Voters reject housing tax
November 8, 2016
EAGLE COUNTY — Voters Tuesday decisively defeated a sales tax increase proposal that would have helped pay for workforce housing projects.
In returns reported at 10:20 p.m., Ballot Issue 1A was losing with 63 percent of the votes going against the measure.
"It was pretty resounding," Vail Valley Partnership CEO and president Chris Romer said. The partnership, the valley-wide chamber of commerce, led the campaign for the tax proposal.
Ballot Issue 1A would have imposed countywide 0.3 percent sales tax increase. A sales tax is being used successfully in Summit County and other mountain resort counties. The tax was projected to generate roughly $5 million in its first year.
“What 2016 has shown us is that voters are willing to pay for the essentials of what government does. It’s an uphill battle for things where there’s a more real debate about what the right role of government is.”Chris RomerCEO and president, Vail Valley Partnership
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Tax supporters said the money generated would go toward a variety of projects including a down-payment assistance fund, land purchases, and various partnerships with both local towns and private developers to build both for-sale and rental units for full-time residents.
The Eagle County commissioners put the proposal on the fall ballot, citing a housing assessment that indicates the county is short 4,500 units to meet current demand.
In addition to the shortage, supporters also pointed to an increasing gap in the difference between the area median income and the median price of a home in the county. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median income in the county is $73,000 per household. The median home price in 2015 was $575,000.
Since 2011, median income has risen 4 percent, while median home prices have risen 35 percent.
The affordability problem for sales has been exacerbated on the rental side with the rise of vacation rental services including AirBnB. As more condo and apartment owners switch their units' use to vacation rentals, there are fewer units available for long-term rentals.
While the commissioners put the issue on the ballot, the Vail Valley Partnership took the lead role in campaigning for the measure.
Hitting A Ceiling
Since the partnership is a local chamber, and workforce housing is seen as part of that group's mission, it didn't need to report campaign expenses.
Reached Tuesday evening, Romer said the vote on the ballot issue shows that voters may have hit a ceiling in approving tax increases.
County voters in local fire and ambulance districts in May passed property tax hikes to improve service in those districts. A pair of tax hikes for Eagle County Schools were winning in early returns Tuesday.
"What 2016 has shown us is that voters are willing to pay for the essentials of what government does," Romer said. "It's an uphill battle for things where there's a more real debate about what the right role of government is."
That said, there's little doubt that housing is a significant problem in Eagle County. In a telephone poll earlier this year, 95 percent of respondents said workforce housing is a problem in the area. In the 2016 Eagle County Workforce Survey of business owners, 69 percent of respondents said housing is a problem.
While there's little doubt about the question, it's obvious that 1B wasn't the answer.
So now what?
"We really need to continue to find a business-friendly solution," Romer said. "We need to find ways to work on this — we need to find a way to get to 'yes.' We need to work with landowners, developers and other people to find a solution."
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.