Vail Valley Voices: More needs to be done
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –No one wants to increase taxes dur-ing a recession. However, as a town, we in Vail, Colorado are faced not only with the imme-diate negative effects of the world around us but the fact that we need to “reposition” Vail in the minds of our customers and broaden our econom-ic base beyond high-end outdoor sports and recreation. This will cost money, and with the town’s budg-et under pressure, it is unrealistic to think we can fund this ini-tiative through existing sources.
An increase from 1.4 percent to 4.5 percent in the lodging tax could potentially increase tax revenues from $1.7 million to $5.5 million. If so, the allocation for the Vail Local Marketing District could rise from $1.7 million to $3.4 million, and the Commission on Special Events budget could jump from $800,000 to $1.6 million – both double – and the town would still have another $500,000 to $1 million for other economic stimulus efforts currently paid for from the General Operating Fund.
Is this a tough decision? Absolutely! Is it radical? Perhaps. But, again, the bigger risk is to be timid in the face of the challenge at hand. Repositioning the Vail brand in the new value-con-scious world will test our resourceful-ness, and the hope that we can adjust to whatever this new reality is without pain, unfortunately, is probably naive. To put this tax increase in perspec-tive, currently the average room rate in winter is $364, so the tax would rise from $5 to $16. In the summer, the average rate is $142, and thus the tax would be $6, up from $2.
Would this increase result in lower demand? Frankly, we don’t know, but actual experience suggests that potential visitors do not ask about tax-es, only room rates. Moreover, we can-not think of a less painful way to raise funds that will be essential to market Vail as a value destination.
Stimulate residential building
The Avon Town Council’s recent proposal to waive 100 percent of zon-ing, design-review and minor-project building-permit fees and offer a 10 percent discount for larger projects is a good one. The Vail council should consider a similar program – or come up with something else that gives residents or small-business owners an incentive to begin to reinvest.
This is an embarrassing subject. After raising the money over several years, we spent two years studying the feasibility of the conference-center project before presenting the proposal to the Vail voters, who turned it down. Now it has been another three years, and we still have not moved forward seriously with any project (which must again be approved by the voters).
The most promising idea that seems to be attracting a consensus is the “health/wellness initiative,” which in principle seeks to broaden the town’s economic base. While still in the form-ative stages, we urge the new council to take a proactive role in defining this initiative.
Given the fact that the Vail Valley Medical Center and the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic already have estab-lished a strong platform in the med-ical- services sector, it seems natural that the town should coordinate its plan with their own expansion needs. The Steadman-Hawkins partnership has one of the few truly world-class franchises that can be leveraged in a broader effort because of its close asso-ciation with Vail. The medical center, the second-largest employer in Vail, recently has reiterated its desire to stay in Vail but needs to expand and upgrade its facil-ities. Its board, under the strong lead-ership of its chairman, Ron Davis, is committed to executing this strategic plan but needs financial help.
The new council should consider appointing a Health and Wellness Strategic Initiative Committee, perhaps similar to the aforementioned Confer-ence Center Committee of several years ago, and charge it with the responsibil-ity of developing a definitive plan for voter approval in the first half of 2010. A committee consisting of council mem-bers, medical-center board members, Steadman-Hawkins group partners and several lodging-community executives should be formed immediately. Let’s dedicate ourselves to a real action plan and not just a continuation of unstruc-tured dialogue.
These are demanding times. Our hats are off to all residents willing to serve the town when tough decisions are now the norm. We congratulate the current mayor and council for “step-ping up to the plate” last fall and cut-ting the budget while increasing mar-keting dollars at the same time. Those actions have enabled Vail to stay ahead of this recessionary curve. However, more needs to be done, and quickly.
While we have presented ideas that we think may be helpful, undoubted-ly there are others that could be equal-ly as important. Our goal is that this “white paper” will stimulate real dis-cussion that will culminate in real action – however tough the decisions may be.
We also hope that this will stimulate qualified residents to step up and run for the council. In particular, candi-dates with a strong business back-ground are clearly needed given the challenges we are faced with over the next four years. Our sincere thanks to this existing council, and good luck to the new 2010 council.
The members of Vail Citizens for Action are Harry Frampton, Alan Kosloff, John Gorsuch, Johannes Faessler, Kent Logan, Rob Ford, Beth Slifer, Mark Ristow and Axel Wilhelmsen.