall Camps and Rebuilding Together. I have a problem with town tax dollars supporting the cleanup of the Hudson River, helping sick kids in Connecticut or building houses in Seattle. Call me crazy.At the same April meeting where that information surfaced, another request was made. It came from the Vail Classic, a bike race sponsored by the Snowboard Outreach Society. After extracting $25,000 from the town in 2004, in they came for a reduced amount to fund this year’s race. A handout was solicited for a paltry $11,000. When a member of the Commission for Special Events asked a very pointed question about last year’s finances, they got an answer that was news to most. The event had generated a $9,000 profit last year, which was promptly donated to SOS.As the story goes, the town was not happy with this and requested that the excess money be returned. The answer was no. The explanation was that the town was told in advance that it was an SOS fundraiser – a fact that seemed to have been lost along the way. Interestingly enough, SOS has approached the town for donations in the past. As I said last week, the town’s policy is clear. No contributions unless the town’s mission statement is supported and the town benefits directly. Consequently, in the past SOS has been turned down for direct donations. So they found a way around that policy, which resulted in $9,000 for the organization.Well, things that go around generally come around. This year’s $11,000 request for the Vail Classic was turned down. Zero. Nada. Sometimes being clever just doesn’t work in the long run. But once again, isn’t it time to review our policies regarding how these allocations are made in the first place?So while I’m thisclose to the county commissioners, I’ll move to June 30, the last in a series of three public discussions on the proposed move to expand the Board of County Commissioners from three to five.Since state statute dictates the number of commissioners is based on population, Eagle County is limited to three. Moving to “home rule” provides a way around that. So a committee has been formed to draft a ballot question that the voters can address in November.At that time, the question will have several parts, which essentially will include: Do you support home rule? Do you want the costs involved (estimated to be less than $200,000) to be covered by the general fund or a mill levy increase? Who do you support to draft the home rule documents? Eleven candidates will be elected for this role.It’s a pretty serious discussion and a more serious decision with a lot of implications. Since Pitkin County is one of two home rule counties in the state, one of its commissioners was invited to share his experience, which he generally viewed as favorable.What struck me first was the lack of attendance by the community. There were 16 people in the audience and that was the largest crowd of the three sessions- and it included county employees.So there we were, a very small group, that had taken time out of busy lives on a perfectly beautiful night to listen to a less than thrilling presentation on a subject Commissioner Runyon said “is not very sexy.”You’d have thought that the least they could have done was answer all the questions. Believe me, there weren’t that many. I mean if they’d been playing to a full house, limits would have to have been set. But come on, how many questions can a group that size ask? I guess these guys have such busy schedules they have to cut short their interaction with the few people that turn up at these things. Sure doesn’t do much to encourage participation. Sometimes I wonder if that’s not the point. Discouraging participation, I mean. In any event, I totally support expanding that board. Two against one is never pretty and it’s been like that down at the county building for long enough. You can cut the tension with a knife any time in recent history when all of our commissioners are in the same room. It’s been an unhealthy situation and one that needs to change. Interestingly, members of the Avon Town Council and the Vail Town Council were in the audience and both expressed their opinion that three is not a very workable number to handle all of the tasks at hand and a huge budget. That thought was substantiated by the commissioner from Pitkin, who said studies support a group of five to seven as being the most efficient while bringing controllable diversity to the discussion.So I’m all for it. And I think the insignificant cost should come out of the general fund. Why go to all the hassle of a mill levy increase that will have a very short life? I mean if we can spend $6 million on a gravel pit, why not $200,000 to get a larger board that will help insulate us from such stupid decisions in the future? Seems a small price to pay, from my perspective.But this is just the start to a long process. Let’s just hope the commissioners will be willing to take the time to answer all of the questions next time. Shouldn’t be too much to ask from elected and paid officials. I mean, who works for whom anyway?Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Columnists” or search for keyword “ferry.” Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily.Vail, Colorado


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