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Sewer capacity raises concerns about density of proposed workforce housing project on Forest Service land

A rendering of a proposed workforce housing development on U.S. Forest Service land outside of Dillon.
Rendering from town of Dillon via Norris Design

Officials with Dillon, Summit County and the U.S. Forest Service continue to work together in hopes of developing the Summit County Road 51 workforce housing project, a nontraditional concept that would allow county and town officials to build housing units on annexed Forest Service land for in-kind considerations, like housing.

The three entities gathered for a virtual conversation on the project in April, taking a look at design concepts for the 9.18-acre plot between Forest Canyon Road and County Road 51 just north of Dillon. During the meeting, contractor Norris Design presented a pair of concepts based around different density outlooks for the site: one that would include 270 bedrooms (159 units) and another that would include 350 bedrooms (203 units).

Density on the site will be one of the major topics of conversation moving forward, as Dillon, Summit County and Forest Service officials continue negotiations to make the project a reality. But as officials work to balance considerations around costs, quality of life and the current affordable housing shortage in the community, Dillon is concerned that sewer capacity might be another limiting factor in the ultimate size of the development.

Town Manager Nathan Johnson broached the topic during a Dillon Town Council work session Tuesday, July 20. Dillon bases sewer utility capacity on equivalent residential units, or the allotment of shares the town owns at the Joint Sewer Authority, which serves the communities of Dillon, Silverthorne, Dillon Valley, Buffalo Mountain and Mesa Cortina.

“Think of it like buying stocks. … There are about 14,000 shares of this company, and we bought 2,403,” Johnson said, referring to the total capacity of the sewer authority. “So some of the other players have bought more, thinking of redevelopment or growth.”

As Johnson noted, Dillon currently owns a total of 2,403 equivalent residential units as it relates to the sewer authority’s capacity. More than 1,800 are currently online, and the town has already committed about 163 to projects set to go online in the coming year like the Homewood Suites by Hilton, Uptown 240 and Vail Health’s new medical building, among others.

In total, Dillon currently has 408 equivalent residential units of sewer capacity to play with. And while council members debated their preferences between a higher density development to alleviate housing shortages and lower density to ensure a higher quality of livability, they agreed that using all of the town’s remaining sewer capacity in one place isn’t a good idea.

“Let’s say if we take up 200 (equivalent residential units) for this project, that’s a lot, but we still have 200,” Mayor Carolyn Skowyra said. “Uptown 240 was 63. So if we want any buildings to redevelop and maybe go higher in the town core … I think those 30 additional (equivalent residential units) or whatever could add up pretty quickly for each building in the town core. … We should be talking about what is the max of our utilities that we’re going to spend there so that we still have some in the bank for projects that are Dillon projects.”

The town could theoretically purchase extra capacity from Silverthorne or another member of the Joint Sewer Authority, but for now, the town has decided to take a smaller-density proposal to the table with Summit County and the Forest Service. If the county desires a higher-density development, the Town Council said it would be up to them to help Dillon acquire the additional sewer capacity.

“I’m in favor of looking at — I think it was 159 units for the smaller density that complies with our parking codes, figuring out what those (equivalent residential units) are and have that be our hard limit we’re willing to spend,” Skowyra said. “Just set that as our threshold and say the rest we have reserved for future projects.”

While density is certainly a topic of concern, there’s much more to still be ironed out on the project, such as the installation of a proposed roundabout at the intersection of Lake Dillon Drive and Colorado Highway 6 and determining who will actually own the units once they’re completed. Based on the county’s current housing situation, Johnson said ownership would likely fall to one of the local governments that could ensure rent prices stay affordable. But other businesses and organizations are apparently looking to stake their claim, as well.

“We’re essentially building the plane as we fly it,” Johnson said. “… There are a lot of different entities in the county that have expressed interest in being part of that ownership, from ski resorts to businesses to the school district, as an example. Everyone is viewing it as, if we can be a part of the membership group, we can hopefully have some units held back for our employees.”

Dillon will host a community meeting on the project at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 10 at Dillon Town Hall to further discuss priorities for the development, conceptual plans, next steps and more.

‘We’ve been discovered:’ Housing projects continue to pop up in Silverthorne

Smith Ranch in Silverthorne is pictured May 14, 2020. Upon completion, the neighborhood will include a total of 214 deed-restricted, for-sale units.
Photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan

New housing units have been popping up all around Silverthorne for a few years now, and even more are on the drawing board.

Lina Lesmes, Silverthorne planning manager, said there are a lot of housing projects in the works right now, but that it has been this way for about three years as Silverthorne is growing in popularity.

“It’s just really exciting to see all the interest in Silverthorne and the town really transform,” Lesmes said. “I would love it if we could see more workforce housing development.”

