Should second-home owners vote?
More than two-thirds of people who own homes in Vail can’t vote in local elections. These “second-home owners” can’t even vote on a proposal to increase their property taxes.
It’s an old debate that received new fuel after a recent regional study that showed about 70 percent of homes in Vail are owned by residents who live a significant part of their lives somewhere else in the world.
“I think the really big misconception is that second-home owners and local homeowners are on a different page; (but) we’re not,” says Alan Kosloff, president of the Vail Village Homeowners Association. “We’re on the same page; we’re here for many of the same reasons.”
Kosloff says other resort towns have figured out how to give their second-home owners limited voting powers. He says Vail should follow suit.
“If they were allowed to participate more in the governing of Vail, they would have so much to contribute,” Kosloff says. “They are very accomplished people for the most part. They are very experienced and they could really help the town if they felt a part of the process – but they don’t feel that way now.”
Town Councilman Dick Cleveland says he doesn’t think second-home owners should vote in Vail. Nevertheless, he adds, the Town Council still should tap their abilities.
“It’s going to take some convincing it’s in the best interest of the town,” Cleveland says. “We get good input from second-home owners and I think we can do a better job of reaching out to them. I think there’s huge pool of talent and I don’t think we solicit that enough.”
Former mayor Rob Ford says giving second-home owners the ability to vote would have wider benefits. Currently, only about a fourth of the town elects the Town Council, he says.
“You have a minority government,” he says. “You have to look at how to bring in other property owners. Can you enfranchise second-home owners? Everyone says that’s taboo.”
Giving second-home owners limited voting powers would require a change in the Town Charter, which elected officials are sometimes hesitant to do, Ford says.
“Then, more of the community has a say in how dollars are spent,” Ford says. “I think a voter base that’s 20 to 25 percent of the property owners makes it very difficult for council – they’re elected by a minority.”
Rick Scalpello, a close watcher of Vail’s economy, says second-home owners should be allowed to vote if the town ever again considers raising property taxes, which is likely. A majority of the town’s money comes from sales taxes, which have been declining steadily for the past decade.
Scalpello calls the second-home owners desire to vote, “a fair request on their part.”
“If we move forward with an increase in property taxes to pay for more services, the primary contributor of those property taxes are second-home owners,” Scalpello says. “And if we rely more on property taxes, it’s only fair to allow those paying the taxes to have a vote – I recall that’s what the Revolutionary War was fought over.”
Town Councilwoman Diana Donovan says second-home owners can vote if they only vote in Vail.
“Second-home owners can vote if they want to change their residency here; that’s the way it is in America,” Donovan says.
Donovan says their votes would have more impact in Vail.
“They have to make a choice where they think their vote has the most weight. And I dare say their votes have most weight in Vail,” Donovan says. “I don’t think they come from smaller towns than Vail.”
Kosloff says a major misconception is that second-home owners, if given the power to vote in local elections, would overwhelm full-time residents.
“I know a lot of locals are very skeptical of second-home owners voting because they feel the issues important to them would not be important to second-home owners, such as schools, rec facilities and so forth. But my experience is exactly the opposite,” Kosloff says. “We have a lot invested in Vail, a lot invested in the ambience of Vail and we would do everything we could to make it a stronger, better community.
“And,” he adds, “that includes schools, rec facilities – it includes all the things that locals want.”
A small town near Telluride gives its second-home owners the power to vote in local elections. Opponents of the idea sued, but the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the second-home owners’ right to vote.
“Vail, obviously, doesn’t agree with allowing local second-home owners to vote,” Kosloff says. “I think it becomes a particularly compelling issue in today’s economic conditions. We have a community where more than 70 percent of the homes are owned by second-home owners who are not allowed to vote.
“The result,” he adds, “is a disenfranchisement of those voters from issues that affect their property and taxation.”
Cleveland says people should vote where they live.
“Not all of us can afford homes in two or three places. The fact of life is those of us who live here have the right to vote here,” Cleveland says.
Donovan says second-home owners can have more influence on town politics by contacting council members than voting. She points out the Town Council meetings are attended by many people, including business owners, who either don’t live in Vail full-time or don’t live in Vail at all.
As for the elections, there is also influence –financial influence – beyond actually casting a ballot, she says.
“You control the election by taking out ads,” she says.
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at email@example.com.