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Vail Resorts reports a rough spring, summer optimism

Like just about every other person and entity, Vail Resorts has had a tough spring.

Vail Resorts on Thursday afternoon released its earnings report for the third quarter of its fiscal year, February through the end of April. That’s usually the company’s most profitable quarter, but operations were short-circuited by the worldwide outbreak of the COVID-19 virus and the March 15 shutdown of all Vail Resorts’ North American resorts.

The company took a 47.8% decline in net income during the quarter compared to the previous year. Total net revenue declined 27.5%.

In a statement, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz said that the decline in third-quarter revenue began in the first two weeks of March, stating that, “We experienced a negative change in performance that we believe was due to the impact of COVID-19 on traveler behavior.”

The statement adds that the company actually expected a steeper drop in net revenue. The statement notes that the company expected a third-quarter decline of between $180 million and $200 million in resort reported EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes depreciation and amortization). Results weren’t that bad, to the tune of about $40 million, the report states.

While Vail Resorts suffered a bad quarter, Katz said he’s optimistic about the future in a Thursday earnings call.

Katz noted that the resorts expect to be open for summer operations and the Australian ski season by late June or early July.

‘Tremendous passion’

And, speaking to analysts on the conference call, Katz said there are indicators of a “tremendous passion and enthusiasm to get back.”

For now, though, Katz said the company is counting in large part on drive-up visitation.

“Consumer sentiment seems to be the shorter the distance the better,” Katz said.

Katz added that the company believes it can see good results from future pass sales. An April 27 announcement offered credits for a 2020-21 pass to those who bought passes for the 2019-20 season. Those credits can be up to 80% for season pass holders who didn’t use their passes this past season.

The company also introduced Epic Coverage to replace third-party pass insurance.

Katz told analysts that while the travel and recreation industry, in general, is in a “constantly moving environment,” Vail Resorts is focused on the guest experience in an era of social distancing.

Katz noted that Vail Resorts’ operations in general put people outside on large mountains. But, he added, the company is paying attention to “pinch points” including lifts and restaurants.

Analyst Sean Kelley of Bank of America asked Katz about the company moving its pass-sale deadlines.

What about passes?

Katz noted that the company does a “huge percentage” of business based on deadlines. While it’s too early to see trends, Katz reiterated his optimism that skier and riders want to ski and ride.

“Anecdotally, we’re getting good response from many passholders,” Katz said. “People understand this is a tough moment.”

And, while there may be fewer people on the mountains this winter, Katz said those who do come can expect “the full mountain experience.”

That mountain experience starts this summer at the company’s resorts in Australia. Katz said the experience at those resorts will help the company plan for winter in North America.

Analyst Chris Waronka of Deutsche Bank asked how the current labor and housing environment might affect the company’s operations this winter.

Katz acknowledged that there could be “eased pressure” on local labor and housing markets, which could present a “small opportunity” for the company.

“We’ll use this (opportunity) to make sure we stay out ahead,” Katz said. “We probably will have an easier time fully staffing.”

That staffing will include the company’s hourly full-time employees, all of whom were furloughed shortly after the March 15 resort shutdown.

“We have a goal of getting those employees back to work,” he said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.

WATCH: Black Lives Matter rally attracts hundreds in Vail

VAIL — On Saturday, a demonstration against police brutality in the U.S. was held with a single person. The next day, 50 or more people had joined.

On Wednesday, nearly 500 people participated in a Black Lives Matter event in Vail Village.

Local law enforcement also participated in the event, taking a knee in silence to recognize George Floyd, who died May 25 after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes while arresting Floyd for suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill.

“We as the law enforcement community were shocked and appalled by the treatment of Mr. Floyd. It goes against all our training,” said Sheriff James van Beek in an interview Wednesday morning. “All of us view what happened as a criminal act. It was gross negligence at the very least.”

With national outrage over the incident spreading to the Vail Valley, van Beek said local law enforcement wants to capitalize on the long-standing relationships officers forged with community members.

“We felt that we have worked very hard in this valley, as law enforcement, with community residents to really build bridges,” he said. “This incident really makes us all realize we haven’t come as far as we think we have. We need to continue to work.”

Organizer Carrie Unthank said she is very grateful for Eagle County law enforcement.

