Funding Edwards improvements is tricky
• Edwards isn’t a town, but part of unincorporated Eagle County.
• The area’s government is made up of Eagle County and five metropolitan districts.
• Edwards businesses have the valley’s lowest sales tax rate, 4.4 percent. The sales tax rate in Gypsum is 7.4 percent.
EDWARDS — The main intersection in Edwards — where U.S. Highway 6 and Spur Road off of Interstate 70 meet— needs work. Bus service might be useful, and residents often ask for better, safer pedestrian paths. The question is how to pay for those and other improvements. That’s why Edwards residents could be asked as soon as next year for a tax increase.
There are no firm plans at the moment, but work is being done now that could result in a tax question during special-district elections in May 2016.
Edwards isn’t a town but a community in unincorporated Eagle County. That means funding for the area relies on the county’s general fund and the relatively modest property tax levies collected by the five metropolitan districts in the area — Arrowhead, Cordillera, Berry Creek, Lake Creek and the Edwards metro district. Given that set-up, it’s hard to find funds for improvements.
The roundabouts at the I-70 interchange were a joint effort between the Colorado Department of Transportation, Eagle County and the Edwards Community Authority — an umbrella group made up of representatives of the metro districts. The county and the authority found money to help provide local matching funds for the roundabout project.
But the roundabout project was just the first phase of the work on Spur Road. The next phase includes possible work to widen the road itself and, more important, work to make the intersection with Highway 6 work better. State officials give school-style letter grades to how easily traffic flows along roads and through intersections. The intersection at Highway 6 and Spur Road is expected to receive F within the next decade.
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Whether the answer is another roundabout or something else (Eagle County engineer Eva Wilson said community meetings about the intersection will begin in July) major renovations are needed. The biggest question is where the money will come from for the intersection and other problems.
Wilson said finding money for the intersection project will have to come from a variety of local and state sources. While local funds are limited, Wilson said the state’s road funding system has several sources of money. The two-year roundabout project along Eagle’s Spur Road required both local money and tapping several sources of state funding, she said.
Wilson said the way design and construction is handled on state highways, nothing could happen in Edwards before 2018.
That’s probably a good thing because plans are only now starting to gel.
At a Monday meeting with the Eagle County Commissioners, Dan Godec, an elected member of the Berry Creek Metro District board, told commissioners that discussions among various district representatives have focused on the prospect of asking voters for either a sales or property tax increase.
Godec said a property tax shared between taxpayers in all five districts has a good chance of failure. A sales tax might work since virtually all of Edwards’ sales tax-producing businesses are in the boundaries of the Edwards Metro District.
Ken Marchetti’s company does the administrative work for all of Edwards’ metro districts, as well as many other special districts throughout the county. Marchetti said a sales tax could provide a “partial solution” to funding questions for improvements throughout the area.
A 0.5 percent sales tax would generate about $500,000 per year based on estimates of about $100 million per year in total sales in the district. That would leave the area’s sales tax as the lowest along the I-70 corridor in the Vail Valley.
LOOKING TO RESIDENTS FOR ANSWERS
Residents in Edwards have made clear for years they don’t want to take on the added expense and tax burden required to become a town. And, Marchetti said, even a sales tax proposal will have to be carefully crafted.
“If we go to the voters, we’ll need as many specifics as possible,” he told the commissioners.
Commissioner Kathy Chandler Henry noted that any improvement work in the area will require the participation of residents there. She noted that there’s building development pressure from unbuilt land in west Edwards. That will put even more traffic into the area’s main intersection.
“We’re looking to the folks who live there for answers,” Chandler Henry said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.