One tax this time, rec district says
If you’re a golfer it means the Vail Golf Course will remain open for the 2005 season instead of being closed for major renovation. If you’re a taxpayer, it means there may be a more comprehensive approach to rebuilding 42 year-old Vail. If you’re a member of the Vail Town Council or the Vail Recreation District board, it could signal the end of a rocky relationship and the beginning of new collaborative ventures.
The rec district had considered putting three tax increases on May’s budget. The $11-million ballot package was aimed at refinancing debt, rebuilding parts of the golf course and building an indoor recreation facility.
But in a split vote Tuesday evening, the rec board decided to pursue just one of those – a tax increase to pay the annual expense of a $3.4 million remodeling of Dobson Arena. The other two proposals, renovating major portions of the golf course and building an indoor recreation facility at Red Sandstone Elementary School, may be pursued in November and possibly consolidated with a town of Vail ballot proposal.
“We decided to go to the voters and change the way Dobson’s debt is paid for,” said rec district board member Peter Cook. “That would relieve us and put us in a much stronger financial position.”
The district is cash-strapped. It has no reserves and is using its operating funds to pay off the debt incurred during the renovation of the Dobson ice arena’s cooling system and ensuring the facility meets fire codes. That has left the rec district with little money for capital improvements.
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The town has also tightened its belt, paring nearly $1 million from expenditures over the last two years.
At a hastily-called Monday meeting between the Town Council and representatives of the rec district, Town Council members said they wanted the two districts to wait until November to better coordinate funding Vail’s $1 billion public-private renaissance as well as the rec district’s need to revitalize and expand its facilities.
Both the town and rec district are dipping into the same taxpayer pool. Rather than competing, they are making noises that to the casual observer my signal collaboration.
There was also some question about whether the town could delay the district’s plans if it decided to forge ahead with the three ballot questions. The town owns the golf course and would have to approve any improvements proposed by the rec district.
“It’s responsible for them to get their finances in order,” said Councilman Dick Cleveland. “It signals they certainly were receptive to our input. That’s a positive step.”
Newly-elected Councilman Kent Logan, who asked the toughest questions about the district’s proposal Monday, said Tuesday’s decision by the rec board was a positive move.
“I believe this presents an opportunity,” Logan said. “Maybe for the first time in quite a while the two groups can work together. That was not a vote defeating the measure. It was a vote saying the timing was too quick.
“Everyone wants to make this a War of the Roses. It’s a positive development,” Logan added. “We need to give a little thought realistically as to how we want to stage all this reconstruction between the district and town. We don’t want everything shutdown at the same time.”
Looking to November
Vail Village and Lionshead will see more than $500 million in renovation and redevelopment in the next three years. But the rec district board, which voted 3-2 for the single May ballot question, isn’t of one mind about its direction. Board members Nino Licciardi, Tom Saalfield and Hermann Staufer favored the measure while Julie Hansen and Cook opposed it. The pair had hoped to forge ahead with the three questions.
Even so, Cook said he’s committed and willing to working with the town.
“Certainly in doing what we are doing, we said we want to work with them to get our thoughts and their thoughts together and be ready for November,” he said.
“You have to start somewhere,” added Dennis Stein, executive director of the rec district. “This will allow the district to have better cash flow and not have to offer tax anticipation warrants to get through the lean months. It will also allow us to establish a capital improvements fund and purchase equipment instead of leasing it.”
The rec district’s $3.4 million renovation of Dobson Arena in 2001 costs the district $278,000 a year in loan payments.
The rec district has not released how much the tax will cost individual homeowners.
Cliff Thompson can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 9490555 ext. 450.