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Don’t make it so difficult

Kaye Ferry

Want to hear something ridiculous? And counter productive? And so bureaucratic it makes your head hurt?

By now, everyone’s painfully aware of all of the empty storefronts in Vail. Well lo and behold, a local merchant who has been in business in Vail for 25-plus years has decided to rent one of those spaces for the summer only and expand her business. The space is rented long term in the fall, so this will be a short-term arrangement for all concerned.

Let’s look at the players. The merchant has an opportunity market her wholesale inventory and experiment with some new retail lines. The landlord can make some unexpected income. The town government has the prospect of sales tax revenues.



With sales tax what they have been, what they are and what they are expected to be, you would think the town would be doing back flips every time someone walked in to get a new business license. You would think that they’d be meeting her at the door with smiles and helping hands just to make sure she didn’t make a U-turn. You would think it might occur to them that their jobs could hang on this very process.

Remember the connection – sales tax pays the bills around here. And guess what that means? It also pays the salaries. No sales tax, no salaries, no job. You’d think someone in the TOV would be able to make that GIANT leap in logic and move the process along. Sign her up! Take that check! Hope she’s hugely successful so this wheel keeps turning!



Well, you thought wrong. In the TOV, you can only buy a business license by the quarter. This merchant wanted to open in early June. To do that, she had to buy a license starting April 1; otherwise, she has to wait until July 1. Mind you, in either case, she has to pay through the end of the year, even though she only has the space for the summer.

Confused? Confused would be acceptable. Incredulous? That would be OK, too. Stupid? Now you’re on the right track.

So I’ve tried to figure out why. Here’s the scenario that I’ve conjured up. This system was put in place in the early days. Here’s how it went: There was a guy in the basement of the town offices (which probably meant the basement of a local watering hole), green visor and all. His job was to make sure every business had a permit so they could get out on the street and start filling the town coffers – and, by the way, pay his salary.



Now since he just happened to stop in town on his way to somewhere else – remember, it was the ’60s – math had nothing to do with how he got the job. He was just standing there when someone said, “We have to get organized around here!” And to make matters worse, there were no electronic devices available to aid in this quest. He had to rely on fingers, toes and a best estimate as determined over a beer, in a bar, between horses riding through.

All of this made the calculation of such fees very formidable – that abacus never was very efficient. So to make life easy, the fee was the fee and that was that. No complicated calculations to break it down. Pay to play.

Then came the heydays. There was money to be made here. There were no spaces available. And when there was one, it was scarfed up with things added on like “key money” – can you believe that ever existed? Who cared how fees were calculated? Merchants paid anything for the golden opportunities of Vail.

Well, folks, that’s all changed. We are plagued with obscene rents. Empty storefronts abound. Those willing to step up and sign a lease are few and far between. So does it make sense that life is made difficult for those who will? How hard can it be to get out that calculator and divide the business license fee by 365? Is that number too big? Try 12. Still daunting? Is dividing by 4 really so much easier?

Or is the problem much bigger? Is it simply that nobody gets it? The business community has said for years that they don’t need a lot of help, they just don’t need anything in their way. They also know they pay the bills. That means that the TOV and all of its employees really work for the business community. And make no mistake, the town of Vail employees DO work for us.

For those of us in the business community, we unlock the door every morning and turn on the lights in hopes that our cash registers will ring in order to collect sales tax that is sent to the town of Vail to pay salaries, among other things. The same for anyone who pays a tax to the TOV. For this we have a right to expect service.

Service in this case is a business license fee that reflects the time that we’re actually in business. Not something that makes life easier for the bureaucracy.

So how does this story end? The merchant in question got mad. She decided that there was a principle involved. So she’s opening July 1. The TOV will lose sales tax collections for three-plus weeks. A big deal? Depends on who you are.

It was a big deal to this merchant. She’s not accustomed to people who work for her telling her what they can’t do. Will the financial loss to the TOV be noticed? It depends if you’re paying attention. Sounds like nobody is at the TOV. Or maybe worse, they don’t care.

But here’s the scary question: How many other little stories like this are out there? If you add them all up, would they make a difference? I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in having my taxes raised until I know that we’re doing all that we can to help the generation of sales tax.

Remember, 65 percent of all of those polled in the community survey want sales tax to remain as the primary source of town revenue. The only way to start that is to make sure businesses can get into business.

On Thursday from 6-8 p.m., the TOV is holding a meeting to discuss the economic situation of the business community. They will undoubtedly focus on the big issues. But little things like this make a big difference, too, if they are not corrected.

So it’s time to move out of the basement and take the green visor off. Times have changed and we need to adapt. Let’s start by correcting this ridiculous impediment to the opening of new sources of revenue. I’ll buy the calculator. But I”ll trade you for the abacus. We can add it to the ski museum’s collection of things that don’t work anymore.

QUESTION: When leasing agents in the REAL WORLD have trouble filling spaces, what do they do? They reduce the rent or give a free month or two. Since the TOV doesn’t control these spaces, couldn’t they at least give a new business a few months free on their business license fee just to show they want to encourage new ventures?

Do your part: Call them and write them.

To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail to towncouncil@ci.vail.co.us. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail to vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, vaildaily.com-search:ferry.

Kaye Ferry, founding president of the Vail Chamber and Business Association, is a longtime observer of Vail government.

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