Ferry: Vail tax hike to fund housing has major flaw
In an attempt to clarify some of these ballot questions, it’s important to take a deeper look at the requests. An earlier column reviewed the insanity of approving the ability for our county commissioners to run for a third term. I would hope we have learned the value of term limits after seeing our federal government run amok while elected officials believe that they have career jobs. The old “once in, never out” is their motto so they can milk the system for a lifetime.
By the way, a lot of people think they work for free. Oh no. They currently make $104,567 a year with an increase scheduled for 2022. That might be their motivation, but it shouldn’t be ours.
So I imagine you can guess my advice on that. If I still lived in Chicago, I’d take the opportunity to vote no twice on that request.
Now onto the town of Vail. But first a disclosure: I am totally, 100%, unequivocally in favor of town-sponsored employee housing. No questions asked. It’s needed and that’s that.
Also, for you who don’t know my history, I have always supported such endeavors. In fact, because of all of the work I did pushing Middle Creek across the finish line, I was chosen by the developer to turn the first shovel of dirt at the groundbreaking ceremony (much to the chagrin of some of the elected officials).
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So now that that is out of the way, I have a real problem with the proposed ballot question asking for a half-cent sales tax increase dedicated to supporting employee housing. The tax is not the problem. The problem is one that I have fought over and over in the past but have never won. The only requirement in place for living in the new projects will be employment for 30 hours per week in Eagle County. Not Vail. Eagle County.
So what does that mean? If approved, revenue from the tax raised from us, our businesses and our guests — estimated at $4.3 million per year — would go to housing programs. So far, no problem. But those units — which I reiterate are desperately needed — can be rented to employees working in Avon or Eagle or Gypsum or … well, you get the picture.
So what good does that do for our local needs? Will that help the Vail restaurants who have closed for lunch for lack of help? What good does it do us if the guy flipping burgers is flipping them in Edwards? Or how about the emergency service workers that come all the way from Gypsum because our beds — bought and paid for by the town of Vail — are rented out to a bartender working in Avon? I know I don’t have to go on, but you get the picture.
So I argued this before the Vail Town Council when they were preparing the ballot language — no luck. I guess it must not be politically correct to prioritize Vail’s needs even if we’re paying for it. The response was “Kaye, we promise we’ll put Vail’s needs first.” I told them that was not good enough. It needs to be codified and even then they find ways around their promises. Used car salesmen have more credibility than politicians by a wide margin.
I was also told that some of the financing requirements would not allow such language. Well, to that I say BS. Any financing will be guaranteed by a dedicated tax. And I’d rather give up a small percentage on interest in order to insure that the beds we build will have our employees’ heads on the pillows each and every night.
I know the easy way out is to vote for this and hope for the best. But a bad bill will always be a bad bill and will always produce bad results. And this new tax will be collected for 30 years. That’s a long time to do something wrong.
And there’s no rush. There are no plans yet. Nothing is hanging on this being passed this November. The first project on the books is set to start construction soon and doesn’t depend on these funds. That money is being taken out of the general fund and it’s in place already.
So we can vote on this next year when we finally get it right. Remember, if it’s wrong, it’s wrong for 30 years while we float the boat for employees who do not work in Vail. That’s just plain crazy. Unless, of course, you want to believe the politicians. And that’s even crazier.
Kaye Ferry is the chair of the Eagle County Republicans.