Housing tax defeat forces county to rethink its role
November 16, 2016
EAGLE — The Eagle County commissioners say they'll take small steps in addressing workforce housing challenges, after voters last week crushed their proposed housing tax.
In their first meeting since the election, the commissioners directed the county's housing department to put together a plan.
Near the top of the less-ambitious to-do list is building about 20 units in Eagle next to the Castle Peak Senior Care Center, on land the county already owns.
For now, the plan is to build the apartments so they can transition them into independent living apartments, as an extension of Castle Peak's services.
"Other than that, there really isn't a lot the county can do without the additional funding that 1A would have provided," said Commissioner Jill Ryan.
The county also owns land in west Eagle where the county shops used to be located. However, infrastructure costs put development costs out of reach, leaving the county to wait for a neighboring development to partner with.
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Still tops the agenda
A few short days after the election, Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry spent hours with the Economic Development Council where housing dominated the agenda.
"The county will aggressively pursue partnerships and other funding opportunities. We would have done that if the tax passed, too," Chandler-Henry said.
A tale of two taxes
For the third time since 2007, Summit County voters approved sales taxes dedicated to building affordable housing. Summit County and the six towns there have spent more than $13 million for housing and land.
The Summit County tax is expected to generate $8 million a year.
Eagle County's ballot had four tax increase questions. The school district's two tax increases passed. The county's open space and housing taxes did not. That housing tax was expected to generate $5.4 million a year, but 63 percent of local voters rejected it.
"I do acknowledge that 1A lost by quite a bit, which makes me question the community's support of government's role in this issue, and I respect that," Ryan said.
In a brainstorming session, the commissioners and county housing staff suggested things like:
• Creating a pool of rental units managed centrally in exchange for lower rents;
• Creating a loan pool for the first/last/deposit burden;
• Working with the school district, State Land Board and other land holders for space;
• Pursuing creative solutions such as tiny homes.
"Doing nothing is not an option. Housing our workforce is critical to our economic development, and we will work with the business community to find a path forward," Chandler-Henry said.
Creating a conundrum
Shortly after he took office, former Eagle County Tom Stone put together the original deal that resulted in the Miller Ranch community in Edwards. He lives in northern Nevada, and keeps an eye on Eagle County.
He counseled persistence and creativity for the current county commissioners, as they address the decades-old workforce housing issue.
The county created a conundrum when it repeatedly talked about a need for more than 4,000 new homes, while asking for more money for open space, Stone said.
"These are obviously competing efforts in search of the same land," Stone said.
Stone, a Republican, said he generally does not favor new regulations unless they address a new issue. The county and towns should be looking to register, regulate and tax vacation home rentals through websites, such as AirBnB and VRBO.
That would tax only visitors, not locals.
"Eagle County is one of a kind. The best solutions to our issues are usually also unique and one of a kind," Stone said. "Creative thinking matched with some hard work can result in a solution to the housing problem that the voters would support."
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.