Lesmes said the market is delivering more and more market-rate housing developments, while the town is spearheading workforce housing projects. The town was able to start the Smith Ranch workforce housing development thanks to voter-approved funding.

Looking at the far north end of town, the Summit Sky Ranch community is just over halfway complete, with plans set for 240 market-rate, single-family residences. Right now, there are about 180 units, and Lesmes estimated it could be finished by summer 2023.

Heading south down Colorado Highway 9 toward town, Lesmes said the Eagles Nest subdivision on the west side of the road is mostly built out but still has some lots available. She said it’s a similar situation across the street at the Angler Mountain Ranch subdivision, which is also mostly built out.

She added that on the corner of Highway 9 and Bald Eagle Road, there is a proposal for 18 market-rate townhomes to fill the vacant lot there, which has gone through preliminary council approval. The proposed development, known as Fish Hawk Landing, will go to council for final approval this week. The development would be able to break ground as soon as it receives a final thumbs up.

Up the hill in the same part of town, the Angler Mountain Vistas property is proposed to add 17 market-rate, single-family homes and has preliminary approval. It already went through a subdivision planning process, so infrastructure is being put into place; Lesmes said the property will likely go vertical in the fall should it receive final approval.

Next is the Smith Ranch Neighborhood, which will include a total of 214 deed-restricted, for-sale units once finished, including townhomes, duplexes and single-family homes. With 187 units already in existence, Lesmes said the neighborhood is more than two-thirds of the way through construction.

Adjacent to the neighborhood is the site for what the town hopes will become Smith Ranch Commercial, which could include a small grocery store with other commercial options and up to 141 workforce rental apartments or townhomes.

Lesmes also said owners of a small property on a corner of Adams Avenue and Ruby Ranch Road are considering adding more housing on that land, though there are no development proposals yet. She said it is owned by the same developers as Summit Sky Ranch.

On the east side of Highway 9 between Ninth and 10th streets are the River West condos, which are still under construction but sold out. These condos are just south of another new condo development, Blue River Flats, which are completed and sold out, as well.

Lesmes said the developers of these two projects are looking into building more condos, one of which would be called Apres Shores and the other Blue River Flats Phase 2. Apres Shores has already gone through preliminary approval and could break ground on the 60 condos this fall.

The owners of Backcountry Dental also plan to add workforce housing units for their employees as part of their new office development right next to the Retreat on the Blue condos. This is close to the Wave on the Blue property, at 700 Blue River Parkway, which received preliminary approval from council at its July 14 meeting.

The town is also looking at a small parcel it owns off Annie Road as an option for workforce housing units, though there isn’t a ton of room on the property. Lesmes said Silverthorne Town Council was supportive of the idea.

There are also plans for housing units to go up next to Town Hall on Sixth Street and Center Circle. This development, known as Summit Blue, will include 19 townhomes and 16 single-family residences. It received final approval from council in March.

Lesmes also said a developer has expressed interest in adding more market-rate housing to the demolished former site of the Green Village of the outlets. She said it could also include a restaurant or small commercial component, though nothing is concrete.

Lastly, Fourth Street Crossing and the proposed Fourth North development would add a mix of townhomes and workforce housing units. Fourth North is proposed to include up to 130 workforce bedrooms, and Fourth Street Crossing will include 33 townhomes.

Town Manager Ryan Hyland said while he thinks Silverthorne has always been a popular place, that interest has only grown in recent years.

“Certainly, we’ve been discovered, so to speak, in recent years, and there are a lot of people that have an interest in being here full time or vacationing, and so we continue to be a growing community,” Hyland said.

He added that the town is invested in making sure Silverthorne has the “community feel that you get” when those who work in the community live in the community.

“The more units that we have that are deed restricted, whether that’s ownership or rental, the better,” Hyland said. “It’s the way you preserve community.”

Town Council is also set to have a discussion around the town’s workforce housing projects at its July 28 work session, reflecting on the Workforce Housing Action Initiative meeting Wednesday, July 21.

Summit County July rainfall above average after Friday storm

A mudslide covers the Tenmile Recpath at mile marker 198 on Friday, July 23. The incident followed heavy rain in the area.
Photo from Summit County government

This past weekend was messy. From flash flood watches to mudslides, Summit County got the moisture it has been waiting for.

U.S. Highway 6 over Loveland Pass closed for nearly 48 hours due to the heavy rains Summit County experienced Friday, July 23. Bob Wilson, spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Transportation, explained that there were two mudslides on the road — one occurred Friday afternoon, and another followed a few hours later.

Wilson said the department initially thought it would reopen the road the afternoon of Saturday, July 24, but continued water flow prolonged reopening until Sunday, July 25.

“There were a couple of little streams that were flowing into the area where the mudslide occurred, and so that was making the cleanup of the mud and debris a bit more challenging,” Wilson said.

