Vail Daily editorial: A welcome slowdown
Here’s some good news:
Avon residents this week learned that enough petition signatures have been certified to force a special election about the Town Council’s decision earlier this fall to purchase The Skier Building near the town’s library and recreation center. Town officials want to spend a total of $5.7 million to buy the building and finish the interior of what’s now an empty shell.
We’ve thought this is a strange priority for the town since the deal was announced. Despite council members’ protestations that the deal was months in the making, town officials were able to keep the deal secret until the purchase contract was finished.
Then there’s the way town officials intend to pay for the project, with “certificates of participation.” Those certificates require an annual appropriation to pay down long-term debt. While legal and fairly common, certificates of participation are a clear dodge of the intent of Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights. That state constitutional amendment restricts state and local governments’ ability to sign long-term financial agreements. It also requires an election to take on the kind of debt usually needed to build new facilities.
Again, certificates of participation are fairly common. Eagle County a few years ago issued certificates to expand the county jail — a once-essential project that became a boondoggle thanks to the Great Recession. The town of Gypsum took a similar route to build its current town hall (which, by the way, was built when the council held its public meetings in the common room of the town fire station).
What concerns us about Avon is the council’s willingness to commit future boards to spending for what look to be half-baked projects. Before some dollar-shuffling at town hall, certificates were intended to pay for the town’s new stage at Nottingham Park, a project that quickly and unexpectedly doubled in cost. The town plans to use the same scheme for The Skier Building.
The latter use of — let’s be frank — at least $5.7 million for that project seems borderline crazy, especially since The Skier Building’s location is along what town officials hope becomes a popular pedestrian area. Why would anyone put municipal offices in an area intended to be choice real estate?
Town voters earlier this month elected three Town Council candidates who told our editorial board that they support The Skier Building. And we’re leery of towns making land-use decisions by public referendum — which, in our view, fly in the face of representative government.
On the other hand, there are very good reasons the referendum process exists. One of those reasons is to ensure that representatives are really listening to the voters, and not council members or administrators suddenly afflicted with an edifice complex.
It will be interesting to see the town’s ultimate verdict on what we see as a decision based more on ego than good sense.