“We haven’t had issues with discrimination, and therefore I find it really important to stand with them for this cause, maintain that standard of accountability and mutual respect between us, and be an example,” she said.

Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger said he can’t recall a protest or demonstration in Vail that has attracted as many people as Wednesday’s.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s great to see everybody out here being peaceful and respectful.”

Henninger said the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, brought the issue to light for him.

“As I tell our officers and have been telling them since Ferguson, the way we build trust is one contact at a time,” Henninger said Wednesday. “Each time we have an opportunity to talk with a citizen, no matter what color they are, or sexual orientation or anything, that’s our opportunity to build trust, and let people know that we’re different from maybe what their standard, typical idea of what a police officer is about.”

Sheriff van Beek and Eagle Police Chief Joe Stauffer took a knee to mourn Floyd during a moment of silence.

Vail local Zach Varon, who was the lone protester on Saturday, said as much as the event was an effort to bring attention to a cause, it was also a time for mourning. Varon said while Wednesday’s demonstration attracted hundreds of people, the cause it sought to draw attention to — ending police brutality — is not a cause or a premise that’s accepted by all.

“If everybody believed in our cause, we wouldn’t need to be here,” Varon said. “We’re here for a cause, and this is not a happy cause. This is a time for mourning and a time for doing our best to get through a difficult situation.”

Former DA candidate calls out Heidi McCollum for falsely playing ‘first female’ card

The race for district attorney in Colorado’s 5th Judicial District has created the first dust-up of this local campaign season.

Democrats Heidi McCollum and Braden Angel are vying for their party’s nomination. In a campaign email that was associated with a women’s DA candidate forum, McCollum claimed to be the first woman to run for District Attorney in Colorado’s Fifth Judicial District. She’s not, said Sanam Mehrnia, a Summit County woman who ran as an independent in 2016.

Mehrnia called McCollum’s claim “false” and “grossly insulting” in a letter to the editor that was sent to the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily News.

McCollum apologized for her campaign piece’s “lack of clarity.” She said it referred to her participation in a panel of five Democratic women running for District Attorney’s offices across Colorado.

“I am the first woman to be nominated by the Democratic Party in the Fifth Judicial District making it onto the primary ballot for District Attorney,” McCollum said in a statement. “While Ms. Mehrnia ran as an unaffiliated and did, in fact, petition onto the ballot, we’ve still never had a Democratic woman be able to say the same — until now.”

Angel, McCollum’s Democratic primary opponent, said it’s a matter of integrity.

“I believe that honesty and integrity are of utmost importance in a District Attorney,” Angel said in a statement. “In the current political climate, it is imperative that the community is able to trust and rely upon their elected officials.”

Mehrnia said, “as a female it is insulting for Ms. McCollum to falsely play the “first female card.”

“Heidi McCollum’s boss and direct supervisor, Bruce Brown, was my opponent in 2016 and thus she has actual knowledge that her statement is untrue,” Mehrnia wrote in her letter in which she also voiced her support for Angel. “Ms. McCollum either decided to purposefully ignore/discount my presence and falsely take credit for my achievement or as the result of incompetence, forgot. Either of these possibilities demonstrates that she is not competent to be District Attorney.”

McCollum thanked Mehrnia for speaking up and said women are needed in politics now more than ever in mountain communities and across Colorado to promote the advancement of science, protect the environment and natural resources, support a woman’s right to choose, support marriage equality, and criminal justice reform for rehabilitation before incarceration, and accountability of law enforcement.

“With events over the past week throughout our nation stemming from the murder of George Floyd, we all need to practice speaking up when we see or hear an injustice, no matter how small. Thank you Ms. Mehrnia for speaking up when you saw something that you thought was wrong,” McCollum said.

As Spring Creek Village prepares for new residents, demand for affordable housing in the valley persists

GYPSUM — One of the surest signs that Eagle County is moving beyond a reality totally defined by COVID-19 is visible on the eastern end of Gypsum.

Spring Creek Village is rising from the ground, a project planned to address the lack of local workforce housing — one of the valley’s top issues in the days before a worldwide pandemic took over the news cycle.

Spring Creek Village is a project from Polar Star Properties that features 282 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments in 12 large buildings located at the former Stratton Flats property in Gypsum. The first phase of the complex was built this winter and includes 150 income-restricted apartments contained in five buildings.

