Taxing questions for rec board

Kaye Ferry
December 7, 2004

I've put his one on hold for a while, but the time has come to discuss the Vail Recreation District.

To begin with, I think we need to look at their two ballot initiatives that failed in the November elections.

And then I'd like to explore some philosophical differences.

Question 5A specifically asked for $915,953 "for general operating purposes" that included" capital improvement and equipment replacement"; "creation of a positive cash flow"; "funding of intergovernmental commitments for gymnastics," etc.; fund "implementation of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements."

Didn't we in May approve an increase in taxes for the purpose of "paying off the debt service on a $3.4 million bond for Dobson repairs and renovations"? That tax generates roughly $280,000 per year for a debt I might add that many think resulted from irresponsible management. Yet to give them breathing room from a bad decision made by a previous board, that issue got the nod.

While all of that money goes directly to the debt reduction, common sense tells us that the money the VRD previously funneled to the banks should now be available for other uses. So essentially, they should have an extra $280,000 at their disposal now, which is really a swing of $560,000.

Question 5B proposed increasing VRD debt by $6 million, with a repayment cost of $14.5 million. This necessitated an increase in district taxes of $700,000 annually for the purpose of providing capital improvements to facilities that included the golf course clubhouse/Nordic center, two bridges, snow grooming equipment and ADA requirements.

At this point, I'm not sure where to start. With regard to 5A, I guess I'd have to agree with Don Rogers' statement that it's "not hard to balance budgets on the backs of tax increases." I'd also wonder why the VRD committed to a gymnastics center before they had the funds in place to pay for it.

Then there's 5B. At least for the purpose of debate, let's assume that this request was valid. Was it not at least just a little arrogant to think that the Vail community could be asked to support such a project when nobody bothered to include them in the process?

Even private developers go waaaay out of their way to include the public when they're proposing a major project even though they'll be using private funds. How is it possible that the VRD board thought they could come up with this idea in a vacuum and ask the rest of us to pay for it? Would it not have been more prudent to hold some public meetings to explain the rationale, to say nothing of to explore concepts and designs?

There's a part of the electorate, for example, that would have rallied in support if a community pool had been included. But nobody knew what was planned. And in this day and age, if you want the public's support, you have to actively solicit it and explain yourself.

But remember. I indicated that I was willing to consider the validity of such a request for the purpose of debate only. Because in reality, I personally question something more basic.

That means we have to back up a minute. Because what is at the root of it all is that the VRD only leases the land on which they were proposing capital improvements to the tune of $6 million. Now, maybe that would not be a huge problem were it not for the fact that the lease expires in 2012.

So let's see a show of hands. How many business people out there would take on that kind of debt with an eight-year lease? Particularly, when the current political climate between the VRD and the Vail Town Council puts the extension of that lease in a very questionable context?

I know what I think. The VRD is in no position to take that kind of risk. And perhaps that's what the voters said. At the same time, I don't think the VRD's relationship with the town is based on their owning any facilities. They are empowered to manage the recreation in the town of Vail with property taxes and the generation of the revenues produced by recreation.

As for ADA, the town owns the buildings and they should bring them in to compliance. If the VRD gets a very long lease, then it's negotiable.

Did I say lease? Here's another idea. If the town is committed to recreation and wants to have a positive proactive role with the VRD, they could choose to forgo the very healthy amount they charge the VRD to lease the golf course.

That would change things considerably, both operationally and financially. In many ways, I've never understood it anyway. Because what it means is the citizens pay twice. Once for the lease through our property taxes and again in the form of a golf pass. Just a thought.

In any case, what needs to happen next is a laying down of arms. The contentious relationship that exists between the Ttown and VRD doesn't help anyone. And while there are comments thrown around about "getting rid" of the VRD, we need to remember why they were voted in to existence in the first place. The community did not trust the way the town managed its recreation facilities. Which means that only a vote of the people can dissolve it, something I don't think is very likely at this time.

As long as the town and VRD are partners, whether they like it or not, they need to work together. Once and for all, they should create a document outlining who's on first and how they plan to get to second. And the community should be involved. Or we all lose.

Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, vaildaily.com-columnists or search:ferry.

Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily.