Summit Daily editorial: Workforce housing tax 5A deserves your support
October 25, 2016
Every Thursday for the past five weeks, we've launched a new installment of our Housing Divided series, a multi-faceted exploration of the housing crisis in Summit County. Each week, we've been amazed at the complexity that continues to unfold on the topic everyone seems to be talking about.
These stories have been essays in the truest sense. Every week, we attempt to answer a question and then present what we find. Even when we go in with preconceived ideas, what we find continually surprises us.
Just take this quote on homelessness from Tamara Drangstveit, the executive director of the Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC): "It looks so different for so many different people up here. Some people say it's just ski resort kids, and I understand that perception. But the reality is that it legitimately affects working families."
We think we know what homelessness looks like, but this story challenged that.
As Summit Daily reporter Jack Queen wrote, homelessness in Summit County is a real threat for the people who are "one serious illness or blown cylinder away from financial ruin."
We've found throughout the course of the series that the housing crisis affects everyone, from working families to business owners to seasonal employees. Make no mistake — the problem is real.
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So many of us are engaged in efforts to address this issue, from people like Deborah Hage, who started the free community dinners at the Elks Lodge in Silverthorne, to the churches that offer up their facilities as a respite for the county's most vulnerable residents, to nonprofit groups like FIRC, which offers essential services to the area's underprivileged.
However, county and town officials have perhaps taken on the largest role in fixing our housing crisis. They've already spent tens of millions in taxpayer dollars on a host of housing projects, and they're far from done. According to a recent housing needs assessment, upwards of 1,700 new units must pop up by 2020 to keep up with the demand.
The timing of our Housing Divided series hasn't been coincidental. Summit is at an inflection point as a community — do we take bold action to address our most pressing issue, or punt and take our chances?
Summit's top officials are asking voters to approve ballot question 5A, which would create a new, non-regressive sales tax that could generate as much as $80 million over the next 10 years for workforce housing projects.
On one hand, the Summit Daily News strongly endorses 5A — it is a necessary step in creating a cohesive and durable community where residents can work, live and play.
On the other hand, this tax presents an unprecedented experiment that we have mixed feelings about. Few rural governments have ventured into the homebuilding industry on such a grand scale. For it to work, town and county officials have a long way to go to build a sense of trust with taxpayers. Officials must bring a new level of transparency and accountability to its housing efforts.
If you've read our recent coverage of the Summit Combined Housing Authority shake-up, you know that our leaders and elected officials have hit something of a rough patch, one that looks like it will end with a discrimination lawsuit.
One of the county's top housing officials, Jennifer Kermode, quit her job as executive director of the Housing Authority in protest over the way the group's board had treated her. The nature of the controversy fell into the she-said, they-said column, but a few troubling facts emerged: The board neglected to post public notice of at least one important meeting and failed to properly characterize the nature of an executive session, which are both violations of the state's open meetings laws.
The board claims that these were administrative oversights and not intentional maneuvers to avoid public scrutiny. We are willing to accept that explanation, but we aren't willing to brook future sloppiness when it comes to spending millions in taxpayer dollars, no matter the cause.
Ultimately, the Summit Daily urges you, the voter, to support 5A, but we also call on you to demand more open and accountable government. After all, you own it.
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