Blue River Board of Trustee candidates talk about preserving small-town charm, managing growth | SummitDaily.com
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Blue River Board of Trustee candidates talk about preserving small-town charm, managing growth

Do you support setting a local minimum wage?

It is undeniable that the minimum wage is clearly not a working livable wage, and the impacts of the needs of those living on a minimum wage are real. Although a noble endeavor, Blue River has no commercial interests but should encourage the ongoing effort to respect businesses’ rights and our working residents’ needs. 

— Joel Dixon

I definitely think there should be a suggested minimum wage so all employers, large and small, know what is just and fair. What is hard in this situation is that the local “mom and pop” businesses might not be able to afford a rate of pay that is suggested, and we certainly don’t want to cause a local small business to go under. I would support a suggested minimum wage and setting a local minimum wage for companies who employ 50 or more people. 

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— Kelly Finley

I do not support setting the minimum wage locally and think we should follow the state’s guidelines. I was following the various meetings with the county and also the county’s findings on this matter. I do not believe that I saw anything that supports a local minimum wage will have a great effect on our staffing needs in the county or solve the housing issues that we have in the county.

— Mark Fossett

For the most part, it appears that employers in Summit County honor the work of employees and that the current free-market system works. A government-imposed minimum wage would more likely demotivate employers to offer worker incentives to attract and keep employees. A government-imposed minimum wage would not be flexible when there are ups and downs in the overall job market. At the same time, employers who actively seek ways in addition to wages to compensate workers are more likely to retain employees. Examples of conditions or extras that keep workers for the long term include creating a trusting, team-based, positive and safe work environment with perks such as benefits, free parking, ski pass(es), cash bonuses, etc. 

One major area of concern accompanying the increase in year-round resort and tourist attractions is the exploding increase in the low-paid/low-skilled service industry, which is attracting workers who are mostly immigrants with little to no financial resources beyond the paycheck. This group of workers live in what many of us consider substandard living conditions. Let’s not take advantage of this group of workers; let’s make the free-market system work for all groups of employees. 

— Martie Semmer

Minimum wage really doesn’t apply to us in the town on Blue River, as we don’t have any physical businesses or storefronts at this time. In the future, should we have them, then it would certainly be something to look into and how it would affect us in the community.

— Tim West

Do you think short-term rentals should be taxed at a higher rate than residential homes? 

Yes, I think short-term rental units should pay more in taxes or licensing fees to help offset the additional costs we incur as a town enforcing various rules on short-term renters. Short-term rentals are a profitable business that many choose to do, and I believe in choosing so are running a business from their house and should be tax accordingly.

— Mark Fossett

This is hard to answer with a yes or no. There are people in this community who live here full time, are active members of the community and workforce and they rent out rooms to help supplement income because it is so hard to live here financially. I don’t think we should punish our local families with higher taxes, and I don’t know if we can differentiate between those people who are full-time residents and those who are not.

— Kelly Finley

A definite “yes” is specific to the town of Blue River. The skyrocketing increase in short-term rentals is eroding the town’s residential community and the natural mountain environment. Short-term rentals have resulted in problematic demands on local services and infrastructure. Short-term rentals have contributed significantly to increased law enforcement, sewer system, trash services and road maintenance. Town roads were not built for the additional number and frequency of vehicles, cleaning services before and after each rental, and additional big trucks and heavy equipment as a result of short-term rentals. Besides an increased tax rate, it is crucial to increase lodging tax registration fees. Increased taxes and fees should pay for the additional town costs. 

Short-term rentals’ increased taxes and fees cannot compensate for the resulting disregard for year-round human and wildlife residents as well as the town’s overall natural mountain environment. It’s important to put in place interim measures, i.e., a moratorium on all new short-term applications, a minimum stay of multiple nights, nontaxpayer subsidized incentives for property owners to rent long term, etc. During this interim, the town must develop a proactive policy plus a system of disseminating policy information.

 — Martie Semmer

Short-term rentals are already taxed at a higher rate than residential homes at this time. Since 2017, Blue River has only had an increase of 12 short-term rentals. By gathering information on short-term rentals and speaking with town staff, there hasn’t been any issue in collecting taxes or fees. If it were to become an issue, there are consequences in place for enforcement, such as fines, interest for late payments or even doubling permit fees. Short-term rentals are required to have a lodging tax registration, which is $200 and then $150 each year after. This fee is remitted directly to the town of Blue River. They are also taxed at 12.275% on top of the 7.15% property taxes they pay yearly. Of this 12.275%, 5.9% comes back directly to the town of Blue River.

— Tim West

I believe property taxes should be treated equally for all who own property and pay their taxes. In Blue River, we have a sales tax that is paid on each short-term rental transaction. We also have a fee when homeowners choose to put their home on the short-term rental market, which is charged annually for administrative purposes. I reject the concept of raising taxes to discourage people from doing what their property rights would otherwise allow. If it is agreed that the impact on our infrastructure and costs of monitoring and maintaining the quality of life our residents expect is impacted, raising the sales tax or fees would be a more appropriate method to consider. 

— Joel Dixon

What do you think needs to be done, if anything, to support the local workforce?

I believe Blue River has made significant strides in helping the local workforce, especially by advocating for the Summit Stage to operate through the town and then lobbying for full yearlong routes (it used to be seasonal). I think Blue River is on the right path and the board will continue to support our local workforce and community. 

