Seeking a voice in vacationland
EAGLE COUNTY ” Taxation without representation can irritate people ” Revolutionary War-era Americans, for instance.
More than 200 years later, second-home owners pay property taxes in places where they aren’t allowed to vote. Rather than dumping crates of tea onto the ski slopes, some second-home owners continue to look for ways for their voices to be heard despite being banned from the ballot box.
While town and county elections are off-limits to most second-home owners, there are places they can, and do, vote.
Mountain Village, near Telluride, became a town in 1995. Before that, it was like Beaver Creek or Keystone, a resort in an unincorporated area of a county.
Those places are represented by homeowner’s associations and metropolitan districts ” governments that can levy taxes and handle functions such as water, sewer and recreation, but with ultimate government authority falling to the county commissioners.
When Mountain Village became a town, the town charter allowed all property owners to vote in municipal elections, but reserved spots on the town council for full-time residents
“It works fine. It’s a nice mix of opinion,” Mountain Village Town Council Member Rube Felicelli said.
Just after the town charter was approved, a group of local residents, including Felicelli, fought the idea of allowing second-home owners to vote.
“I opposed it on constitutional grounds,” he said. “Once the court ruled, I was fine with it.”
Felicelli has been through several town elections, campaigning for his own town council seat and for or against various ballot issues. Generally, about 60 percent of the votes in those elections come from full-time residents, he said.
And, Felicelli said, neither second-home owners nor full-timers vote as a block.
“You can’t make assumptions how someone’s going to vote based on their residence,” he said. “It’s a very intelligent voting group overall.”
As far as Felicelli knows, Mountain Village is unique in allowing second-home owners to vote in town elections. That leaves second-home owners elsewhere looking for a voice.
At Copper Mountain, second-home owners can vote in elections for the local metropolitan district. They can also run for the district’s board of directors.
The district is what’s known as a “party of interest” in Summit County, which means the county sends a letter to the district office whenever a development proposal for the Copper Mountain area is filed.
Boulder attorney Karl Anuta bought his condo at Copper Mountain in 1972, the year the ski area opened. He’s always been involved in his homeowners association, and has for several years been a member of the metro district board.
“It gives me an excuse to use my second home,” Anuta said. “But when you take an interest in the community, you get more involved.”
Reaching everyone who owns property in Copper Mountain can be a big job, but it’s made a little easier by a summer event in which homeowner’s associations throughout the resort all hold an annual get-together the same weekend.
Reaching out is one thing, actually getting people’s attention is another. In a recent metro district board election, around 500 people were eligible to vote. Only 76 cast ballots.
At Beaver Creek, property owners can vote for board members of the Beaver Creek Resort Company. That group handles public safety and marketing, among other jobs.
“It’s essentially a private government,” company director Tony O’Rourke said.
While some resorts give them a voice, second-home owners can feel left out of local governments’ decision-making processes.
In Snowmass Village near Aspen, the town council recently put together a committee of second-home owners. “We’ve been quite active,” committee chairman Mel Blumenthal said. “It’s given us an official voice.”
The committee was formed after a sometimes-contentious debate about rebuilding the town at the base of the ski area.
“The second-home owners said, ‘We pay taxes here, but we have no idea of what’s happening,'” said Kathleen Wanatowicz, the public information director for Snowmass Village. And, she added, there’s plenty of energy and talent in the group.
“A lot of times second-home owners are retired, but they still want to use the skills that made them successful,” Wanatowicz said. For many, that means community service.
“It’s an acceptable solution at the moment,” Blumenthal added. “Realistically, being able to vote is a difficult situation to contemplate. The permanent population isn’t ready for it. Right now we have a very strong voice.”
Finding a voice for second-home owners led a number of Vail property owners to start the Vail Village Homeowners Association in the early 1990s. The association was founded based on some second-home owners’ feeling they were being left out of the political process.
“It was probably the late 1980s when (the feeling) started,” association director Jim Lamont said. “Vail’s government was turning away from the consensus of the 1970s about controlling growth.”
Since the association was formed, Lamont has attended countless town meetings, and often comments about development proposals and other issues. Those comments, as well as newspaper articles and Lamont’s “position papers” are posted on the association’s Web site, giving members a way to keep up with, and comment on, Vail politics.
Some association members are gaining more political clout with a fairly simple step: moving into their vacation homes. That’s what Alan Kosloff and his wife did a few years ago.
Originally from New York, the Kosloffs started coming to Vail in the 1970s. They then bought a home to stay in during their vacations. Eventually, the couple bought a home along Vail’s exclusive Forest Road. When Kosloff stopped working full time, he and his wife made Vail their primary residence, and started voting in municipal elections.
The Kosloffs aren’t alone.
“It’s a goal of mine to live there full-time, although I haven’t quite sold my wife on the idea,” Blumenthal said from Los Angeles. “But I know a number of people who have moved or are contemplating it.”
That trend may have a bigger impact than committees and associations do now, Kosloff said.
“We believe a lot of people will change their residence to Vail over the next several years,” Kosloff said. “Moving (to Vail) their votes are more important. Just a couple of hundred votes can change a lot here.”
To that end, the Vail Village Homeowners Association is encouraging members to move.
A lot of second-home owners have pretty strong incentive to keep stay where they are, though, O’Rourke said.
“There’s a trend of second-home owners spending more time at their second homes, so that may be an incentive to changing their residence,” O’Rourke said. “But we have a lot of owners from Texas, where there’s no personal income tax. That’s a pretty big incentive to keep their residency where it is.”
Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14624, or email@example.com.
Vail Daily, Vail Colorado