Eagle County ponders ballot issue to address housing, child care, transportation in 2018 election
Eagle County ponders ballot issue to address housing, child care and transportation
EAGLE — We are only one month into 2018, but Eagle County officials are already looking 10 months ahead to the November general election.
With Coloradans set to elect a new governor and various other state races and issues likely to be listed on the ballot, the Eagle County Commissioners have begun the discussion of whether or not they will present their own ballot initiative this fall. Not only do they have to decide whether or not to go to the voters, but they also must hone in on what they plan to ask.
This week, the commissioners launched discussion of potential election issues with a work session devoted to the topic. Consultants David Flaherty and David Cunningham presented potential survey topics for consideration as the county contemplates bringing a tax issue before the voters this fall.
“The purpose of this survey is to really get a handle on how residents view the priorities of Eagle County,” Flaherty said.
He noted the county has indicated interest in seeking funding to address three needs — workforce housing, child care/early childhood development and transit.
Cunningham noted that the survey will show which topic is at the forefront of voters’ concern.
“You can’t move all three forward, without some Herculean efforts, at the same time,” Cunningham said.
But the county commissioners had a different take on what they wanted the survey to gauge.
Appetite for public funding
Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry noted that previous surveys have established that county residents view housing, child care and transit as important issues.
“We have lots of data showing that for people in Eagle County, these workplace issues are problem for them,” Chandler-Henry said. “What we are really trying to figure out is if there is a public appetite to have a public solution to these issues.”
Cunningham noted that winning a tax increase election involves a robust education campaign, and he questioned whether the county could successfully mount a multi-issue campaign.
“I just don’t think the time is there to sell all three issues,” he said.
But the commissioners noted that ballot issues could be crafted in a way that provides funding for various efforts under a single focus. For example, by promoting a ballot question for “workforce programs,” the county could address housing, child care and transit because all three are issues for working families.
Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney noted that Pitkin County funds a wide variety of services as part of its “Healthy Community Fund.” Voters approved the fund with a ballot question that passed in 2002 and was renewed in 2011.
But before they go down that road, the commissioners stressed they want to know how residents feel about county funding for potential programs.
“Do people think there is a government role (in addressing these issues)?” Commissioner Jill Ryan asked.
At this early stage of discussion, the consultants and the commissioners don’t know how much a ballot issue would request or what form the request would take. An election could seek a sales tax increase, a property tax increase or a combination of both.
“These issues are costly, and we have to make sure we are able to meaningfully impact these areas,” Ryan said.
In general terms, a 0.5 percent sales tax would generate approximately $5 million annually, while a half mill property tax would generate $1.5 million annually.
“We don’t want to have to come back in two years and say that what we got wasn’t enough,” Cunningham said.
But before they move on to the financing discussion, the consultants said they will refine their survey work to make sure the data indicates whether or not residents are willing to pay for the issues they have already indicated are important.
“We already know the priorities, but is there a desire for public investment in them?” Deputy County Manager Mike Nugent asked.