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Loans for loyalty

Geraldine Haldner

“It’s just one more piece in our strategy to recruit and retain high-quality employees,” says Vail Town Manager Bob McLaurin, who has seen bedroom communities turn into formidable competitors for experienced employees in a high-cost-of-living environment.”

According to a 1999 Eagle County Housing Needs Assessment Survey, 30 percent of the valley’s renters and 17 percent of homeowners – or a total of nearly 1,300 households – are “cost burdened” by housing cost, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent or mortgage payments.

Overall, 47 percent of renters in Eagle County are either “not satisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with their housing, according to the survey.

Coupled with long commutes, housing costs make Vail employees especially vulnerable to competitive compensation packages in communities like Avon, Edwards, Eagle and Gypsum.

“When we lose employees, we lose them downvalley,” McLaurin says of the town’s roster of 200 employees, few of whom live in Vail.

Turnover in the Vail Police Department, for example, has averaged 25 percent over the past two years. At times, the town has experienced shortages of as many as 10 emergency services employees, including dispatchers, patrol officers and code-enforcement officers.

“Police officers we lose to the Front Range,” McLaurin says, adding that many young law enforcement officers are tempted by bigger municipalities with promises of better salaries and lower living costs after having been trained by a town like Vail for an average of $16,000.

But other departments, too, have had to make due under duress inflicted by downvalley companies and municipalities, which lure experienced workers away with the promise of shorter commutes and more time spent at home. The town of Vail, meanwhile, has to once again invest time and money to replace them.

“Planners, heavy equipment operators and mechanics we lose to the downvalley communities,” McLaurin says.

Components of Vail’s new housing program:

– A rental advance program in which the town provides a qualified, full-time employee with a loan of up to $5,000 towards the first and last months’ rent and security deposit. The loan must be repaid through payroll deductions interest free within 12 months.

– Down payment assistance, in which first-time home buyers can qualify for up to $10,000, or 5 percent of the purchase price. The loan must be paid back through payroll deductions interest free over no more than five years.

The town has budgeted $50,000 for the program this year and will award the loans on a first-come, first-served basis to qualified applicants for housing in Eagle, Summit, Lake or Garfield counties, according to McLaurin.

“The economy of the Vail Valley has changed. There used to be Vail and nothing downvalley. Then people moved downvalley and now these downvalley communities have their own economies, so we compete with them for labor,” McLaurin says. “Good employees now have a choice and a lot of factors to weigh.”


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