— Kelly Finley

Supporting our residents in the town of Blue River, which mostly are made up of Summit County workforce, is of the upmost priority. How we can support our community better in the future should be an ongoing and evolving conversation. I would like to explore the possibility and see what the community thought about getting our own zip code and satellite post office. I would also like to look into future opportunities for a park-and-ride lot for easier commutes for our workforce. I know these growth opportunities are not available at this time, but hopefully we can look at them as possibilities for the future. These are ideas I have heard from members of our community, and I am interested in working with residents to ensure options like these would be beneficial to our town as a whole. 

— Tim West

It is essential that companies, especially large companies such as Vail Resorts, adequately pay wages and compensate workers who work skilled jobs as well as low-skilled jobs. I strongly advocate that large companies contribute more to their employees’ housing and affordable housing. At the same time, I am aware of long-term renters who have found housing on their own. It is not the public’s responsibility to subsidize housing, e.g., the current deed restrictions. Also, large companies should contribute more to public transportation costs. Safe and positive work environments plus benefits that include health insurance, ski passes, etc., allow for employees to live in Summit County.

Small-business owners may have more challenges in paying the same wages that larger companies pay. However, small-business owners who want to keep good employees will seek out other ways to compensate workers. A positive, trusting and safe work environment plus incentives such as free parking and/or cash bonuses go a long way to retain employees.

Even in good employer-employee situations, employee wages and compensation may fall short. I support public funding to fill in gaps, especially the extra costs of employee emergencies, unexpected long-term difficulties and hardships.  

—Martie Semmer

We need to continue to find ways to make Summit County more affordable to move to and live in. This is mainly relative to the housing markets and property value we have in the county. There are several newer programs that are in place, so we need to see how they work out. I believe we can also keep exploring other ideas and options and may need to look at similar counties around the country for some examples of what is working for them.

— Mark Fossett

I believe workforce housing is a perpetual problem for both employers and those who want to live and work in Summit County. Fortunately, Blue River still has homeowners who choose to rent their homes to the workforce either seasonal or year-lease terms. Blue River is home to many people who work in Summit County. The town is nearly built out, and I don’t sense an overwhelming desire among residents to initiate pursuing the endeavor.

— Joel Dixon

What do you think is the biggest problem facing your town today?

I think one of the biggest challenges we are facing is maintaining and promoting our sense of community as we see an increase in visitors and residents to our town and state. Our community is based on tourism and for the most part, Blue River is filled with Summit County workforce. I believe we can better assist with the relationship between full-time residents and visitors. I think we could better educate our visitors in short-term rentals to help them understand our community while on their vacation. Education about wildlife, trash collection, light pollution and parking are a few things I know could be better addressed for them. I think that the town trustees and Citizen Advisory Committee has done a great job to promote town-based community events and gatherings to help us spend time together. I believe that if we stand true to our mission statement — “The town of Blue River endeavors to nurture our serene mountain community by conserving our natural residential environment, promoting unity with our neighbors and surroundings, channeling the voice of our residents, and enhancing the quality of life for all” — we will be able stay ahead of issues that can and will impact our community. 

— Tim West

In the last several years, an exponential growth of residents and visitors to the town of Blue River is significantly changing the quality of life, including loss of wildlife habitat, increased traffic, increased recreation use, increased short-term rentals, long-term housing needs, increased use on town roads for which they were not designed, etc. There is an eroding of the town’s character, including the compromising of open space, wildlife habitat, healthy vegetation and forests, and clean air and water. 

The town of Blue River is at a crossroads. One fork in the road leads to continued undermining of the town’s serene mountain community via resort-oriented urbanization and exploitation without the guarantee of environmentally responsible safeguards to protect the town’s natural environment. The other fork leads to the protection and conservation of our rural community in a serene natural mountain setting. 

It is essential that the town take bold steps to plan, develop and implement proactive policies that promote best conservation practices integral to the management of lands with and without development. Best conservation practices will ensure the protection of the town’s open spaces including wildlife habitat that enhances the residential community of the town of Blue River for future generations. 

—Martie Semmer

I think the biggest issue facing Blue River is the growth we face while still wanting to maintain our small-town charm. We are no longer the sleepy little mountain town we were in the ’60s and ’70s, and we have to evolve while still incorporating and keeping all the things we love about our small town. To do that, we need to make smart and sustainable decisions to support our infrastructure, community and surroundings with rational and factual based information.

— Kelly Finley

The biggest challenge I believe most residents face is the frustration with neighbors who choose to short-term rent their homes. I am a strong proponent of property owners’ rights yet completely understand the frustration of having other people’s cars blocking their driveway or annoying cackling laughter from the hot tub at 3 a.m. Or the awkward experience of a strange family sledding in your front yard (my own personal experience)! None of us are immune to these occurrences, yet imposing rules and mandates to limit short-term rentals can be legally dangerous and expensive. When we are at peak season, and it may feel like there is a massive increase in short-term rentals. Actually, the amount of homes on the short-term market has remained consistently hovering at 162 throughout the town for the past few years. The most productive and proactive measure to take is to make sure our codes are stringent enough to allow our residents to make a complaint and not feel guilty about it. We have included many items favorable to our residents in our code and have the enforcement capabilities and penalties to back it. Educating our guests is also vital to success. With every short-term applicant, we have an information packet explaining proper etiquette. I think there is always room for improvement, and we will.

— Joel Dixon

That’s a toss-up between the growth of Breckenridge and the use of Colorado Highway 9. Both really go hand in hand because as Breckenridge has become busier over the years, so too has Highway 9.  Both issues bring pressures to the town of Blue River and impacts that I would like to continue working on as a member of the Blue River Board of Trustees.

— Mark Fossett


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