New town hall passes on first reading
AVON — In May, as the town council hosted a standing-room-only meeting, it turns out they were also negotiating to purchase a space that would have fit everyone more comfortably.
Residents learned Tuesday that throughout the course of the last nine months their elected body has been working on a deal to buy the unoccupied Skier Building at 140 Benchmark Road for the purposes relocating town hall there. The 16,000 square foot building would cost $3.2 million and require a $2.5 million remodel.
Town Manager Virginia Egger has said town staff is in great need of more space and an updated facility, which the council has acknowledged.
In what would become a 7-hour regular meeting, the council passed the Skier Building’s purchase on its first reading on Tuesday. They also took public comment on the issue. Several people spoke out against the decision, including Bob West of Hoffman West Real Estate who called for the resignation of all current council members.
“I’ve never seen a town so freewheeling and so loose with my money,” he said. “It’s disgusting, with that I suggest before the fight, that the entire town council step down.”
Others just came in to ask questions, including “How is it being paid for?” and “What about parking?”
A second reading is scheduled for Oct. 14.
WYNDHAM SALES TO HELP PAY
The council explained that the Sheraton’s parking garage has 44 spaces associated with the Skier Building, and the town owns a lot adjacent to the building. They also said that if approved, the building will be paid for using certificate of participation bonds or COPs.
COP bonds require annual renewal and are not considered long term debt. For that reason, towns do not need voter approval to take on debt via COPs.
COPs were also used to pay for the a new stage in Avon, which was approved by council at $3.8 million and is currently being constructed. The COPs are paid for on an annual basis out of the town’s Real Estate Transfer Tax fund, which receives money from the selling of properties in Avon. The fund is expected to generate $3.8 million next year and $3.3 the following year, said finance director Scott Wright, citing the 58-unit Wyndham time-share project which is expected to start hosting new owners this winter.
The annual payment for the new town hall building would be less than $400,000 with a 25-year term on the bonds. The interest rate would start at 2 percent and range up to 4.5 percent.
Avon resident and Business Briefs publisher Michael Cacioppo has been a frequent critic of COPs at Avon council meetings, first raising the issue with the stage in August, saying the COPs dodge the Tax Payer’s Bill of Rights by not requiring voter approval to take on big capital projects.
At Tuesday’s meeting, however, Cacioppo became the only resident to offer full support of the decision to purchase the new town hall building.
“There’s no tax increase. I don’t see how we pass on (this) deal. It makes a lot of sense,” Cacioppo said. “I don’t like the COP deals but it’s the law, they can do it.”
He also pointed out that the town has virtually no debt once it makes it final payment on the Avon Recreation Center in the coming months.
“That’s impressive,” he said.
Wright said taking on more debt at this time makes financial sense.
“Unfortunately, we’re in this situation where we haven’t used debt to leverage big new projects, and it is a financial management tool,” he said. “You may argue about the necessity to go to the voters to have that approved.”
The meeting started at 5 p.m. and ended at approximately 12 a.m. Carroll said later that in retrospect, planning could have been better on their part.
“I think I got home and finally got to bed at one in the morning, and got up at six in the morning to start work,” Carroll said the next day.
Carroll said the decision to solicit public comment on first reading is a newer trend in Avon.
“It used to be that, technically on the first readings of an ordinance, there’s no public input whatsoever. The public hearing is only during the second reading,” he said. “What we’ve tried to do is to give people the opportunity to provide input as we go through the agenda items.”
The council’s plan is to have a second reading at their Oct. 14 meeting and solicit more comment there, reserving the option to continue the discussion at that time.
Councilman Matt Gennett was the lone member to vote against the idea on first reading.
“I don’t see the sense of urgency,” Gennett said. “Love the idea, love the concept, I feel it fits in with our plans but I don’t see the rush. I think we could spend a little more time (on it). I think we could put it out and give the public a little more time to think about it.”
‘CAN AND WILL DO BETTER’
Also contributing to the lengthy meeting was the town’s annual community grant presentations, which didn’t end up starting until nearly 10 p.m. Groups such as the Vail Valley Partnership and the Eagle River Watershed Council had been waiting for hours for a chance to make their pitch.
“We probably should have scheduled (the community grant request presentations) on a different night, when it wasn’t so busy, or scheduled that first,” Carroll said.
Carroll later issued a formal apology to the groups.
“I apologize deeply for the huge delay in time,” it said. “Your Avon Town Council can and will do better for scheduling this in the future.”
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