‘Friendly recall’ launched for Gypsum’s Buckhorn Valley metro district board
Homeowners collect petition signatures from 71% of registered voters to force election
John Hill calls the action underway at Gypsum’s Buckhorn Valley development a “friendly recall.”
It’s an interesting turn of phase — an oxymoron, even — to consider a vote forcing people out of office as ‘friendly.” It’s even more interesting considering the man who coined it is one of the people the effort wants to recall.
“If someone else wants to do this, it’s fine with me,” said Hill, Buckhorn Valley’s current developer and president of both of Buckhorn Valley’s two metropolitan districts. Hill even expressed some understanding for how the metro districts’ actions prompted the recall effort.
“The people had a valid point. The district was in the stone age in terms of communications,” Hill said. “It all boils down to we need to talk to each other. With better verbal communications, almost all of this could have been avoidable.”
But in terms of the recall, it’s now too late to avoid an election by talking things through.
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Wanting their say
Erin Gallimore, a member of the Buckhorn Valley Recall Election Committee, has resided in the neighborhood for three years. Last June, she saw a legal ad in the Vail Daily publicizing an amendment to the district’s 2019 budget. That piqued her interest and she decided to attend the public hearing.
She dutifully appeared at the advertised session — held at a private residence in the development. But when she arrived, it was a video session and there was no public comment planned.
“From that point forward, there was a small group of residents that started to investigate what was happening in our metro district,” Gallimore said.
It was a complicated task, she noted. To start with, Buckhorn Valley has two metro districts. As explained on the recall effort website, BVMDresidents.org, “The town of Gypsum approved a service plan to support the development of Buckhorn Valley and, as a checks and balance, created Buckhorn Valley Metro District 1 (Operations Board) and Buckhorn Valley Metro District 2 (Finance Board).” The two districts were established to ensure the interest served by the operations board would have to gain financial approval from the finance board for all expenditures to be made in a budget year.
But the recall committee discovered that membership of the two metro district boards was the same, and that there hasn’t been a board election for years. That’s accurate, Hill said.
“I have been on the board for 12 years and there as been zero interest from the public,” Hill said. “There was a number of elections held over that time. No one stepped forward to run.”
Those elections were legally advertised, but it would be a stretch to say they were promoted. As required by Colorado State Statute, notices for an upcoming election were printed in Eagle County’s legal newspaper — the Eagle Valley Enterprise — and republished in the Vail Daily. Like government entities statewide, the metro districts also had to post public notices at a designated site. In the case of Buckhorn Valley, the official posting place is a specific utility pole in the neighborhood.
Those are aspects of the “stone age” communications Hill referenced. He noted the recall effort prompted Buckhorn Valley to launch a metro districts website to improve communications with residents.
Membership and money
With the same people seated on both of the metro district boards, the recall committee believes the original checks and balances intent for Buckhorn Valley isn’t functioning. Additionally the recall committee members noted that the board members all had development interests in the neighborhood.
“Homeowners are unhappy with how the metropolitan district board has been running things,” Gallimore said. “The people who are overseeing the service side of things are also making decisions for the financial side of things.”
On the financial side, Buckhorn Valley has a lot of debt. That, in and of itself, is not unusual.
Metro districts are formed when projects are developed to provide financing for infrastructure — extending water and sewer lines, building roads and neighborhood amenities construction — so that homes and businesses can be built. A district can issue bonds to pay those upfront costs and future homeowners pay off the debt through property tax assessments.
But for a number of years, Buckhorn Valley property taxes haven’t generated enough revenue to pay off its bond debt. That is another concern identified by the recall committee.
Hill said the major reason for the default is that Buckhorn Valley is only half of the way to being built out. That means, right now, only half of the people who will eventually pay off the bond debt through their property taxes are actually doing so. He said the revenues currently generated can’t cover the debt payments.
The Great Recession also hit the development hard, Hill continued.
“There was no development for several years after 2008 and the existing values went down by about half,” Hill said. “For 13 years, there wasn’t enough revenue to even pay the interest. Almost every metro district in the state is in the same situation because of the recession.
But living in a development that can’t pay its debt has residents concerned, Gallimore said.
“It’s 20 years since the beginning of the development and we are still so deep in debt,” she said. “That debt is still $19.8 million.”
Metro district management
Compounding the problem, according to the recall committee, was the management company that oversaw the metro district functions. A company Hill owns held the management contract.
“Currently we are in payment default for bond debt that was issued to pay for the infrastructure in the neighborhood. Further, the Buckhorn Valley Metro District Board has contracted with its own developer-management entity, which has failed to satisfactorily maintain the non-potable water system for irrigation that we pay for,” states the recall website.
In a March 2 letter sent to all Buckhorn Valley property owners, the metro district board responded to several of the recall committee’s criticism including the irrigation concerns.
“The district’s target date for starting the irrigation system is May 15. Unseasonably low temperatures can cause complications, as the portions of the system that serves homeowners is subject to freeze damage. Despite such complication in 2020, the season was still opened on its usual May 15 date. Careful professional stewardship of this system is the district’s highest operational priority,” the letter states.
Hill noted that last summer, his management company ended its Buckhorn Valley contract. Additionally, since earlier this month, membership of the finance metro district has changed. When two members of the board resigned, the remaining members appointed Gallimore and Nicholas Viau — two members of the recall committee — to serve on the metro district finance board.
“I think it was an action of good faith for them to say we see your concerns and will work with you,” Gallimore said.
Recall moving forward
Late last year, the recall committee filed its district court documents to launch the recall process. The committee had until Feb. 25 to collect 300 signatures, or signatures from 40% of the eligible electors in the district. When that deadline hit, the group had collected a total of 378 signatures.
“Of the homes that had registered voters who live there, 71% of the homeowners signed our petition,” Gallimore said.
That means the election is on. Gallimore said the issue is now in the sitting board’s court because the current board must organize the recall election. Once the schedule is determined, there will be a call for candidates and the election will proceed. The recall committee already has a slate of declared candidates, which includes Gallimore and Viau along with residents David Fiore, Megan McGee Bonta and Ashley Wilson.
Hill said he is unsure if he will run for the board. He expressed disappointment that a problem he mainly attributes to poor communications has led to the recall. “But once you file a petition, there is no bringing it back,” he said. “It will cost between $65,000 and $70,000 to run the recall election, but that is done and it will have to be spent.”
Gallimore agreed that communications have been a problem but noted there are other issues promoting the election.
“The communications issue is one small example of how our priorities are different as homeowners versus developers,” she said.
Gallimore agrees that there was an alternative to the election. She said the vote could have been avoided if all the members of the finance district board stepped down to let homeowners take their places.
“That would have been an opportunity to work collaboratively,” she said. “The whole purpose of this recall election has always been to get homeowners on the board so they could be the ones making the decisions about our community.”