Building tax wins narrowly in Vail | AspenTimes.com

Building tax wins narrowly in Vail

Lauren Glendenning
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

VAIL ” Construction in Vail just got a little more expensive.

Voters narrowly approved a 4 percent tax on construction materials Tuesday in a 479-446 vote, allowing the town to pursue $25.8 million in “capital” projects over the next five years.

“I’m pleased that the voters realized the importance of this revenue source,” Vail’s Bob Armour said. “It will go a long way in keeping Vail the premier community that it is.”

Some voters think the local government could have found other ways to raise the money.

“I think it’s double taxation; I don’t like it,” voter Jerry Sibley said.

When asked about a possible alternative to the tax, he said, “politicians don’t have a problem raising money.”

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The tax applies toward building materials used in Vail, like steel, concrete and bricks. Mayor Rod Slifer supports the tax, calling it a “very important” investment into Vail’s future. The town has invested a lot of money into a lot of projects, and part of the price you pay is to maintain those investments, he said.

“The capital expenditures that are facing the town over the next several years are pretty daunting,” he said. “If we don’t pay for it now, it’s just going to cost a whole lot more later.”

Dave Hilb, who voted in Tuesday’s election, said the tax would be applied toward things that would benefit the entire community, so he opposed it since only those builders would be paying the price.

“It’s more broad, for streets and bridges and things,” he said. “I think it should be a property tax increase.”

Those who supported the tax pointed toward towns like Eagle and Gypsum that already impose a construction use tax. John Fee, a Vail voter, said those towns benefit from it, so “why shouldn’t Vail?”

“I think it’s a good thing,” Fee said. “If it keeps the free buses running, I’m all for it.”

Jen Brown, a Vail Mountain spokeswoman, issued the following comment: “We look forward to working with the new Town Council, town staff and the Vail community to determine what infrastructure needs there are for the town of Vail and how this new source of revenue will be used to solve those issues.”

The “capital” budget includes putting cobblestone in Vail Village, repaving streets around town, fixing bridges, buying affordable housing and fixing up town-owned buildings. It also includes paying off debt on outstanding bonds.

Non-“priority” projects, and their estimated costs, that could be helped by the tax include:

– Money to reduce noise on Interstate 70. The town is considering walls that would reduce the noise of the freeway, which runs through the middle of Vail ($1.25 million over five years).

– The aging Town Hall, built in the early ’70s, needs a new heating and ventilation system ($2.4 million).

– Money for renovations to the Creekside employee housing in West Vail. New plumbing, roofing and electrical work are needed ($850,500).

– A new bus station for Lionshead. It could largely be paid for by federal grants and developers ($7 million).

– Upgrades to the frontage roads near Vail Village, Lionshead and Ford Park, including new medians, turn lanes and roundabouts. Much of this will be paid for by developers. Some of the cost, though, will be footed by the town.

Several voters who supported the tax still want to see more details worked out for private homeowners looking to remodel or add onto their homes. Ed and Susan Abramson both said they don’t want the tax to inhibit people from making home improvements, but the couple does support the tax for commercial construction.

“I’m for it now, but I thought it could have been more reasonable for property owners,” said voter Dan Ryan. “But it needs to get done.”

Brian Gillette, a local builder, said the town definitely needed a tax increase, but he also questions the way in which it was sought. He’s happy there’s an answer to funding the projects now, though.

“Everyone in town is going to benefit from these taxes, so everyone in town should pay their share,” he said. “I just felt it was the wrong vehicle.”

One voter, who didn’t give her name, said the tax isn’t necessary because there isn’t even a budget deficit to worry about. “It’s a wish list,” she said, talking about the proposed “capital” projects that account for the so-called $25.8 million shortfall.

Slifer said it isn’t a wish list at all. He said putting things off would only result in higher costs down the road ” something Vail cannot afford.

“If your own home needed a new roof, you’d put a new roof on it,” Slifer said. “You wouldn’t wait for it to start leaking.