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More cuts looming for Vail budget

Geraldine Haldner

The mood in the council chamber was gloomy and heavy Tuesday with admissions of failure. The outlook appears equally dim in the wake of a failed tax-hike question at the polls.

Voters Nov. 5 rejected a ballot question asking to increase Vail’s property tax rate by 4 mills, or roughly $36 per $100,000 in assessed value on residential homes and $120 for commercial property. The resulting $2 million to $3 million in additional money would have been earmarked to fund the town’s five-year capital improvements plan.

With $88 million in contemplated projects – from a wider Frontage Road to pocket parks in the village – town leaders want to keep in step with $750 million in private developments planned in Lionshead and Vail Village over the next five years. In all, more than 20 properties, from condominiums to commercial complexes to hotels, are scheduled for redevelopment or major renovations.

While Vail has one of the lowest tax rates for real-estate property, Vail voters against the proposed increase out-numbered those in favor by a 55-vote margin.

“We came up with this five-year budget, (but) I think we did it too late,” said Councilman Chuck Ogilby, who had been one of the most outspoken supporters of the tax increase.

“The failure to get it passed falls on our shoulders,” he said. “We prepared a good budget.”

Ogilby said the council failed to show Vail residents what kind of cuts will have to be made starting in 2004 to pursue the redevelopment of a tired-looking public facade in the two shopping areas.

Councilman Greg Moffet, who did not support the tax increase but didn’t publicly oppose it either, said he saw the ballot question as doomed from the start.

“We were asking for more money, and saying we’d be cutting services at the same time,” he said. “I think we came up with a blunt object. If we came up with an elegant tool that wouldn’t penalize people who live here year-round, we’d be smart and right as opposed to blunt and wrong.”

Without the $2.25 million in extra revenues from the tax hike, town leaders now have to find other revenue sources to generating the same amount, return to voters with a similar question in November 2003 or cut $2 million to $3 million out of the town’s $20 million operating budget.

Considering the town cut $800,000 out of its operating budget for 2003, further cuts will be close to the bone and painful, said Vail Town Manager Bob McLaurin.

“The thought of the tax was that we are going to invest in the economic engine,” McLaurin said, adding that the town’s failure to eliminate two bus routes this fall because of residents’ complaints illustrates how hard it will be to cut as much as $3 million from town services.

“We got like 200 calls for $200,000 – that’s a drop in the bucket,” he said.

“As long as you are prepared to live with the consequences, we can cut,” McLaurin added. Paring down the town’s operating budget can be “a healthy exercise.”

But, he added, it will mean “buses aren’t going to run as frequently and the library won’t be open as long.”

Vail resident Paul Rondeau, who lobbied voters to vote “not now,” told the council he wanted to see “a citizen working group” making suggestions and “producing options” for the council to chose from.

“I don’t think you can do all this sitting here Tuesday nights,” he said, adding that citizens could consider and explore options from cuts to a renewed effort to increase taxes to finding other potential revenue sources.

Council members agreed to consider involvement of the community, along with other ways to make the $88 million in public project happening. The town’s financial fate will be the topic of a regular item on the council’s work session agenda starting Dec. 3. Work sessions start at 1 p.m. on every first and third Tuesday of the month.

Vail’s five-year $88 million Capital Projects Plan:

– 2003 – $1.4 million for streetscape along Hanson Ranch Road and renovation of the Children’s Fountain; set aside $250,000 for Interstate 70 noise mitigation; spend half a million dollars on new emergency communications equipment.

– 2004 – Streetscape improvements on East Meadow Drive and West Meadow Drive for $3.4 million; $350,000 for new public restrooms; $2 million towards loading-and-delivery facilities; and almost $3 million for improvements to Bridge Street and Gore Creek Drive, including heated sidewalks, parks and plazas.

– 2005 – $10 million to widen and improve Frontage Road in Lionshead; $9 million towards revamping Lionshead Mall; almost $6 million for new entrances to Lionshead Mall; another $2.5 million for heated sidewalks on West Gore Creek Drive; and $12 million for a transportation center in Lionshead.

– 2006 – Additional level of parking at Lionshead Parking Structure for $15 million; almost $2 million in improvements to Wall Street and Founder’s Plaza; and another $350,000 on public restrooms.

– 2007 – $2.3 million on new-and-improved pedestrian corridors from Checkpoint Charlie to Willow Bridge and Gore Creek Promenade; another $5 million to improve Frontage Road, including landscaped medians and turn-lanes.

– 2003 though 2007 – Set aside an annual $350,000 for a new or rebuilt fire station.

Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 602 or at ghaldner@vaildaily.com.


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