Vail gives up lift tax proposal; town, resort company pledge closer cooperation
What they did
The Vail Town Council Tuesday voted 6-1, with Dick Cleveland opposed, to not ask for a spot on the November ballot. That effectively killed an idea to ask voters to double the town’s lift tax.
VAIL — Chris Jarnot’s remarks were succinct: “You got our attention.” Jarnot’s comments Tuesday helped derail — for now— a proposal to ask town voters to double the town’s lift ticket tax.
A few weeks ago, council member Dick Cleveland asked the rest of the board to consider doubling the lift ticket tax — which generated about $4.7 million in 2015 — in order to pay for more parking.
Cleveland has several times called parking in Vail a “crisis,” something that affects the quality of life for both residents and guests. Cleveland has laid the bulk of responsibility for that crisis at the feet of Vail Resorts.
Speaking to the council, Jarnot, Vail Mountain’s chief operating officer, said that simply isn’t so. He provided numbers of days when full lots at the Vail Village and Lionshead parking structures led to overflow parking along the town’s frontage roads. Those overflow days have varied widely since 2007. The peak was 46 winter days in the 2007-08 season, with a low of seven days in the 2013-14 season, increasing to 27 in 2015-16.
But, Jarnot said, Vail Mountain’s skier days weren’t significantly different in those seasons.
Similarly, Jarnot said the company’s summer numbers don’t reflect this summer’s congestion at the Lionshead structure. Jarnot said the company is happy with first-season business for its on-mountain summer programs — known as Epic Discovery — but summer riders on the Lionshead gondola are roughly equivalent with the summer of 2015.
That said, Jarnot acknowledged that the company and town haven’t been communicating well in the past 18 months or so.
‘We won’t wait’
“We won’t wait for a call to get together in the future,” Jarnot said, adding that if the council would back off the idea for an increased lift tax, the company would be willing to work with town officials and the public to plan long-term solutions for parking and housing.
Residents addressing the council also urged the council to take a longer-term view of the relationship with the company and town.
Former Mayor Andy Daly is also a former company president of Vail Resorts. Daly told the council it would be “irresponsible” for the tax proposal to move ahead in a matter of weeks without thorough public review.
“It is a rush to judgment,” Daly said.
Susie Tjossem is another former council member. She’s also the director of the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum in Vail, and has been an executive at Vail and other ski resorts.
Tjossem also said she didn’t want the town “rushing” into a decision and advised the council to consider the idea of charging for parking in the summer. The museum is located in the Vail Village parking structure, and Tjossem said she sees the impact of free parking, saying that structure’s business roughly doubles during free periods.
“It seems we’d want to study our summer, and see if it’s our policy” that leads to congestion in the summer, Tjossem said.
It soon became apparent there was little appetite for going forward with the mechanics of the tax proposal.
Even Cleveland said that the proposal should have revenue dedicated to parking and housing. And, he added, it’s time to take action.
“We can’t continue to study and talk about parking and housing,” Cleveland said. “It’s time to take concrete steps.”
More study, more action?
Other council members said the town’s relationship with Vail Resorts is too important to move forward with a quickly developed tax proposal.
Council member Jen Mason said the town needs to bring in Vail Valley Medical Center, business owners and government agencies to talk about parking plans for development proposals.
“Parking and housing are problems, and we need to solve them,” Mason said. “We can’t do it alone. We need to work together.”
Council member Kim Langmaid grew up in Vail and has seen the town and resort company go through ups and downs in that relationship. But, she said, Vail needs to be a model for working with Vail Resorts.
But council member Greg Moffet said the town/resort company relationship isn’t as rosy as it was a decade ago, saying that Vail Resorts at one time “engaged in gratuitous acts of corporate responsibility.” The company needs to make more of those gestures, he said.
While some council members have recently groused about the town/resort company relationship, Mayor Dave Chapin said blame goes both ways.
“I take responsibility as well,” Chapin said. “I haven’t been communicating (with Vail Resorts) either. We’re going to change that.”
Chapin vowed to meet regularly with Jarnot and other company officials.
But, he added, “talk is cheap without deadlines, goals and action plans. If deadlines aren’t met, there’s another election soon. Maybe (the tax) will be more than doubled then.”
Company officials say every aspect of Vail management is now focused on attaining the company’s goal of achieving a zero net operating footprint by 2030. Vail Resorts calls the plan their “Commitment to Zero,” and defines it a zero net carbon emissions by 2030, zero waste to landfills, and zero operating impact on forests and natural habitat.