Harder times, harder decisions for Eagle County | VailDaily.com

Harder times, harder decisions for Eagle County

Vail Daily Editorial Board
Vail, CO Colorado

With the national economy in what could turn out to be a pretty hard slump, it will be interesting to see how both local government and the private sector react in planning for the next year or two.

While most of us feel as if we’ve been paying more than $4 per gallon for gasoline for far too long, we still don’t know what effect that’s going to have on summer tourism. It’s also too soon to know what’s going to happen to air travel this winter, when fuel prices will have taken an even bigger bite out of airlines’ revenues.

But prudent businesses and governments should be planning now for the prospect of fewer tourists, fewer real estate sales ” which we’ve already seen this year ” and, ultimately, fewer dollars coming into cash registers and government accounts.

Former Vail finance chief Steve Barwick, now Aspen’s city manager, recently told the Aspen Times that he’s recommending no new hiring for 2009 and will discuss other ways to trim spending next year.

All our local governments have expanded their work forces and budgets since the last national downturn ” which ran roughly from early 2001 into 2003 ” mostly due to an increasing population. How they react to the prospect of less money coming in could affect how many police we see on the streets or how often the snowplows come in the winter.

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Eagle County could be especially vulnerable because it provides town-type services for Eagle-Vail, Edwards and El Jebel, which combine to make up a substantial number of residents.

In the last slump, Pitkin and Summit counties laid off some employees. Eagle County avoided layoffs but trimmed staff by not replacing several people who retired or resigned.

If harder times come, we’re going to see priorities shifting when it comes to spending our tax money. We’d encourage residents to keep an even closer eye than usual on governments’ annual budget-planning sessions, which in some cases will start next month. We also need to listen carefully to those who are seeking office. They’ll need to provide solid, specific answers about how to handle the budgets they’ll vote on in the future if they want to earn our votes.

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