Ferry: Vail, we need to talk
Vail CO, Colorado
I think we started down a slippery slope last Tuesday night and I’m not quite sure how it happened.
There’s no over-riding ordinance in place. There’s been no policy discussion held in public. And I’m concerned that we’ve started down a path with unknown consequences and it’s a path that is potentially very dangerous. I know some of you are also concerned because you’ve called me about it.
But to fill the rest of you in, I guess I’d better go back to last Tuesday’s Vail Town Council meeting. Actually, we first have to go all the way back to the May 15 meeting.
In May I flew back to visit my mother, so I missed that meeting. I confess that I looked at the agenda and found nothing peculiar. Only in retrospect was I wrong, but the details didn’t surface until last week.
On May 15, items No. 7 and 8, a.k.a. Resolutions No. 12 and 13, series of 2007, both dealt with condominiums that were being considered for purchase by the town of Vail “in the interest of public health, safety and welfare”.
Both were approved unanimously with no discussion according to the minutes. And because it was a resolution and not an ordinance, only one reading was necessary. Both units were to be included in the town’s employee housing stock.
At the Aug. 21 meeting, there was an agenda item, No. 9 to be exact, that was the first reading of Ordinance 25, Series 2007 that was intended to approve the sale of an apartment owned by the TOV. The apartment had been purchased with general fund dollars for $287,000 and was being proposed for sale to a town employee, a mechanic, for $174,000 as part of a “buy down” program.
For those of you who don’t know what that means, very simply it is a method used as standard practice in communities that are trying to acquire an affordable housing inventory.
In this case, the property in question was the one purchased via Resolution 7 in May. Under the “buy down” philosophy, the town was proposing re-selling the condo for $113,000 less than their purchase price. The underlying theory of this type of program is that it would be impossible to create that space for those dollars.
But agree with that philosophy or not, it’s not the question I raise today. There are several issues really. You noticed I said they were proposing the resale, actually seeking to make it “official” by virtue of Ordinance 25. The reality is that the property was already under contract. Another case of the town’s consistent pattern of putting the cart before the horse. Why bother asking permission when you’ve already made the decision in the form of a legal contract?
But that’s only part of it. I’m most concerned by the fact that the opportunity to purchase this “buy down” was only offered to a town of Vail employee. When I asked about it I was told that the party in question was a mechanic and considered to be a “critical employee.”
Now I don’t own a store any more but when I did I had several “critical employees,” yet I don’t remember anyone offering to subsidize their housing.
And while I’m not actually opposed to programs such as these, I believe that since the money for the purchase of this property came primarily from sales tax revenues, the entire business community should have been able to enter their employees in this “lottery.”
I’m sure there are many business owners who would take the position that they too have critical employees. And as long as their tax dollars are helping to fund theses purchases, they too should be available to benefit. At the very least there should be a public discussion on the topic.
In response to another question regarding whether this sale was appropriate, I was told that the necessary discussion had taken place at the work session. Sorry. I was there and there was no discussion. Executive session was probably more like it.
I guess I’ll go to my grave thinking fair is fair. The town behaves as if the money they receive from us is theirs. No. It’s ours. They’re simply entrusted with spending it in a way that we approve. I don’t approve of this and neither should you. At least not without a discussion.
Because what’s really scary and what moved me to write this column is what I mentioned in the first sentence. It’s a slippery slope. Without a public discussion on how to administer the dollars allocated towards housing, a discussion that should also include criteria for eligibility, who’s to say that every time money becomes available to purchase these units, it’s not going to be concluded that a town of Vail “critical employee” moves to the top of the list? Or the front of the line?
In all fairness, I’m sure there are cases to be made where town employees should be targeted first. But the case should be made. In public. With consensus from those who pay the bills. This is not something that the staff should decide around the water cooler and then ask for a perfunctory acquiescence after the fact. That’s simply not how things should be done.
But I’m not so sure what the urgency is. The leader of the pack has free Vail housing yet his family is firmly ensconced in Boulder while he commutes. Seems like a double standard to me.
If you’re interested, the second reading is Sept. 4.
Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail email@example.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Commentary” or search for keyword “ferry.”
Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a biweekly column for the Daily.