Candidates: can housing tax monies be used elsewhere?
EAGLE COUNTY — The four candidates this fall for two Eagle County commissioner seats recently sent email replies to a series of questions.
Today’s question: Can you guarantee that the county will never use voter-approved housing tax money for anything other than housing and the land under it? If so, how will that guarantee be enforced?
Michael Dunahay, Republican challenger in District 1, the eastern portion of the county.
A: If I am elected, I will be only one of three county commissioners who determine the use of the voter-approved housing tax money. I can personally guarantee that I will only use the money for housing and land acquisitions pursuant to the will of the voters.
B: If I am elected and either of or both of the other commissioners want to use the voter-approved housing tax money for something else, I would ask the county attorney and county manager to advise me on what steps can and would be taken to enforce the will of the voters.
Jill Ryan, Democratic incumbent in District 1.
Funds from 1A can unequivocally only be used for housing purposes. In placing 1A on the ballot, the board of county commissioners stated that its purpose was for “providing and improving the quality, availability and affordability of housing in Eagle County.” Therefore, legally, any revenues from 1A must be dedicated to such purposes.
The housing issue is so significant that all funds from 1A will be necessary to make a positive impact. While the county’s housing needs assessment indicates that 4,466 housing units are needed to house our workforce today, nearly 12,000 units will be needed by 2025. We don’t have enough housing stock, and what we do have is too expensive for the average wage earner to afford. Between 2012 and 2016, Eagle County’s median home sales price rose 35 percent, while the area median income only rose 4 percent.
The affordable-housing problem is significant, complex and needs addressing from many angles. The ballot language was carefully crafted to be robust and flexible, in order to create the greatest number of tools in the toolbox. Funding could go toward Miller Ranch-type neighborhoods, priced-capped rentals, unit buy downs with placement of a deed restriction, land banking for future projects, down-payment assistance and other private/public partnerships. Potential parcels and a governance structure have already been identified. Work could begin immediately if the tax passes.
Note: In answering this question, County Attorney Bryan Treu was consulted, and he provided some of the language used in the response.
• Kathy Chandler-Henry, Democratic incumbent in Commissioner District 2, which runs from roughly Eagle to Edwards.
I believe in safeguarding public money in all cases, in keeping strong reserves and in spending prudently. It was a difficult decision to determine which ballot issues should go forward for the community’s consideration this year. I believe 1A is well crafted and there are numerous safeguards in place to ensure that funds are spent only for the purpose for which they were approved.
Language in the ballot is legally binding by state statute, and the funds generated cannot be used for anything other than what is specifically approved by the voters. The ballot question asks voters to increase sales tax by 0.3 percent “to be used for housing purposes such as providing and improving the quality, availability and affordability of housing in Eagle County, providing down-payment assistance loans for home ownership, acquiring land for future housing units affordable to the workforce, investing in private/public partnerships for the provision of workforce and affordable housing, and related programs and services.” Any other use of funds is simply illegal.
A strategic plan for affordable housing created by the Housing and Development Authority, in conjunction with municipal representatives, outlines just what these uses mean. Down-payment assistance loans, for example, leverage dollars to make housing purchases and monthly payments more affordable to working families. Governing board representatives appointed by municipalities throughout the county will oversee the use of such funds, similar to how county transit funds are governed.
The sales tax expires in 20 years and can only be extended by another vote. Our Colorado constitution protects voters and guarantees specific uses of tax funds, and I am bound by oath and by conscience to protect the funds of Eagle County and the requirements of the ballot.
• Rick Beveridge, Republican challenger in District 2.
No one can guarantee that. For example, the ballot question currently allows funding of the down-payment assistance fund. I believe the down-payment assistance program is a good program and know that it has been successful helping families get into a home. Working together with lenders who serve on the down-payment assistance committee, I would create a budget and review current guidelines with the goal of making this a perpetual fund.
The housing tax starts in 2017 and runs for 20 years through 2036. During that time, our board of county commissioners can, and most certainly will, change every two to four years. Depending upon who is elected and what their motivation and interests are, the ballot question may allow too much flexibility. Obviously, over time, budgets, plans and priorities will change.
If I am elected, I can guarantee that my position and vote will address common sense actions and will lean towards public-private partnerships to multiply the effectiveness and decrease the burden on the taxpayers. I would also be creative in providing solutions to barriers that prevent private developers from succeeding in their efforts to bring workforce housing to fruition. Examples may include partnering in expensive deal-breakers like infrastructure and traffic solution requirements.
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