Eagle-Vail Metro chair: We need a broad community dialogue about funding (column)
February 21, 2018
From some of the letters to the editor and digital outlets of opinion, you might think Eagle-Vail's government is being run by callous, non-caring individuals intent only on driving the community into bankruptcy as quickly as possible.
In my capacity as chairman of the Eagle-Vail Metropolitan District Board, I have to say quite the opposite is true. Eagle-Vail is a special place to live, and we want to keep it that way.
Are there challenges that the district is facing? Yes — both financial and political. Like many largely property tax-supported districts, Eagle-Vail has seen its revenues constrained by state spending and taxing limits (TABOR and Gallagher amendments) while expenses continue to grow.
It's not unique to this district. Property tax-dependent districts all across the state are facing similar limits, and it's a trend that will continue.
Eagle-Vail has a wealth of community assets: numerous parks, a par-3 and an 18-hole golf course that doubles as a Nordic area in winter, tennis and pickleball courts, a swimming pool, a pavilion, trails and athletic fields. Compared to other communities, it's hard to top. That's what makes it such a desirable place to call home. Maintaining the value of these community facilities requires continued investment.
To paraphrase one metro board member, it's tough to maintain community facilities when revenues are dropping and expenses continue to increase. In short, the district needs to find a solution. The metro board is exploring charging a sales tax on retail sales and short-term rentals in the community. At present, the district does not charge a sales tax.
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Like most sales taxes in the eastern end of Eagle County, the majority of the tax — by some estimates as much as 60 percent — will come from visitors to Eagle County.
Such a tax could provide new revenue that would stretch the funding for the district by applying it to some of the existing expenses. A 1 percent sales tax, it has been estimated, could create as much as $230,000 annually. Initial discussions with the business community show support for such a tax.
The Metro District board has made clear that none of the potential funding will be used for a chairlift to Beaver Creek or for salaries or benefits.
But we need to make sure you — the residents of Eagle-Vail — approve. We have been conducting telephone and email surveys using a third party. The information the surveys collect is helping provide the metro board members with detailed data about community sentiment to decide about placing the sales tax issue on the ballot in May.
The sales tax concept being explored is not a full solution to resolving the funding issue the district faces, but it's a small step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the money raised by a sales tax cannot be broadly applied to all district expenses because a state law restricts metro districts to spending sales tax only on streets, safety and transportation projects.
Besides providing more revenue, this proposal also provides more time to work on a longer-term solution for our community.
While some in the community want to cut spending and management, others prefer a more measured, prudent, patient and sustainable approach. There are good elements contained in both of these approaches.
We need a sincere community conversation, without emotion and rhetoric, aimed at finding a solution that works for the community. Dialogue needs to replace disagreement, respect replace insults and collaboration replace conflict.
It seems obvious to me that the words of Benjamin Franklin apply here: "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."
I'd love to hear what you think. I promise I'll always listen.
You may not all agree with all of the decisions we reach, but at the end of the day, we will still be neighbors who enjoy living in Eagle-Vail, and we need to always remember that and keep the dialogue going.
Chuck Toms is chairman of the Eagle-Vail Metropolitan District Board.
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