Our View: Try on those home rule shoes, Eagle
It’s time for Eagle to catch up to nearly every other municipality in Eagle County and become a home rule town.
Actually, it’s probably past time but for the first time in decades, the community is getting serious about the idea.
Eagle and Red Cliff are the only statutory towns in Eagle County. As Eagle Town manager Brandy Reitter notes, the statutory rules laid out in Colorado law work well for communities of 500 to 1,000 residents. But when communities grow larger than that, the one-size-fits-all regulations established by the state don’t reflect the individual community needs.
“We have outgrown those shoes and our toes are poking out,” is the metaphor that Reitter uses.
This fall the town plans to bring the home rule issue to voters. First the town will seek approval to form a home rule charter committee and then voters will have the opportunity to elect representatives to the committee. The group will then have until the municipal election next spring to write the charter and put it to a vote.
We won’t know the provisions of the charter until the committee fashions them, but it’s a safe bet that expanding the town’s revenue options will be part of the deal. If Eagle wants to continue projects such as a river park, a new water treatment plant and an expanded trails system, those revenues will be desperately needed.
Topping the list of available options is a real estate transfer fee. As a statutory town, Eagle isn’t allowed to impose a fee at the time of a real estate transaction, although such fees can be part of a subdivision improvements plan. For example, a 1 percent real estate transfer fee paid by buyers in Eagle Ranch finances wildlife mitigation, an affordable housing program, and the Eagle Ranch Homeowners Association. Likewise, the town has negotiated a real estate transfer fee for the proposed Haymeadow subdivision.
But those deals don’t carry through to real estate sales that happen elsewhere in the town and that means Eagle isn’t cashing in on a large revenue stream. In the neighboring home rule town of Gypsum, for example, finance director Mark Silverthorn reports that a 1 percent real estate transfer fee generated more than $1 million dollars in 2018.
That could be a game-changer in Eagle, where more than 2,000 new residential units are currently in the pipeline and reliance on sales tax revenues is more pronounced than ever. New large-scale commercial development isn’t looming on the horizon for Eagle which means the town will continue its dependence on existing sale tax generation. More particularly, Eagle will continue its dependence on a single retailer — City Market. Nearly half of the town’s sales tax comes from food sales and it isn’t hard to figure out where people are buying their groceries.
The home rule charter discussions will flesh out these issues and other topics that are particular to Eagle. Those talks are overdue. In the end, Eagle residents will have the final say on the charter and the proposal might not get their support in the end.
But it is definitely time for Eagle to get its feet measured. The existing shoes are really starting to pinch.
The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Nate Peterson, Ad Director Holli Snyder, Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart, Eagle Valley Enterprise Editor Pam Boyd and Business Editor Scott Miller.
The Eagle Valley Land Trust and Eagle River Watershed Council program adds 1% to purchases to fund preservation and conservation.