Eagle County assessing issues surrounding affordable housing, childhood development
Eagle County officials face a bigger task than simply deciding “yes” or “no” on placing a question on the November ballot for a sales tax for affordable housing and early-childhood development, according to Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan.
They must consider if the issues should be tied together or separate, Ryan said. If a question or questions go to the ballot, Eagle County also must present voters will a solid plan on how the revenue will be spent, she said.
A three-tenths-of-a-cent sales tax would raise an estimated $4.5 million annually, according to the county’s initial research.
Ryan serves with Jeannie McQueeney and Kathy Chandler-Henry. Ryan said the county commissioners and administration will spend July and part of August collecting information and “gauging the temperament of the community” before deciding on ballot issues. The commissioners have until Aug. 30 to determine whether to place a question or questions on the ballot, she said.
No decision yet
A formal decision hasn’t been made, Ryan stressed, though the three county commissioners are hearing from constituents that affordable housing and affordable child care are important and sorely lacking.
That also was evident from results of a survey that the county commissioned. It showed that 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.
Weigh tax issues on ballot
Another factor the commissioners must weigh is how many tax questions are headed to the ballot, according to Ryan. The Eagle Valley has a school district taxing question potentially headed to the ballot. In the Roaring Fork Valley portion of the county, Basalt might have a tax question on the ballot.
“You don’t want to inundate voters with tax questions,” Ryan said. It’s generally felt that when several tax questions are on the ballot, voters feel overwhelmed and are more likely to vote “no.”
The November election also will feature two county-commissioner races in Eagle County. Ryan and Chandler-Henry, both Democrats, are seeking re-election.
The county’s survey indicated voters were willing to back support of affordable housing and childhood development with their pocketbooks. The survey showed 64 percent “would approve a three-tenths-of-a-cent sales tax increase to fund residential housing.”
About 61 percent of respondents said they would approve a three-tenths-of-a-cent sales tax hike for child care 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 child care.
The findings are likely to figure into the commissioners’ decision to put one tax question on the ballot for a single cause, one question for a tax for both affordable housing and child care or separate questions for the causes.
Come up with a plan
If voter approval is sought for a sales tax, Ryan said the county must show how the funds would be spent and how the program or programs would be accountable. In an earlier interview, she said there must a commitment for spending some amount of housing and child care funds in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of the county, where about 25 percent of the population of the county lives, according to officials.
Ryan said she wants to see if there could be a regional approach to affordable housing.
As for accountability, she suggested the county might have to appoint an advisory board or boards to recommend how funds get spent — just as the open space board makes recommendations.
A comprehensive study on Eagle County’s early childhood programs and residents’ needs was completed recently and will be shared at the commissioners’ regular meeting in Eagle on Tuesday.
The report is available at http://www.eaglecounty.us. It is the result of a partnership between the Eagle County Department of Human Services and the Eagle County School District. The company that performed the study, Public Works LLC, will present its findings and make recommendations.
The presentation will be at 3:30 p.m. It will be aired live on ecotv18 and streamed live and archived online at http://www.ecotv18.com.
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