Eagle County eyes seeking sales tax hike for affordable housing | AspenTimes.com

Eagle County eyes seeking sales tax hike for affordable housing

The Eagle County commissioners intend to put questions on the November ballot seeking voter approval for sales tax increases to fund affordable housing and early-childhood development, two commissioners said on a recent trip to the Roaring Fork Valley.

Commission Chairwoman Jeanne McQueeney and Commissioner Jill Ryan said they will craft specific ballot language this summer along with fellow board member Kathy Chandler-Henry.

Eagle County will commit to spending some of the funds in the Roaring Fork Valley, the two commissioners said following a meeting in El Jebel.

El Jebel and a portion of Basalt are in Eagle County, as are parts of Missouri Heights, Fryingpan Valley and Emma. County officials estimate about a quarter of the county's overall population is in the Roaring Fork Valley. The ballot issues would face a tough time getting approved if Roaring Fork Valley residents didn't feel it would benefit their neck of the woods.

The commissioners favor seeking the tax hike approvals after a poll showed 74 percent of residents said finding an affordable place to live in Eagle County is a "big problem" and another 21 percent said it is "somewhat of a problem."

When asked how much of a problem families face finding child care and early-childhood education, 42 percent of respondents said it was a "big problem," while 28 percent said it was "somewhat of a problem," the results showed.

A consultant for the county polled 500 residents identified as likely to vote in the November general election.

Sales tax hike supported

The majority of respondents were willing to put their money where their mouth is on affordable housing. The poll showed 64 percent "would approve a "three-tenths of a cent sales tax increase to fund residential housing."

McQueeney said that size of a tax would raise an estimated $4.5 million annually.

Eagle County Manager Brent McFall said specific uses of revenue haven't been identified yet but will be before the election. It is likely that the county would use funds for land acquisition and infrastructure, then work with a private sector developer to get housing constructed, he said.

About 61 percent of respondents said they would approve a three-tenths of a percent sales tax hike for childcare and early-childhood education.

However, support fell to 55 percent when respondents were asked if they would support an unspecified sales tax to fund both housing and childcare.

"This drop in support is significant," said a report to the commissioners by polling firm Magellan Strategies. "It has been our experience that voters are less likely to approve sales tax increases where the funds are not specifically directed toward one project."

Magellan noted there was strong support — 64 percent — for a one-tenth of a cent sales tax increase for childcare. It would "make sense" to split the sales tax questions and ask for three-tenths for affordable housing and one-tenth for child care, the company report said.

Support in District 3

In county commission District 3, which includes the Roaring Fork Valley, poll respondents didn't see affordable housing as quite as big of a problem as residents in the other districts. In District 3, 68 percent said finding an affordable place to live in Eagle County was a "big problem" compared with 83 percent in District 1 and 71 percent in District 2.

Ryan said she knows that a lot of midvalley residents, who have established housing, are wary of approving a lot of development to add affordable housing. The board has heard in past hearings that workers want housing closer to where they are working, she noted. The county commissioners must find "balance" between the two positions, Ryan said.

District 3 residents felt that finding affordable child care and early-childhood education was a bigger problem than residents of other districts. It was viewed as a "big problem" by 52 percent of respondents from District 3 compared with 37 percent from District 1 and 38 percent in District 2.

McFall said the county will likely have a "good sense of direction" where it's going on the issues by early July. Ballot questions, if any, must be finalized by late August, he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com