The construction project has had its share of challenges, noted Gerry Flynn of Polar Star Properties. In February, the Boise, Idaho-based manufacturer of the modular units — each weighing around 43,000 pounds— launched 120 separate shipments that comprised Phase I of Spring Creek Village. Those modular units were assembled on-site to create the five buildings that are now standing. But weather conditions affected many of those shipments.

“Then just about the time the weather started getting nice, we got COVID-19,” Flynn said. “From a construction standpoint, the impacts from COVID-19 probably delayed us about three weeks.”

While construction was deemed an essential job during Colorado’s Stay At Home order, the pandemic meant crews had to follow strict protocols that included social distancing measures. And while the buildings were going up, reservation requests dried up, at least temporarily.

“There was a time there when nobody was thinking about renting a new place,” Flynn noted. “But I think the demand for affordable housing will be larger on the other side of this crisis than what it was before we knew what COVID -19 was.”

Qualifying tenants

Flynn said activity at the Spring Creek Village leasing office, located in a temporary trailer stationed on the west edge of the construction site, has picked up considerably over the past couple of weeks.

“We will have 150 units ready to rent in the next three months. We are about 40% of the way there,” Flynn said.

Flynn said the first Spring Creek Village tenants should begin moving in by mid-July, if not sooner. Right now, leasing office personnel are helping prospective tenants find out if they qualify for residency. All 150 units in Phase I are income-restricted.

“A lot of people are coming in and they know what they need to qualify … but inevitably, they are under-reporting their income,” Flynn said.

Residents of Phase I of Spring Creek Village cannot earn more than 60% of the average median income. For a one-person household, the maximum annual salary would be up to $42,000. For a six-person household, the limit is $69,500.

“When you get into the larger household sizes, it is hard to qualify for these units because you have more wage earners,” Flynn said. “Because it is hard to qualify once you have more than two wage earners in a unit, I think we will see more families out there.”

Rent prices at Spring Creek Village Phase I are:

  • One-bedroom — $1,057
  • Two-bedroom — $1,261
  • Three-bedroom — $1,448

Those prices include water, sewer and trash service. Flynn said garage and storage units will be available on-site for an additional fee.

Phase II

Flynn said construction of Phase II, which will include three identical buildings and two slightly different structures, will be completed in 2021. The 132 remaining apartments will be market-driven units and Flynn noted the leasing office is keeping a list of prospective tenants — people who couldn’t qualify for income restrictions but who are still interested in living at Spring Creek Village.

Elsewhere on the site, builder Rick Patriacca has partnered with Polar Star Properties — the business owned by Flynn and his partner Jeff Spanel — to construct 15 single-family homes immediately adjacent to the existing Stratton Flats neighborhood. Patriacca has also signed on to build 40 townhomes at the site. Habitat for Humanity will also be building at Spring Creek Village at some time in the future. Habitat has purchased 36 homesites in the area.

As the first phase of apartments comes on line, Flynn added that many of the amenities planned at Spring Creek Village soon will be completed. The residents’ clubhouse is currently under construction and Flynn said the soccer field and other recreation options will be available by the end of the summer.

Flynn cited the efforts of the Eagle County Housing Authority, local lender 1stBank and the town of Gypsum for their help in shepherding Spring Creek Village through a troubled national time.

The leasing office for Spring Creek Village can be reached at 970-855-2233 or at springcreekgypsum.com.

Vail Valley streamflows may peak in the next few days

A just-about-average snow year in Vail is melting quickly into local streams.

Streamflows are running significantly higher than normal right now, and could peak this week. That’s bad news for water supplied later in the summer. But there are encouraging signs for local businesses that use those streams.

At Timberline Tours, owner Greg Kelchner said he’s been somewhat surprised that the company has had trips booked every day recently. Those parties are small — usually just four or six people. But, Kelchner said, that’s more business than he expected just a month ago.

Kelchner founded Timberline Tours in 1970. He’s familiar with wet years, dry years and every kind of season in between. The company has over the years acquired permits for streams all over the northern and central mountains.

Right now, the Eagle River from about Wolcott to Eagle is “great,” Kelchner said.

The flows are “high, but not too high,” he added.

Adapting to conditions

Runoff season usually isn’t great for fishing, but those companies also know how to adapt.

At Minturn Anglers, Nick Keogh said that company is leading trips every day. Given current flows, guides taking fishing enthusiasts to higher elevation streams, lakes or the tailwaters where dams empty into rivers.

Again, a company has to be ready for what comes.

Kelchner said the best way to judge the state of runoff isn’t so much by looking at data from various gage stations, but looking at the water.

Streams running with a lot of sediment are virtually opaque. That water means runoff from high elevation snow is “fully engaged,” Kelchner said. When the river is running high but more clear, runoff season is nearly finished.

At this point, runoff season seems just about at its peak.

Diane Johnson of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District said she expects the peak to come this week, or soon after. The weather forecast for Vail this week calls for warm temperatures and little chance of precipitation.

Snowpack fading fast

The winter just past had virtually-average snowpack at Vail. Snowpack at Copper Mountain and Fremont Pass, the closest measurement sites to the headwaters of Gore Creek and the Eagle River, respectively, snowpack was significantly above average. But all three sites are melting quickly.

At Vail, the measurement site is melted off, about a week sooner than average. The Copper Mountain site should be melted off by early June, a couple of days later than normal. The Fremont Pass site, the highest-elevation site among the three, should be melted off by mid-June, a few days earlier than normal.

All that adds up to what could be a dry summer, Johnson said.

The district has already ramped up its messaging to customers about outdoor water use. That use takes the most water from streams, since virtually all inside use makes it back into the Eagle River.

Johnson said the district’s message to users is constant in wet years and dry: Use water efficiently.

“We live in a semi-arid place, with landscapes that are reflective of where we live,” Johnson said.

Johnson added that she’s received more calls about water bills than usual this spring — perhaps a result of people spending more time at home.

The district has tools to help users with their water use, Johnson said. That could be important in the next few months.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.

One week into eased restrictions, Eagle County businesses feeling optimistic

Eagle County is one week into its blue phase of COVID-19 recovery. Depending on how the blue phase goes, the county may move on to the black diamond phase before July 1, according to local health officials.

Common themes among local business owners during the blue phase include “staying vigilant” and taking it “day-by-day.” Added health measures are being taken and businesses are slowly moving toward some form of normalcy while still maintaining guidelines set forth by community leaders and health officials.

The great outdoors

Outdoor, recreational businesses are seeing more customers and raising their sanitation efforts to help customers feel safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19 through the community.

Zip Adventures of Vail in Wolcott has been operating tours for locals since May 15. The company has also been donating tours to local frontline workers and emergency personnel.

“We’re just trying to get them out and give them some relief,” owner Matt Seatvet said.

With the blue phase, Zip Adventures has been able to work with outside guests, using “every safety precaution possible,” Seatvet said.

Operations are outside, where social distancing is possible, and Zip Adventures is welcoming families and expecting an influx in out-of-state visitors.

“People are coming — it’s 110 degrees in Texas,” Seatvet said.

At Vail Valley Anglers in Edwards, business is getting busier every day, said Emily Dmohowski. When the blue phase started, the local fishing company could start its outfitting business, offering guided trips. Dmohowski said the shop is expecting an uptick in out-of-state residents later in the summer.

“I think people are just excited to get outside,” she said, adding a lot of first-timers are coming in. “We’re seeing a huge uptick in people who never touched a fly rod coming in.”

Vail Valley Anglers offers guided trips and tips for beginners and has been in the valley for over 25 years.

“We’re seeing a lot more people wanting to try the sport,” Dmohowski said, adding that “fishing’s been pretty good” lately in Eagle County.

Local golf courses are open. Among the protocols are cleaning golf carts after each use, no pulling the pin and the addition of foam pool noodles in the hole to make it safer to retrieve the ball. Tee times have been filling up quickly.

Kind Bikes in Edwards is continuing its curbside service into the blue phase, despite being allowed to have in-store service. Owner Chris Anderson said it’s too difficult to control sanitation inside the shop with people touching things, and the curbside allows the shop to handle more customers since inside would require extra distancing measures.

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“Bikes were the new toilet paper six weeks ago,” he said of the business his shop has seen. “Bike shops are very, very fortunate. We don’t go a day without being grateful for the business that we have.”

Everybody loves tacos

Another thankful business is Rocky Mountain Taco, having opened its brick-and-mortar location in Minturn at an inopportune time as coronavirus hit.

“It’s actually doing OK,” co-owner Dan Purtell said. “It’s not what we’d hoped for initially, but no one’s doing the business that they would normally be doing. I think we just got really lucky we landed in Minturn because the town’s completely embraced us.”

Rocky Mountain Taco also has truck locations in EagleVail and Avon. Like many businesses, the down time due to COVID-19 was used toward ramping up a new menu, cleaning and other operations to prepare. Purtell said it’s not fun wearing a mask over a 450-degree grill for hours.

“We’re being vigilant,” he said, a sentiment shared at most businesses across the valley. “It’s not about you. We’re doing this for everyone.”

While national media was filled with crowded beaches and other non-social-distancing events, businesses in Eagle County are taking the re-opening of the community very seriously.

“Things are looking up,” Dmohowski said.

Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

Vail Mountain School gives seniors a unique send-off

At its core, a graduation ceremony is a celebration of accomplishment and a chance to share good wishes for the future.

Vail Mountain School on Saturday honored its 30-member class of 2020 with those core elements in a ceremony unique in the school’s history.

This wasn’t a graduation as such, but a “conferring of diplomas.” Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, graduates and families stayed in cars in the parking lot. Speakers came to the outdoor podium one by one, each taking a disinfectant wipe to clean the podium and microphone for the next speaker.

Each address was met with horn-honking worthy of a tailgate party or drive-in theater. Of course, tailgate parties and drive-ins don’t often feature classical music before and after the main event.

After brief addresses by Head of School Michael Imperi and several students in the class, students and parents walked one family at a time to the cabin on the north side of the school’s athletic field. There, a small table held the diplomas. Students turned their tassels, rang the vintage railroad bell on the cabin’s porch, then strolled back to their cars.

Starting and finishing

Also at the table was a vase holding 30 yellow roses. Those roses are usually presented to seniors by members of the school’s kindergarten class.

In her address, Isabella Tonazzi said the bond between the seniors and the kindergarteners is one of the important things about having all grades in the same school.

“As their eyes look up to us, they show us how fun the little things can be and to take life less seriously sometimes,” Tonazzi said, adding that as the school year went on, some seniors found role models in their younger buddies.

This year’s class included seven students who had spent their entire academic career at Vail Mountain School. In her address, “13er” Charlotte Parker talked about the ways parts of her classmates’ kindergarten personalities persisted throughout their time at the school.

“I have loved going through each year with our little original group to welcome all the new additions that we have gotten over the years who add so much to our grade and our community,” Parker said. “I can’t wait to see where my other 13ers end up.”

Onto the next chapter

Part of the core of graduation is the bittersweet realization that it’s now time for a new chapter in life.

For this year’s seniors, that new chapter started in March, when the school building closed. Studies shifted to homes, and the social element of school ended with almost no warning.

Nico O’Connell’s address reflected on a surpassingly strange end to the school year.

The day the closure announcement was made, seniors were “crying left and right,” O’Connell said.

“Senior year has really changed the dynamic of our class,” O’Connell said. “It united us even with all of our cliques and wild personalities.”

After the diplomas were conferred and tassels turned, a caravan of cars, many decorated and most drivers honking joyfully, left the parking lot and drove this year’s seniors off into their next great adventures.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.

Vail, Eagle County return to in-person public meetings

After several virtual meetings, the Vail Town Council next week returns to the council chambers in town hall. But that meeting will be different, and more sparse.

Thanks to social distancing requirements, attendance in the meeting room will be limited to the seven council members and no more than nine people at a time in the meeting room. That’s going to limit participation largely to applicants and town staff.

“There’s enough space for those obligated to be there,” Vail Town Manager Scott Robson said.

Residents and others who want to provide in-person comments will be asked to line up in the hallway outside the room — properly socially distanced, of course. A live video feed of the meeting will be provided there.

In the room, Plexiglas dividers are placed between council members, so they don’t have to wear face coverings throughout several hours of meetings. The podium to address the council and its microphone will be wiped down after each person speaks. Staff members who may be called on for questions will watch the live stream from outside the meeting room and come in if needed.

For those who can’t attend the meetings, meetings will continue to be streamed on both Zoom and on High Five Access Media. People can also submit comments via email.

Vail Town Manager Scott Robson said staff this week conducted a successful exercise to make sure all the essential technology works as it should.

While the council is getting back together, Robson said the distancing requirements are likely to remain for the foreseeable future.

“It’s just going to be a necessity,” Robson said.

Controversial matters can draw dozens of people to the room. And the council has delayed a couple of matters to ensure they can hear in-person input on those issues.

The Eagle County Commissioners hold their meetings in a much larger room in the county administration building in Eagle. That room has seen crowds in the hundreds for controversial matters.

With social distancing requirements, people will be required to email their intent to come to a meeting. Attendance will be limited to about 36 people, plus staff and applicants.

In a Thursday on-line press session, Commissioner Matt Scherr said one of the goals of the new in-person meeting rules is to provide an “equal opportunity” for comment. If those asking to attend a meeting exceeds the allowable capacity, Scherr said public attendance will be shut down and people will be asked to submit comments via email.

Scherr said “it’s a big deal” for the board to get back to the idea of public participation.

Vail Town Council member Jen Mason agreed. Mason said she’s “grateful” that the Zoom streaming technology has been available for meetings.

“But being in person is so much better,” Mason added. “You can have more discussions.”

Mason said she’s happy to be going back to in-person meetings, although she’s a bit nervous about safety.

“I’m happy we can engage the public again,” she said. “They’ll know their voice is being heard.”

And the current technology, like everything else about the past few months, is subject to adjustment as needed.

Robson said the idea behind the in-person meetings is to find a balance between being more open to the public and public health orders and safety requirements.

“That’s why we’re creating multiple platforms,” Robson said. “We’ll adjust things for the June 16 meeting as necessary.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.

Eagle County launches COVID-19 budget trimming discussions

As Eagle County businesses and residents begin their transition from COVID-19 lockdown, county officials know the full financial ramifications of the virus have yet to hit.

But when they do, local officials expect a wallop.

While it is too early to tie down actual numbers, this week the Eagle County Commissioners began talking about priorities. Or, rather, they began talking about how they will determine priorities.

“We are on strong financial footing. We can weather this storm. But we will have to make some hard decisions in 2021 and 2022,” said Eagle County Finance Director Jill Klosterman during a discussion with the commissioners.

Right now, the county has more than $30 million in its general fund reserves. The commissioners dipped into those reserves earlier this spring to fund two resident assistance programs. Reserves can also be used to balance the county budget if expenditures outpace revenues, but that’s not a sustainable solution and it could leave the county in a precarious position if another emergency arises.

The alternative, naturally, is to reduce spending. But the county wants to be thoughtful about how it cuts back.

“Cutting with a scalpel instead of a hatchet is the intent,” Klosterman said.

Morale and integrity

As the county embarks on its budget priorities discussions, personnel decisions will be one of the touchiest subjects. At the same time, it is a subject that’s hard to avoid. As Klosterman noted, 45% of the county’s operating budget goes to salaries and benefits. 

“We want to allow for natural attrition to lead the cuts,” Klosterman said.

Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll supported Klosterman’s proposed surgical approach to budget cuts, noting that it has taken years for the county to recover from the early retirement and reductions in force that followed the economic downturn in 2008.

“That doesn’t mean we won’t lose folks,” Shroll noted. “But we want to recognize how powerful our organization is and be careful with that integrity.”

The county will begin formulating its post COVID-19 budget priorities in early June during a special retreat. The tentative date for the work session is Monday, June 8.

Key strategies

Even before the retreat begins, the county knows it has some key budget responsibilities including the delivery of core and essential services. But defining what makes a service “core and essential” is another task county leaders will grapple with. 

“We won’t have the luxury of doing core and essential services and some other things,” said Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry.

But while the county is busy talking about what to cut from the budget, there may still be some discussion about what to add. Specifically, Commissioner Matt Scherr noted the COVID-19 experience has demonstrated the need to diversify the county’s tourism economy.

“I don’t think we want to recover this economy. We want a different economy over time,” said Scherr. “The landscape has totally shifted and this could be our opportunity, now, to figure out how we can begin to address that.”

Eagle County Special Projects Manager Abby Dallmann noted that post-COVID-19 planning won’t be resolved in a single retreat. It will take years to adapt to the impact, she noted. 

