Seven of eight candidates running for three vacancies on the VRD Board of Directors squared off at a public forum Wednesday evening.
“I represent change, and nothing I have heard tonight has changed my mind,” said newcomer candidate Anthony “Nino” Licciardi, who along with Julie Hansen and Peter Cook has been running a coalition campaign appealing to district voters to put a new majority in charge of the five-member board that oversees an annual budget of $1.6 million and runs recreational programs and facilities within the town of Vail.
The coalition is facing off against incumbent candidates Ross Davis Jr., who was first elected to the board eight years ago, and Nancy Stevens, elected in 1998. A third seat is being vacated by past board member Chris Moffet, who chose not to run again. The three candidates elected May 7 will join board chairman Hermann Staufer and board member Tom Saalfeld, whose terms won’t be up for another two years.
Ed Morgan, Amy Domke and Kevin Deighan make up the remaining field of candidates. Deighan, who was not present for the forum, introduced himself to voters in a letter read by forum moderator Tom Moorhead.
Candidates’ comments centered on the controversial decision by the past board to authorize a $3.5 million renovation of Dobson Arena without voters’ consent nor a cost-sharing agreement with the Town of Vail, which owns Dobson.
Questions from the public and statements made by the challengers forced Davis and Stevens to defend the board’s decision to burden the district with a 20-year revenue bond obligation and $270,000 in annual debt payments.
“It was falling apart,” said Stevenson of the necessity to fix up the nearly 20-year-old ice arena, which doubles as the town’s largest venue for concerts and other special events.
“I have no regrets about doing it,” added Ross, saying the board never expected the town to help with the cost of the renovation, asking only for a contribution when one Vail Town Council member, Chuck Ogilby, asked to see an itemized bill.
Both incumbents said the price tag of the renovation grew from $2.5 million in 1998 to $3.5 million two years later because, aside from a failing refrigeration system, the arena had to be brought into compliance with changes in the town’s building and fire codes.
The additional $1 million, they said, was incurred because the town’s review process made additional exit doors and other amenities requirements for an approval of the renovation project. Without coming into code compliance, the arena’s maximum capacity would have been cut from 2,500 to 1,000.
Stevens also told an audience of about 40 people that after spending $2 million in improvements to the Vail Golf Course over the past six years, insuring Dobson’s continuous use is a justified expenditure.
But challengers, namely Licciardi, Hansen and Cook, accused the incumbent candidates – and the past board as a whole – of risking funds for other recreation programs, from youth hockey to adult golf, by going into debt to fix Dobson without tapping other sources to help pay for it.
“I think we’ve got an issue here,” Cook said, adding that improvements to youth programs may have to be put off “because we are faced with $270,000 to $300,000 in payments.”
Hansen and Licciardi told the audience that, if elected, they would work to enhance the district’s revenue stream through better marketing and try to save costs by tapping the community to volunteer and sponsor recreational programs.
Aside from criticism on the past decisions, the newcomer candidates presented new ideas they would initiate if elected.
Domke, a mother and first-time candidate to elected office, told the audience she would like to see the district board promote Vail as a destination for children’s summer camps. Morgan, a six-year Vail resident, said he would support a valley-wide inclusive approach to district programs that would ensure Vail’s status as “the playground of Eagle County.”
All of the seven candidates said they support a “de-Brucing” measure on the May 7 ballot for the district. If approved by voters, the measure would lift tax-collection limits imposed by TABOR, or the Tax Payer’s Bill of Rights, and allow the district to collect an additional $70,000 in property tax assessments retro-active to Jan. 1 2002.
What: Voters are asked to elect candidates to three candidates to four-year terms on the district board of directors as well as allow the district to collect and expend taxes above spending limits imposed by TABOR, the Tax Payer’s Bill of Rights, starting Jan. 1.
When: May 7 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: The Vail Municipal Building, 75. South Frontage Road, Vail.
Who: Owners of in-district real or taxable property, their spouses and residents living within the district – Vail’s town limits – for a minimum of 30 days are eligible to vote in the VRD election if they are registered voters in Colorado.
How: Ballots have been sent out in the mail to eligible voters. To request an absentee ballot, please call the Vail Recreation District at (970) 479-2279. Applications for absentee ballots must be filed with the district office by 5 p.m. Friday May 3.
The rewards of serving:
According to the Vail Recreation District’s bylaws, elected and appointed members of the district board are entitled to compensation for their services, including:
– $75 per each meeting attended, or no more than $1,200 annually
– Two years of golf (in the form of season golf passes) for each year served on the board.
Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 602 or at firstname.lastname@example.org