What to do with the money?
It’s odds and ends time again. So here goes. As you are aware by now, the conference center went down in flames in the November election. And I for one am grateful we dodged that bullet.As of Jan. 1, the half-cent sales tax is no longer being collected nor is the 1.5 cent lodging tax. A total of $10.5 million was collected with $2.5 million spent on research, planning, design, engineering and financing. An additional $300,000 went toward management fees. But that still leaves the town with $7.7 million in the kitty. So now the question looms as to what to do with the collected funds.The most basic of alternatives is pretty simple: return the money or decide to spend it on another project. While returning the funds might seem like a nightmare, there are actually some fairly uncomplicated methods for doing so. But at the end of the day, there is no overwhelming motivation on the part of the elected officials or town staff to go that route. So spending the money on something is the apparent choice. Just what that something might be is where speculation lies. And thus begins the next step.No matter what options make the list, ultimately it will come to a vote, most probably in November. Since the voters originally put the conference center and its financing to a vote, only another vote can change the use of those fundsBut what will that use be? The list is endless if you take a poll on the street and ranges from fire station to swimming pool, affordable housing, recreation center, golf course clubhouse to a parking garage. Yet none of those items have anything to do with the original intent for the taxes were approved, which was to provide a tourist draw and generate increased tax collections.And that’s the direction this council is leaning toward. Something that will achieve that goal. The discussion is just now beginning so it is important to weigh in at the beginning of the process rather than waiting until the last minute.Next. How about I give you a scenario and you draw your own conclusions. Let’s say you are in business with someone for 20-plus years. Let’s add that this partner comes up against a legal issue that you are now asked to sit in judgment of. What do you think the odds are that you could render an impartial decision? What do you guess? Slim or none? You might wonder why I ask. Well I’ll tell you. That’s exactly the position that the mayor was placed in at the Feb. 7 town council meeting. And in my opinion, when asked to make a choice, he made the wrong one.According to the rules for recusal in the town of Vail, it is only required when the decision you are about to make will have a financial ramification for you personally. If it is determined that you will have no financial consequences as a result of the action taken, you must vote. Unless. And there’s only one exception. If you feel it is impossible for you to render an unbiased opinion, you can step aside.So the mayor was asked if he had any financial interest in the outcome of the Design and Review Board appeal that the Town Council was about to consider. The answer was no. He was then asked if he felt he could make an unbiased decision on the issue considering that the applicant is his long standing partner, Mr. Frampton. Without a moment’s hesitation, the answer was yes. Actually, several people in the back of the room laughed. Others simply said, “Yeah, right!”I might sound like a broken record, but that’s an accusation I will gladly deal with. Because when it’s all said and done, I will always think that even the appearance of impropriety should be avoided when you are an elected official. And who’s kidding who? Even if the mayor could have reached an unbiased decision on the appeal, no one believed it. So I guess I’ll continue to be amazed when someone is willing to put their integrity up for debate when clearly there is a viable, legal and morally acceptable way out.The good news was that the final outcome did not hang on his vote. The appeal lost 5-2, with Slifer and Logan on the losing side, along with Mr. Frampton.And how about this: Have you heard about the Great Colorado Payback program? The state holds $300 million in its lost-and-found account in addition to jewelry, stamp collections, firearms, family heirlooms and of all things, drugs. Generally anything that will fit in a safety deposit box (the treasurer receives $2,000 a year), checking and savings accounts (the most common source), utility deposits and paychecks, just to name a few. Essentially it boils down to all unclaimed property in the state. And because space is limited, eventually properties are sold and cash is held in its place.Last year alone, 13,000 claims were processed. It’s as easy as searching for your name and presenting appropriate identification to file a claim. Who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky and find an unclaimed property that’s been sitting and waiting to be retrieved. The treasurer currently has a list of 500,000 names of individuals and businesses, and 6,000 of those are in Eagle County.To see if you might have a forgotten stash sitting at the Treasurer’s Office, check at http://www.treasurer.state.co.us/payback. Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail email@example.com. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Columnists” or search for keyword “ferry.” Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily. Vail, Colorado