Vail ponders same tax hike OK’d in ’02
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – Town of Vail voters approved a 1.5 percent lodging tax and 0.5 percent sales tax increase about 10 years ago, but would they do it again?
The taxes approved 10 years ago were specifically collected with the intent of building a conference center in town. Well, voters later decided they didn’t want to build that conference center, and the tax collections ceased. The town and voters finally agreed on a way to spend the money, which was collected from 2002 to 2005, in November – with upgrades and renovations at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail Golf Course clubhouse and Ford Park recreation fields – and the process begs the question of whether voters would want to go through it again.
The town of Vail approved a voter poll on Tuesday for $15,000. The poll will try to gauge whether voters would reinstate that same tax increase again, but this time, it would go into a fund for special events.
Mia Vlaar, who is heading up what is now known as the Athletics, Culture and Events Independent Funding Initiative (ACE), told the town the funding source created from the tax increase could help “build and enhance the Vail community and generate economic growth and vitality.”
The town of Vail currently funds special events to the tune of about $2 million per year. Each year, the town’s Commission on Special Events board receives more and more requests for funding, however, and ends up having to whittle away at the contributions from some events while simply turning down others.
While every event producer that comes to the town asking for money doesn’t necessarily present an offer the town can’t refuse, some events sound promising and turning such events down is hard to do.
There would be three tiers of funding under ACE, Vlaar said. The first tier would use 50 percent of the funds for nonprofit and regionally or nationally recognized events, such as Bravo! or the Vail International Dance Festival. Tier 1 events would be “built by solid organizations over a longer period, and the customer base also includes a significant portion of destination guests.”
Tier 2 would be so-called proven events, such as Vail America Days or the Vail Film Festival. Tier 2 would use 30 percent of the funds and would offer the best in athletics, culture and events, Vlaar said.
Tier 3 would use 15 percent of the funds for growing events – events that have the potential to one day become Tier 1 or Tier 2 events.
And 5 percent of the fund would be available each year to offset town of Vail expenses associated with the growing events, she said.
If voters did approve the increase, it would generate about $4.2 million per year at current revenues – twice the amount the town currently spends on events and a fact that didn’t sit well with Mayor Andy Daly.
Daly asked why Vail, a town that is “already far outspending our mountain resort competitors,” would need to spend even more on events.
Vlaar said it’s about growing events and targeting specific events that could bring revenue into the town.
“We believe we could do a lot more to bring guests in,” Vlaar said.
When Councilman Greg Moffet asked about support from the lodging community, Vlaar said it’s there, including support from Antlers at Vail General Manager Rob Levine and Sonnenalp Hotel Owner Johannes Faessler.
Levine remembers the conference center tax increase, which he said never affected his business. He also noticed no effects on his business when the tax collection ceased.
“There’s a proven track record (that the tax increase) didn’t affect us,” Levine said. “… I am supportive. We’re never happy about a lodging tax in general, just philosophically, but this one’s worth it, I guess – it’s a good cause.”
Events are a good cause in Vail because they bring people to town – people who spend money in retail shops, restaurants and hotels.
“There’s been a general recognition that events have proven themselves over the past few years as we’ve ramped up the number of events,” Levine said. “And there are a lot of good events that don’t get funded.”
Bill Suarez, owner of Billy’s Island Grill, echoed Levine’s comments. He told the council last week that having more money to fund events seems like a good thing.
“I think it seems like every year we don’t fund a lot of events because we don’t have enough money,” Suarez said.
Levine supports the idea of ACE but also said he doesn’t think ACE should replace the money the town throws into the events pot. He would want the money to be incremental, he said.
“My support for the whole issue is premised on the idea that it will be incremental, not a replacement,” Levine said. “The point here is to have more, bigger, better events and grow our businesses and find other ways to pay for all the other things that are justifiably needed by the town.”
While the $15,000 the town plans to spend on the voter poll will provide some answers to whether ACE should move forward, there will likely be many more questions along the way.
Daly, for example, isn’t convinced that raising double the money the town currently spends for events is necessary. He said the town should consider lowering another tax, such as the mill levy, to make up the difference.
“I would think we should lower the mill levy because I don’t think we should be creating more money for the town to spend,” Daly said.
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.