Citizens complain to mayor about ski area survey
BRECKENRIDGE – A recent telephone survey asking Breckenridge-area citizens their opinions about proposed ski area development resulted in almost a dozen concerned phone calls to Breckenridge Mayor Sam Mamula.
Most of the complaints – and skepticism – centered around how the questions were phrased, Mamula said.
“I think they were getting at how much the town should pay for this and that,” said Ann Gagen of Breckenridge, who was surveyed Monday. “I told my husband (town manager Tim Gagen) about it later, and he said it’s not that simple.”
According to Porter Wharton, senior vice president of public affairs for Vail Resorts, the survey was conducted to determine how citizens feel about numerous aspects of the proposed development on Peaks 7 and 8 and the Watson and Sawmill parking lots in town. He said sometimes company officials can get so involved in projects they lose touch with how the public feels.
“We’re at a point where we’re reevaluating our strategies and making decisions as to how we want to move forward,” Wharton said. “This is a component of that process.”
He declined to give a copy of the survey questions to the newspaper.
“I’m not certain it’s the right thing to do,” Wharton said. “It was never intended to be a public document. I’m having a hard time finding a compelling reason to change my mind on that.”
But survey respondents said they recall some questions, many of which asked if people were aware of development the ski area would like to pursue and who – the ski area, town, skiers, locals or variations of those groups – might benefit from them.
Gagen said one question basically asked, “It’s been said that the town would benefit if a gondola is put in and, if so, how much do you think the town should pay for it? One-quarter, half, all or none.’
She said she also was asked if she thinks ski area development would help the downtown core and if it would lure more skiers.
“It was pretty tough,” she said of the 10-minute survey. “And it sounded like it kind of favored Vail Resorts.”
One question asked to what extent the town should be held responsible for providing parking, particularly if ski area development eliminates or reduces parking on the Watson and Sawmill parking lots. Another asked if people believe Breckenridge would be more competitive if it were to build more ski-in/ski-out housing.
Although Wharton said the survey asked about the importance of things, the definitions and whether it matters what the competition is doing, Mamula said that, based on what he’s heard, the questions were decidedly biased.
“They were very leading questions, like they were trying to get certain conclusions,” he said. “It was almost humorously biased, almost like a joke. At first, I thought someone was playing games.”
Wharton said he stands by the company Vail Resorts hired to do the polling.
Bias, he said, is not the intent.
“We’re not trying to influence public opinion, council opinion,” he said. “It was purely and solely intended to get some sense of what the community wants to see and not to see. I don’t feel like I need to defend it.”
Mamula said he isn’t happy to hear from constituents – rather than from resort officials – that the survey was planned.
“It would have been courteous if they had at least told us they were doing it,” Mamula said. “I can just see it: They’ll come back to us, saying, “Your voters overwhelmingly said you ought to pay $50 million on a parking structure.’ The irony is, when it all started, they said they weren’t trying to get us to pay for anything. If they’re asking us to participate, the whole project has to be very transparent. It’s obvious from what we’re hearing, a lot of it is based on the town funding these things.”
Town officials created a memorandum of understanding last month that outlines generally how the town and ski area should proceed on development and what issues need to be addressed.
Town officials also have said they are willing to discuss costs – and if and to what extent they could be shared – to operate a gondola. Additionally, they have made it clear at numerous town council meetings they don’t want to lose any parking spots to development. And the town is tightening its fiscal belt along with everyone else.
“(VR) must be familiar with the town’s projected revenue for the next 10 years,” Mamula said. “We’re paying off debt, our expenses are growing 5 percent a year, revenue is decreasing 2 percent a year and the need for services continues to increase. It’s not going to be very long before we will start eating into our fund balance.
“You’d think they’d get our financial information and figure out what we have in excess revenues in next 10 years to make this happen.,” he said. “I don’t see them doing it. We’re maxed out as far as debt is concerned until 2013. It boggles my mind.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or email@example.com.
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