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Proposed housing tax debate continues

Jane Reuter

SUMMIT COUNTY – Two county commissioners said Monday they can’t yet decide if they’ll back the Summit Housing Authority’s (SHA) proposed sales tax measure.

The two won’t make a final decision on the idea until late August, but the issue can’t make it to the November ballot without the support of at least two of the three commissioners.

The housing group had planned to ask voters in November for a sales tax increase of .15 of 1 percent, an amount that will generate about $1.2 million annually – enough to allow the SHA to continue its current programs and create more affordable housing than it’s now capable of doing.

While Commissioner Bill Wallace supports the proposal, Commissioners Gary Lindstrom and Tom Long haven’t yet made up their minds. They decided Monday only that they will wait to make a final decision until after SHA Director Gordon Ferris has received some response to the proposed ballot question from area town councils.

Wallace broached the subject Monday, saying Ferris “needs to know now” if his initiative doesn’t have the support of a majority of the commission.

Long and Lindstrom both cited concerns about how the sales tax money would be divided by the SHA.

How it works

Ferris proposes splitting the money into unrestricted and restricted funds. The unrestricted funds – 40 percent of the total – would pay SHA operating expenses and go toward projects throughout Summit County.

The restricted funds – the remaining 60 percent – would stay in the area in which they were raised. For instance, if Silverthorne raised $100,000 for the SHA through sales tax collections, $60,000 of that amount would be restricted for use on projects in Silverthorne. Funds would be restricted for three years, and if those funds weren’t used for a project within that time, they would go back into the unrestricted general pot.

Ferris said the 60/40 formula was based on a request he heard from the Summit Leadership Forum (SLF). The SLF is made up of local elected and ski area officials, among other community leaders.

“The towns wanted to be able to access money raised in their jurisdiction for housing in their jurisdiction,” Ferris said.

That split in funding bothers Long and Lindstrom.

“I don’t agree with reserving that 60 percent back,” Long said. “I think where the money is raised is not necessarily where the housing is going to be built. To earmark that money rather than put the money where you have viable projects is going to hamstring the whole (SHA) program.

“I realize this was a political concession to get support. Sometimes in this business, we’ve got to do what’s right and not political. The entities have got to be a hell of a lot less parochial than we have in the past.”

“I agree with Tom,” Lindstrom said. “I think it is absolutely silly to look at it politically. What Gordon has proposed is so convoluted to make so many people happy, it’s never going to work.

“But regardless of how the monies are allocated, if the towns support it as presented, we should go forward,” Lindstrom added.

Both men said they still like the idea of raising funding for the SHA via an impact fee, a charge assessed on new construction. Lindstrom suggested limiting the fee to larger homes built by people with deeper pockets.

That way, he said, “The people that would pay the most would care the least. The people that would care the least would pay the most.”

Wallace disagreed, speaking in support of the sales tax initiative.

“We can come up with 30 or 40 ways why it can’t work,” he said. “I would rather find solutions instead of reasons why it can’t work.”

Funding quandary

The SHA now is funded by the county, towns and ski areas, with the authority picking up the remainder of the tab. But that joint funding agreement ends with this calendar year.

The ballot question springs from a Colorado House Bill passed this year that enables multi-jurisdictional housing authorities to access revenue streams, such as sales tax. While the SHA partners with several jurisdictions on its funding and many of its projects, it is not a multi-jurisdictional housing authority. It’s working to become that way.

That means asking the local town councils and county commissioners to participate in a multi-jurisdictional authority, which the SHA will do in August. If town and county officials agree to jump on the bandwagon, the SHA can ask voters for tax revenue.

“We walk a very fine line here between trying to build a consensus and not alienating anybody,” Ferris said. “Our job is to propose a ballot question that’s both meaningful and has the best chance of passing. We’re hoping in the ballot question not to raise just money to keep our doors open, but money to subsidize attainable housing or buy existing stock.

“The bulk of the money, fully 90 percent, would go to actual project subsidies and only 10 percent would go to operating or administrative fees of the housing authority.”

Ferris said he’s well aware the idea of a tax of any sort isn’t typically greeted with open arms, but he believes the cause is worthwhile.

“We’re not asking politicians to embrace it,” he said. “We’re asking them to let the voters decide.

“We’re just trying to pursue our mission, which is to let folks that work in Summit County live in Summit County. If we don’t want Summit County to turn into a Vail, Aspen or Telluride, we need to build or buy existing stock and restrict it for use for local workers.”

Jane Reuter can be reached at 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at jreuter@summitdaily.com


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