Vail considers tax questions for parking, housing
VAIL — The Town Council here is getting more serious about taking a pair of tax increase proposals to voters in November.
By a show of hands — with four of six members showing support — council members instructed town staff to draft an intergovernmental agreement with Eagle County to participate in the Nov. 8 general election. Staff will also get to work on one, and possibly two, potential tax hikes.
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The most likely measure to hit the ballot would increase the town’s tax on lift tickets sold in town. That additional money would be directed into a fund dedicated for parking. The current tax — 4 percent — now goes into the town’s general fund. That tax combines both lift tickets sold in town and a negotiated percentage of Vail Resorts’ season pass sales. The tax generated $4.7 million in 2015.
The idea of increasing the lift tax started fairly recently, during a council discussion about parking in town. During that discussion, which focused in large part on parking along the town’s frontage roads, council member Dick Cleveland — long an advocate of building more parking in town — proposed doubling the lift tax in order to create a parking fund.
Cleveland is an advocate of putting the onus of funding more parking onto Vail Resorts, given that parking difficulties in town in the winter are mostly due to the success of the ski area.
There has been little public discussion about the idea. That’s likely to change at the council’s Aug. 16 meeting.
During brief comments to the council — no real public comment was taken — longtime resident Paul Rondeau said he hopes the lift tax increase “comes off in a positive way.”
“It’s a huge issue,” Rondeau said.
The size of the issue was apparent given the presence of Chris Jarnot, the chief operating officer and executive vice president of Vail Mountain. Jarnot made no public comments, and left soon after the discussion. Vail Resorts is likely to have a larger presence at the Aug. 16 meeting.
“Vail Resorts will absolutely be part of this discussion,” council member Greg Moffet said.
Mayor Dave Chapin also assured Rondeau that public comment will be a big part of any proposal to increase the lift tax.
Council members also asked staff to work on a proposal for a property tax increase to create a permanent housing fund. That idea is a big part of a comprehensive housing plan now in the works.
If that tax proposal is sent to voters and approved, the measure will likely have a provision for full-time town residents to receive rebates on the increase.
Vail Town Attorney Matt Mire said state law doesn’t allow residents to be exempted from a property tax levy. The law does allow rebates, he said.
Outside the meeting room, Rondeau said he’s looking forward to the Aug. 16 meeting. He has questions, and a lot of them.
“Will we get enough information before the vote?” Rondeau said, adding that, in his view, the idea of tax increases for parking and housing are premature.
“We’re putting the cart before the horse,” he said. “We need to have an image of what we want to do and put a price tag on it.”
Rondeau said he believes the town should have a special meeting about the increases.
Another longtime resident, Bob Armour, said he thinks there could be enough positive public sentiment to pass one or both of the proposals.
Armour noted that several tax-increase proposals passed during special district elections in May of this year. In particular, the Eagle River Fire Protection District and the Gypsum Fire Protection District both asked for, and received, voter approval for property tax increases.
“People seem willing to pay more,” Armour said.
How much more people are willing to pay is a very big question. Vail resident Jim Lamont noted that Eagle County is likely to ask voters for a pair of .3 percent sales tax increases, one for housing and one to fund early childhood programs. Lamont also noted that the Eagle County School District is likely to ask voters for a pair of property tax increases, one for building repairs and renovations and one for general operating revenue including teacher pay.
“People don’t see the effects of those things until two months after they pass,” Lamont said, adding that renters are also often taken by surprise when landlords raise rents in response to tax increases.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.