Eagle-Vail ponders tax hike, chairlift
October 21, 2016
EAGLE-VAIL — The word "chairlift" isn't on a sales tax proposal for Eagle-Vail residents. But that's probably what it means.
In addition to the lengthy county ballot that should be in mail boxes now, neighborhood residents will receive a separate ballot for the sale tax proposal. While the proposal is an increase, it's an increase from zero, since Eagle-Vail doesn't have a separate sales tax now.
According to the ballot language, passing the proposal would enable the Eagle-Vail Metropolitan District Board to impose a sales tax of up to 2.9 percent. The board could impose any level of sales tax up to that 2.9 percent maximum. If the maximum rate is added to the area's current 4.4 percent state and county sales tax rate, then the area's sales tax would top out at 7.3 percent, still among the lowest rates in the valley.
The ballot language also states that the revenue collected — $1 million per year in the first year — would be used for "financing, constructing operating and maintaining streets, transportation and safety protection improvements and services."
Again, the word "chairlift" isn't anywhere in that ballot language. But a gondola between Telluride and Mountain Village was built in part as a transit system for employees. Lifts can qualify as transportation.
Eagle-Vail Metropolitan District board member David Warner ran for election last year on a platform based, in part, on researching the idea of financing a lift between the neighborhood and Beaver Creek.
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Warner said the sales tax itself could be used to finance improvements to streets, sidewalks and parking lots in the neighborhood. Funding could also be used for a pedestrian bridge over Interstate 70 to link the area's residential and commercial districts, or to help complete a valley-long bike trail. The funding couldn't be used to retire existing debt or for payroll purposes, Warner said.
Part of a package
A sales tax would probably be part of a package to finance a lift, Warner said. But sales tax revenues can be used to finance bonds, a technique that could fund a lift.
Whatever the board decides about pursuing a lift plan, a sales tax is the first part of a long process.
Any plan would have to pass muster with the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The neighborhood would also need to forge an agreement with Vail Resorts.
Stephen Daniels, a member of the Eagle-Vail Property Owners Board of Directors, said that any proposal for a lift would take years — perhaps three to five — to get to the construction stage.
That might be an optimistic estimate.
"There are some pretty significant, critical issues" involved in planning a lift, Holy Cross District Ranger Aaron Mayville said.
At the top of that list is available resources to tackle a new, significant planning process. Mayville said there haven't been any formal discussions with either the Forest Service or Vail Resorts. And, he added, it could take some time to even start a formal process since the White River National Forest — of which the Holy Cross Ranger District is a part — is currently running with one-third of its positions unfilled.
Aside from lacking manpower, Mayville said any idea for a lift would have to take into account a large wildlife buffer zone that runs from Stone Creek to Meadow and Grouse mountains.
Stone Creek in particular would be a difficult place to build, Mayville said.
Still, longtime Eagle-Vail resident Jake Jacobson, a member of the property owners board, said a lift from Eagle-Vail to Beaver Creek is an idea that's been pondered for a long time.
Jacobson provided a copy of a 1988 study done for the neighborhood that details a lift running from roughly the driving range at the Eagle-Vail golf course to the Cinch Trail catwalk at Beaver Creek.
"They thought it was kind of a pie in the sky then, but here we are 28 years later looking at it again," Jacobson said.
A pot-funded plan?
Jacobson said he supports the tax increase, especially since a big part would be paid by the marijuana shops along U.S. Highways 6 and 24.
"They're paying their taxes to the state and the county, and we're kind of getting slighted," Jacobson said.
Ridge Curington is the local general manager of Tumbleweed. That company has a shop in Edwards, and recently purchased the Herbal Elements medical dispensary in Eagle-Vail.
Asked about the prospect of a tax increase, Curington said an additional levy probably doesn't matter much.
"Taxes on recreational (marijuana) alone are (about) 14 percent," Curington said. "Wherever our stores are, we just go with the flow."
Eagle-Vail is also home to most of the valley's tire shops. Bill Britt, owner of Bill's Point S Tire & Auto Service — formerly Vail Discount Tire — said he isn't too concerned about a possible tax hike, since it wouldn't put him at a competitive disadvantage.
"But I don't see it passing," Britt said. "Most people in Eagle-Vail shop (in the commercial district), and (2.9 percent) is a lot."
But Jacobson and other supporters are hopeful, and point out that a lot of people from outside the neighborhood shop in the commercial district — especially the marijuana shops.
Spreading out the number of people paying the tax is one reason for Jacobson's support. Both he and Daniels were opposed to a 2014 property tax increase proposal that would have funded a range of recreational projects, including relocating the golf course clubhouse.
"This isn't an echo of (that measure)," Daniels said.
Ollie Holdstock lives in Vail and owns the Route 6 Cafe. Reached on an afternoon mountain bike ride, Holdstock said he hopes the tax measure doesn't pass.
"I do like the idea of public transportation, but once a lift goes into Eagle-Vail, within one generation it becomes a ski base," Holdstock said. "The first generation makes a lot of money, but that's it … I think it's the worst thing for longevity, for keeping Eagle-Vail (a community)."
If voters approve the tax, Warner said it would be at least July 1, 2017, before it would be levied.
"We won't enact it until we come up with a plan," Warner said.
But even if the funds are available, a lift to Beaver Creek is far from a sure thing.
"Financing is just one of a number of issues to figure out," Mayville said.