“But we can conclusively say that Eagle County government, as an organization, has been pretty adaptable and responsive to change,” Dallmann said.

With that in mind, Dallmann said determining long-term spending priorities is the first step in the county’s new adaptability challenge.

And as they head into the discussion, county officials know it will be a tough exercise.

“This is a much more pleasant exercise when there are excess funds,” Chandler-Henry said.

Michael Bennet visits Eagle County to discuss and witness local COVID-19 response

EDWARDS — Eagle County’s COVID-19 experiences and subsequent responses brought Sen. Michael Bennet to the valley Thursday.

The senator said what he had heard about Eagle County’s collaborative response to the pandemic convinced him to visit the area. Once he got here, he also witnessed the cooperative efforts by community groups dedicated to feeding residents during the pandemic.

The trip also gave him a chance to present his plan to help address the national economic crisis.

“Eagle County got hit earlier than elsewhere in the state and in the country as a whole,” Bennet said. Once it was forced by circumstances to become a pioneer of the COVID-19 response, the county had to develop a collaborative approach to testing, treatement and safety measures. Now that the initial COVID-19 impact has passed, Bennet noted the county is forging the reopening path.

During a morning meeting, Bennet heard from various community health, business and government leaders who detailed the county’s COVID-19 response efforts. He then ventured out into the community to see the local COVID-19 outreach in action at The Community Market.

As the senator arrived, the doors opened for the Thursday market session at Edwards Plaza. The market is open from 1 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the space leased by My Future Pathways.

“We are seeing deep food insecurity in the state of Colorado and across the United States of America,” Bennet said. “All over Colorado, people are relying on food pantries like this one, people who have never had to use them before.”

Food insecurity

The numbers compiled by The Community Market support Bennet’s assertion. According to Kelly Liken, director of the program, The Community Market has seen a 375% increase in use since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are feeding 3,800 people a week now and we have not seen that level off,” Liken said. “We are very proud to be a no-barrier organization. There are no qualifiers to use our service.”

The Community Market welcomes anyone who can benefit from the pantry program and accepts donations from local grocery stores and restaurants. Additionally, the program has partnered with local restaurants to supplement its inventory with pre-prepared meals. Liken noted the market pays local businesses $8 per serving for these meals — basically a break-even price for the participating restaurants but a sum that helps them keep their staff members employed. The idea is to help both food shoppers and suppliers, Liken said.

“We are so dependent here in the valley on the hospitality industry and the hospitality industry is so dependent on service workers,” she said. “Our customer here is typically a local worker in the service industry and most of them have families and are struggling to make ends meet.”

Federal assistance

While programs such as The Community Market are providing vital services during this national time of need, Bennet said the federal government must also to step up to help citizens.

“The most important thing we can do for families and for farmers and ranchers is to increase the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefit,” said Bennet. “That is the most efficient way to get families benfits.”

It’s also the focus of his most recent legislation.

Bennet’s website details his proposal.

 “My plan expands food assistance and eliminates barriers to accessing that necessary assistance when the economy is deteriorating like it is today, and increases access permanently across the nation,” Bennet said. “As the harmful impact of this pandemic on our economy continues, we must act urgently to provide nutritional assistance to our nation’s most vulnerable families, and particularly our children. We should never allow the kind of severe hardship we are seeing in America today, with our food banks strained to a breaking point as families wait in line for hours on end just to be able to eat.” 

Bennet’s proposal includes two primary tenets:

  • Increasing the maximum SNAP benefit by 15%, providing additional funding for the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, and eliminating work requirements during recessions. This includes through the end of the COVID-19 public health crisis and thereafter, until the unemployment rate declines near to where it was before the crisis began.
  • Ensuring the use of broad-based categorical eligibility so that more vulnerable families can access SNAP benefits, even outside of a crisis. 

Additionally, Bennet’s proposal includes an automatic stabilization framework versus a hard deadline. That means the people who have qualified for assistance wouldn’t automatically be cut off from benefits after a specific time. Instead, the benefits continue as outside forces demand and then expire when the need lessens.

His bill is called the “Food for Families in Crisis Act of 2020. A detailed description of the plan is available HERE. Draft legislative text is available HERE.