Breckenridge State of the Town gives residents updates on developments, opportunity to ask questions
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that the second project discussed by council member Gary Gallagher refers to the Goose Pasture Tarn Dam.
BRECKENRIDGE — On Thursday, Feb. 13, the town of Breckenridge hosted their annual State of the Town meeting, which is meant to inform residents of past, present and future town issues, projects and events. It also gives residents a chance to pose questions about town happenings to council members. After a statement by Mayor Eric Mamula, the meeting began with each council member discussing a topic that council has been working on that is particularly “near and dear to their hearts.” Then, the floor opened for a Q&A session.
Council member Gary Gallagher explained that in 2014, the town “got very serious” about building a second water plant. Now, the $58 million project is nearly complete and the water plant is expected to be finished by midsummer. Gallagher said that the project is the largest capital project that the town has done to date, that it is coming in on budget and on schedule and that it will provide 4.5 million gallons of water per day.
Gallagher also talked about plans to update the Goose Pasture Tarn Dam, which he said is vital as it is one of 429 dams in the state listed as a high hazard dam. He said that while high hazard doesn’t mean imminent failure, it is time to begin construction work to secure the dam, which includes the rebuilding of spillways. This project will begin in May 2020 and will take three summers to complete.
Council member Kelly Owens discussed child care, explaining the tuition assistance fund, which she said reaches 78 families and provided $600,000 in 2019 to 105 kids. Owens said that the town also gives a subsidy to full-time teachers and awarded a grant to the Carriage House in 2019 that allowed for eight more spots. Owens said that there is a center assessment study that will start in April that will assess child care center needs. She also recapped the conversation from the Feb. 11 town council meeting, which proposed an excise tax on short-term rentals to fund the tuition assistance program, which is forecast to dry up by the end of 2023.
Council member Dick Carleton covered the topic of workforce housing. Carleton said that the town currently has about 1,000 units of deed-restricted workforce housing, but in order to accommodate the workforce, there needs to be about 1,000 more in the next three years. Carleton acknowledged that building that much housing is impractical due to scarcity of land, capacity and funding, and that the town is looking toward other solutions such as buy-downs or the Housing Helps program. He said that the buy-down program — which is when the town buys an existing unit that is suitable for workforce housing, places a deed restriction on the unit and sells it for less — has been successful in converting 11 units to workforce housing in 2019.
Housing Helps, which is modeled after the Vail InDEED program, was launched in 2019. Housing Helps takes applications from owners, sellers or buyers of units, assess their suitability for employee housing and offers the owner between 10% to 15% of the fair market value of the property in cash in exchanged for a deed restriction and requirement that occupants of the unit work in Summit County for at least 30 hours per week.
“It helps preserve our existing neighborhoods,” Carleton said. “These units won’t go into the short-term rental pool and will be for housing.”
Council member Erin Gigliello spoke to events and tourism, focusing on the impact the construction of the South Gondola lot parking structure will have on events in 2020, the events matrix and the new destination management plan. Gigliello made it clear that while the parking structure will impact the snow sculptures event in 2021, the event will resume as normal in 2022 and beyond, as there have been concerns that the event will not fully return. Gigliello also described the four goals for events that were identified in the destination management plan. They are: deliver a balanced, year-round economy by 2024; protect Breckenridge’s character and brand; “more boots and bikes, less cars;” and to “establish Breckenridge as at the leading edge of mountain environment stewardship and sustainable practices.”
Council member Wendy Wolfe discussed sustainability by sharing accomplishments and goals. She noted that town has just secured a 3.6 megawatt agreement with Pivot Energy, which will allow the town to reach the goal of 100% renewable electricity. The town will also offset energy expended by the water treatment plan with solar energy and 31 rooftop solar systems have been installed in the last year.
“The clock is ticking and there is just no way around that than for all of us to start rowing together,” Wolfe said of fighting climate change.
Wolfe also said that 18 more ports will be installed in the next year for electric cars, that the town is working to eliminate the use of plastic bags and increase water refill stations and touched on the progress the town has made to add electric buses to the fleet of town buses. She also noted that the Mountain Towns 2030 conference the town is hosting in 2020 will strive to be a net-zero event.
Lastly, council member Jeffrey Bergeron gave updates on Open Space & Trails, as he helped start the program in 1995. Bergeron commented that since inception, the department has spent $22 million on land, preserving over 5,000 acres of open space. Bergeron said that there has been a joint working group formed to evaluate the issue of the gondola as it pertains to wildlife and is working to find the optimal solution to create minimal disturbance. He also talked about efforts of wildfire mitigation in collaboration with the US Forest Service, describing the importance of fire breaks and the plans for creating breaks.
Mamula touched on the parking structure, noting that construction will start in May and it will be a 16 to 18 month construction process that will add 400 spaces to the South Gondola parking lot, bringing 950 spaces in total to the lot. He also gave updates on the fiber project, including that there will be an expanded network and Wi-Fi in the core of town this year.
The meeting then moved into a Q&A session, which prompted the following discussions:
- A question was posed to council regarding what the return on investment will be for the fiber project. Gallagher explained that the town will not see a direct return on investment as it will be more qualitative than quantitative, but stated, “We’re a world-class city. We need world-class communications.”
- An attendee asked if Breckenridge Ski Area would participate in Snowstang, the service that brings front range skiers to Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Loveland Ski Area and Steamboat Resort. Mamula said that the ski area opted out of Snowstang this year, although the town offered to pay for half of the cost. Mamula said that they may revisit the issue next season.
- A question was asked regarding the possibility of a bus lane to be added to town roads. Mamula said that a major expansion of the roadways would be needed to add a bus lane, which isn’t practical from a funding standpoint as most of the major roadways are state highways. “That’s just not in the cards currently, I mean we wish it was,” Mamula said, adding that the public works team puts a lot of planning into making the buses routes run as smoothly as possible and avoid traffic.
- A question regarding the council’s stance on a minimum wage raise was posed. Carleton explained that the council doesn’t yet have an official stance on the issue. Gigliello commented that the council doesn’t feel they have enough information yet to make educated decisions on the issue.
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