Vail candidates scrutinize spending
Vail, CO Colorado
The Vail Town Council’s reserves, at $22 million, are as healthy as they are because of conservative budgeting, say some coun-cil members and candidates for the Nov. 3 election.
The Vail Citizens for Action, the group of business people that put out a list of election-year priorities last month, have criticized the Town Council for being too optimistic about the town’s economic future. The group point-ed out things such as a 2011 budget that isn’t balanced, a $9 million conference center fund unspent and a lack of foresight for important construction and renovation projects.
The Town Council asked its staff last week to prioritize the list of construction and renovation projects, but Council-woman Kim Newbury, who is running for re-election, said the new council will go over spending priorities after the election.
“We need to have a priority list,” Newbury said.
As the town prepares its 2010 budget – the second and final vote is scheduled for Oct. 20 – candidates are weighing in on the future.
The latest version of the 2010 budget cut out the $140,000 deficit and eliminated the use of reserve funds, but Councilman Kevin Foley, who’s also running for re- election, said there are other things in the budget the council needs to watch.
The sales tax revenue ratio, at 61 percent for the general fund and 39 percent for the capital projects fund, should be 50-50, according to the Vail town charter, Foley said. That’s why there needs to be a super majority, or five votes, to approve the ratio, Foley said.
“My concern is that we are continuing to do this and that’s hurting our capital proj-ects fund,” Foley said. “We’re falling behind on taking care of our infrastructure.”
Candidate Scott Proper said the town seems to be betting on an economic recov-ery, something for which the Vail Citizens for Action also criticize the town leaders.
Projecting a deficit in the 2011 budget and beyond just isn’t sustainable, Proper said.
Proper said the town needs to look at its benefits and salaries, too. Businesses and government entities across America are cutting those expenses significantly, which is why he’s confused at the town’s reluc-tance to do so. Foley agreed.
But candidate Kerry Donovan said she doesn’t think the town should cut salaries if it can avoid it. While it shouldn’t be a first option, Donovan said it shouldn’t be taken off the table either.
“I don’t think we should be paralyzed by the economic gloom of the future,” Dono-van said. “I think it’s important Vail keeps its vitality – it still needs to be a positive guest experience.”
The town has eliminated some full-time positions through attrition, and a town planner was laid off last month. Town staff members also are looking at more ways to consolidate, Newbury said.
Town Council candidate Susie Tjossem said the town, like any business, is going to have to continue to make tough choices. Tjossem thinks the best way to deal with the inability to predict the economy is to cut the budget now and add things back to it if the economy turns around.
“We definitely can’t be optimistic and think this is all going to bounce back in the next year,” Tjossem said. “I don’t want to be pessimistic – I call it proactive.”
Ludwig Kurz, a former Vail mayor and a candidate for the Nov. 3 election, said that while he thinks Vail is in the middle of a severe local recession, he sees a bright future for the town. He said the financial belt could be tightened a little more than it has been and that the town should look at capital projects as they come up.
“Everything needs another look,” Kurz said. “It could be capital projects that might be able to be delayed or staffing levels. My position would be we would urge staff to come up with cuts that the public can’t see based on service levels (decreasing).”
Candidate Buddy Lazier said he would-n’t want to make cuts that affect the servic-es for Vail’s guests. He also said the value from Vail’s redevelopment projects has yet to be seen. He said the new council will just have to “watch all the indicators daily and be open-minded.”
“I’m not quite as pessimistic to what the future might bring,” Lazier said.
One thing the town is doing is paying for the $5.4 million West Vail fire station with cash, using reserves and other funds – something candidates say is smart in terms of planning for the future. By not financing the station, the town saves more than $4 million over the next 20 years and also frees up its ability to borrow money for other things in the future.
“It just makes sense,” Councilman Mark Gordon said. “By paying cash now, we pre-serve our ability to borrow money in the future.”
And while Vail Citizens for Action critics say the reserves are going to be too hard to build back up in future years, some coun-cil members and candidates agree they’re extremely healthy and should be used if the town needs to use them – and building a new fire station is one of those times.
“That’s why we have reserves,” Foley said. “Every now and then you have to dip into them.”
Among the other candidates running for the four open seats on the Vail Town Coun-cil, Mike Charles said he was not ready to comment on the budget yet.
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.