Vail candidates square off
Before a standing-only crowd at Town Hall, the eight candidates vying for four open seats on the Town Council come Nov. 4 took turns answering questions on a wide variety of topics, ranging from how the council should guide Vail into the age of high-technology to how they have made decisions as part of a group.”Eye on Politics: Candidate Forum,” sponsored by the Vail Valley Chamber & Tourism Bureau, was moderated by Dan Smith, a political science and government professor at Colorado Mountain College. Smith delivered the questions and kept a close watch on the clock – perhaps so it did not sink into a show resembling California’s gubernatorial debate earlier this month.”One of the problems with local politics is it gets personal,” Smith said after the forum, in which there appeared to be more agreement than disagreement among the candidates on most topics, with no obvious “pot shots” taken. “What these candidates did was rise above that and concentrate on the issues. In my experience, that’s rare.”Taxes always tellingThe most telling discussion, perhaps, came in response to a question on taxes. Property-tax rates in Vail are substantially lower than many Front Range communities and the candidates were asked whether they would support hiking property taxes “to create the funding needed to support the needs of the community?”Incumbent councilman Greg Moffet, long a champion of building community facilities, was first to answer, saying he supports changing entirely the town’s dependency on sales-tax revenues”I’d like to see 75 percent of sales-tax revenues replaced with property taxes,” Moffet said. “It’s a whole lot less volatile, and it’s a lot more onerous on empty store fronts.”Fellow incumbent Bill Jewitt said he’s always marvelled at how Vail considers it “equitable” to rely mainly sales taxes – typically paid by tourists and other other visitors who make purchases in town – to pay for services and other community expenses.”An advantage of property taxes,” Jewitt said, “is that second-home owners are contributing to services.”The third incumbent councilman seeking re-election, Rod Slifer, said the town “shouldn’t go there,” because sales-tax revenues will increase once aging hotels and infrastructure are redeveloped.”Sales taxes come from visitors,” said Slifer. “Property taxes affect us all.”Challengers sound offThe five challengers, meanwhile, offered a variety ways to look at changing Vail’s revenue stream.Kent Logan, a retired investment banker seeking public office for the first time, referred to a slogan he’s been using since he declared his candidacy. Raising property taxes should not be considered, he said, until town expenses are parred down and ways for spending any new tax are identified.”We have to make the tough decisions,” Logan said. “I’m on record as saying not a dime of new property taxes until we exhaust all ways to raise sales-tax revenues, not a dime until we cut the fat, not a dime until we identify the uses.”Fellow challenger Paul Rondeau – who earlier displayed a sign stating “total $ in + $ for everyday expenses = $ for projects” – said he would support raising property taxes only if it were designed to go away in the future with some sort of “sunset provision.””The council needs to get its act together,” Rondeau said.Challenger Kim Ruotolo, a member of the town’s housing authority – and the only woman in the race – said while her platform certainly isn’t based on raising taxes, the council “may need to consider” it. While Vail has the highest property values in Eagle County, she added, the town taxes its residents at the county’s second-lowest rate.”Perhaps we could raise the standard of living by lowering sales taxes and raising property taxes,” she said.Then there was Mark Gordon, 40, a mountain communications foreman, who’s been running on a platform of building more community facilities and encouraging people to become full-time Vail residents. He agreed there should be conditions set on any hike in property taxes.”We should lower sales taxes to increase our competitive edge over downvalley businesses,” Gordon said.Dave McDougall, a 27-year-old bartender and a six-year Vail resident running for office for the first time, said he wants to represent his “demographic” in Vail. He called raising property taxes a “flash point” when “there’s other things to talk about.”More to come?More than three dozen other questions were submitted by members of the audience, but with eight candidates time ran out quickly. Some of those questions are being considered for another possible candidates forum later this month.Election informationImportant dates:- Oct. 23 – Early voting and absentee balloting begins.- Oct. 31 – Last day voters can request an absentee ballot, either in person or by mail.- Nov. 4 – Election Day. Polls at the Donovan Pavilion are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.To be eligible to vote in the Vail elections, a person must be:- A full-time resident with a current, legal address in the town of Vail for at least six months.- 18 years old or older.- A U.S. citizen.- Registered to vote in Eagle County.