How I went from for to against
I want to clear something up. At a conference center meeting recently, a remark was made that I was against the center from the beginning. And that is patently not true. That’s why I need to clear that perception up.When the idea of a conference center was raised once again as a means to generate business in the town of Vail, I was all for it. I spoke at council meetings in support of it and urged others to do the same. Where I differed with the process back then is that I encouraged the community to insist that the homework be done before the vote was taken.I lost on that request. The vote was taken and the concept of a conference center was approved by the voters, albeit by a very slim margin.So why did I use the word concept? Because that was all that it was at that time. No drawings had been done. No architectural plans rendered, much less real dollars estimated.What the voters were told was that the plan was to build a certain size facility and the going rate was so much a square foot. They were asked to approve a specific tax increase based solely on “pie in the sky,” “here’s a good guess” numbers. Hardly the way any of us would run our own lives.But the voters bought the entire lack of logic in that approach. So step one was completed.We then moved to step two, the collection of the tax. The debate ensued as to when to start collecting the tax. Again, I urged the Town Council to wait until we actually had a plan. My logic there was that if the numbers didn’t make sense and the decision was made not to proceed, we wouldn’t be faced with the complicated problem of refunding the collected taxes. Something that’s a real possibility now if there’s no approval in November. But again, I lost. Something about it being easier for the business community to start collecting a new tax on Jan. 1 than some later date. Of course that comment came from a beaurocrat who simply had no idea that it makes absolutely no difference when you reprogram the cash register. It was consoling, though, to know that they were looking out for the business community.A tax had been approved and was being collected. Now the work began. I have never heard a satisfactory explanation for doing things so backwards, but that’s beside the point. However, keep in mind it was made very clear by the town attorneys that if the next phase came up with numbers that didn’t make sense, there was no obligation to put the town at financial risk and actually build a conference center.So down the little brick road we skipped. And I still had an open mind. For three years I attended almost all of the conference center committee meetings. As I’ve pointed out previously, that in itself was no small task.But as things were designed and discussed and priced, it became perfectly clear that as presented it didn’t work. There was absolutely no question that it was going to cost more than the tax generated and would do so foreeeeeeever. Because not only was the building too expensive, the operational costs would never be covered by the tax money or the revenues generated.At that point I started doing some out- side research. Well, lo and behold, the situation we were about to jump into had a long history of just the same scenarios. And the picture seemed to be getting increasingly bleaker as the economy changed and a glut of new facilities hit the market. With decreased interest and increased inventory, the news did not look good for Vail. As a point of reference, keep in mind that Keystone loses $3.75 million per year, and they have to give the space away for free to attract the groups that they do. And that’s something else that is common in the industry.Slowly but surely, a picture started developing in my mind, and it wasn’t pretty. So, you got it. I went from supportive to skeptical to neutral to against. And for all of the right reasons. There was no responsible way to proceed given all of the information available.So I started urging us to look more closely and go back to the voters with the information gathered – the way it should have been done the first time. As the powers that be continued to drag their feet, a citizens petition forced the issue. Now the question will come before the voters in November and it will not be a simple yes or no, but will also require another tax increase if there is still support. And that is exactly as it should be. It’s just truly unfortunate that this process was not used the first time. Perhaps we wouldn’t have wasted two years of meetings and debate. But remember, if you’re a beaurocrat, that’s called job security.What I’ll continue to do between now and then is pass along as much information as possible. And you can be assured that some of it will not be positive. But in November I hope an informed voter goes to the polls. Which will be a step in the right direction and will be a big improvement over 2002. Whatever the outcome, whether I agree or not, that will be that.A quick aside: Vail Resorts received a little rap on the knuckles the at the Aug. 2 Town Council meeting. Seems the council did not like reading about the proposed new lift in the Daily along with the rest of us. It’s “embarrassing” not to be on the inside track, VR’s attorney was advised. 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 “Columnists” or search for keyword “ferry.” Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily. This column, as in the case of all personal columns, does not necessarily reflect the views of the Vail Daily.Vail, Colorado
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