Vail Valley Voices: Chasing health and wellness as economic boosters
Vail, CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the Vail Homeowners Association monthly report in April. We plan to publish weekly excerpts from the association, which keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside the town. The newsletter electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at http://www.vailhomeowners.com.
The Vail Town Council is setting its “priorities agenda” for the next year and a half. The central driver for its economic development strategy, with a nod to other possible marketing initiatives, is a demographically induced reinvention of the community’s long-standing health and wellness trade. Also included on the agenda is more spending on parking, mass transit and affordable housing. There is to be an emphasis on more environmental regulation aimed at energy conservation and waste management.
Millions of dollars in capital projects are being attached to a proposal by Vail 360 proponents, including another run (the seventh or eighth) at a 1,000-seat “conference center.”
Incorporated under the health and wellness umbrella is the discussion of potential public subsidies and incentives to reinforce the value-added importance of Vail Valley Medical Center. Also in the mix are expenditures for Vail Recreation
District recreational programs and facilities, some aimed at team sports and the feminine side of the “echo” generation.
Balancing the budget is the council’s lead priority. Operational costs are outstripping available revenues. Shrinking the size of government, reducing benefits and staff, though voiced by some, has not gained traction. Realigning “capital project expenditures” is under way and ongoing.
The town’s traditional revenue sources of sales and real estate taxes will not rebound to pre-recession levels any time soon, according to informed sources. What, then, can be used to fund an aggressive stimulus package to sustain operations and capital investment?
Cash to spend: The town has reserves and special funds accumulated during the boom years. Town administrators say that the town should not be hoarding cash. It is there, they say, to be spent on the public’s needs and wants.
Therein lies their desire to spend down the town cash reserves of roughly $50 million to less than $20 million. Proposals include spending $9.3 million that is sitting in the conference-center fund and exercising
a $4.3 million letter of credit from Vail Resorts to be used to create
more parking. The town could spend, without voter approval, another $22 million in Lionshead,if it chose to bond against existing tax increment financing revenues.
Tax increases being considered: The town’s property tax bond indebtedness is fully paid off in 2012. The bonds were approved by the voters primarily to build the Vail Village and Lionshead parking structures.
There are those in the town looking to go to the Vail voters for new projects so that they can retain that portion of the property tax mill levy that is expiring. Other jurisdictions are considering similar tax increases. Eagle County is discussing property tax increase elections to fund its transportation system.
Town debt-free with unfulfilled needs: If no new debt is incurred, after 2012 the town is virtually debt-free, with the exception of bank financing for the $10 million to $11 million that remains of the Timber Ridge affordable-housing indebtedness – if Phase 1 of the redevelopment proceeds.
Some see the need for the town to make major new investments in improving the landscape aesthetics of the Timber Ridge redevelopment and provisions for the safety of its tenants.
They also see a need for the town to recognize that it cannot realistically meet its goal of housing 30 percent of its employees in town. They also must invest in affordable housing elsewhere in the Vail Valley. That train, they say, has long ago left the station.
There are others also seeking public funding – for example, those wanting the town to purchase the former Colorado Mountain College Learning Center in Cascade Village and others who want the Simba Run underpass built.
Spending down the reserves, then what?: With the rate of the town’s traditional sources of income in doubt, as some see it, the temptation to spend down reserves without financial projections for a solid return on investment from any of the proposals becomes a recipe for risky business.
As a standard guideline in evaluating any proposal, good governance requires proof of performance before, not after, throwing government support behind a particular proposal.
There are those with heavy economic lifting power that remain to be convinced that even with a demographic makeover, the town’s health and wellness initiative is worth a sizable investment in major new facilities. They say health and wellness will continue to be a steady producer, but not a silver bullet.
Self-induced circular chasing: Critics are disgruntled with what they characterize as the town’s seemingly self-induced circular chasing of parking and conference centers.
They say parking is for the private sector to build on private property. As an incentive to the private sector, build no more public parking, keep raising the public parking rates, remove parking from the frontage roads, and give favorable parking rates to Vail residents, shoppers, full-time employees and property owners.
If the Town Council wants to invest public funds, then provide what people are asking for – a grocery store, which would allow Vail Village and Lionshead to return to their roots of being true pedestrian villages.