In addition to Loveland Pass, the recpath in Tenmile Canyon at mile marker 198 was closed Friday afternoon due to a mudslide but reopened Saturday. And the Summit County Resource Allocation Park, known as SCRAP or the Dillon dump, was closed temporarily because of storm damage.

National Weather Service meteorologist Caitlyn Mensch said weekend rain totals ranged from around one-half inch near Silverthorne to over an inch in Breckenridge.

“This larger range is likely due to the more isolated, scattered nature of the storms that were happening over the weekend,” Mensch said.

According to records at the Dillon weather station, Mensch said July rainfall so far is slightly above normal, totaling 2.63 inches as of Monday, July 26. Typically, the station sees about 1.5 inches of rain in July. She noted that the past week has brought an especially wet pattern, with nearly an inch of rainfall recorded on Saturday alone.

Summit County is starting off the week dry, Mensch said, but moisture might return later in the week.

“Starting around midweek toward the end of the week, we’ll start seeing a little bit more increasing moisture that will then increase our chances for some showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon,” Mensch said. “But we can’t rule out any isolated thunderstorms and showers even on Tuesday, (July 27).”

A storm system might also come through the area this weekend, Mensch said.

The week will also start off with warm temperatures with a high of 80 to 82 degrees through Wednesday, July 28. High temperature predictions are in the high 70s from Thursday, July 29, through the weekend.

While July has brought plenty of precipitation, much of Summit County remains in a drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. A small section of the eastern part of the county is not experiencing drought conditions, but moving west through the county, conditions become increasingly dry. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor scale, drought severity starts at abnormally dry and moves into a severe drought in the northwestern part of the county.

“Those (drought) conditions are still there. It’s definitely still something to keep in mind even though it’s great that we’re getting rain,” Mensch said. “It’s definitely a good thing that we’re continuing to get that rain in July, hopefully in August. So it’s a good sign, but it looks like more northern portions … of Summit County, (drought) is still there.”

Map shows current drought conditions in Colorado.
Photo from U.S. Drought Monitor

I-70 westbound reopened following crash

4:45 p.m. Westbound lanes on I-70 have been reopened, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Original story:

The westbound lanes of Interstate 70 are closed at milepost 190 west of Copper Mountain due to a crash, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

There is no estimated time for the roadway to reopen.

Sheriff promises strict enforcement of new Quandary Peak parking system

The parking reservation and shuttle service to Quandary Peak and McCullough Gulch trails begins this week.

On Friday, July 30, hikers to both trails will be required to either reserve a parking space or take a free shuttle to the trailheads. The Quandary Peak parking lot will be closed Wednesday, July 28, and Thursday, July 29, in order to prepare the lot for the new system.

Community members will still be able to hike the trails those days.

Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said deputies will not be enforcing parking restrictions on McDill, Blue Lakes and McCullough Gulch roads during the two-day parking lot closure. FitzSimons continued to say strict enforcement will begin Friday.

“It’s important for people to know that for those two days, they’ll still have access to those trailheads,” FitzSimons said. “But what’s going to make this whole thing work is when this shuttle system starts, we are going to be enforcing the no parking on any of those county roads. … Especially during this test project we’re doing at Quandary until the snow flies, it’s important for people to realize that to get the data we need, we’re going to be conducting strict enforcement.”

Beginning Friday, the daily shuttle for Quandary Peak trailhead will operate every 30 minutes from 5 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. from Breckenridge’s Airport Road parking lot. Visitors to the McCullough Gulch trailhead can catch a shuttle ride from the Quandary Peak trailhead.

Hikers can reserve parking spots at the Quandary Peak trailhead at ParkQuandary.com once the site goes live.

Click it or Ticket campaign kicks off July 31

The Colorado Department of Transportation will team up with law enforcement agencies around the state for the Click it or Ticket seat belt enforcement campaign later this month.

The enforcement period will run from Saturday, July 31, to Aug. 6.

In May, during the first seat belt enforcement period of 2021, more than 2,000 drivers were cited for not wearing their seat belts. Fines for not buckling up start at $65, and parents or caregivers caught with an improperly restrained child will receive a minimum fine of $82.

To date in 2021, 104 unbuckled people have died in crashes in Colorado, according to CDOT.

“Fatal crashes that involve unbuckled drivers and passengers are far too common in Colorado,” director of CDOT’s Highway Safety Office Darrell Lingk said in a news release. “Buckling up is a simple and smart choice that exponentially increases your odds of survival in a crash. It’s also the law in Colorado.”

Colorado’s seat belt use rate dropped to 86% last year, below the national average of 90%. This year, CDOT is releasing a series of videos narrated by crash victims or their family members who have been affected by unbuckled crashes, hoping that their stories will help encourage all Coloradans to drive safely and wear their seat belts.

SunShare invests in local business gift cards to incentivize subscriptions

Solar provider SunShare purchased more than $100,000 in gift cards from Colorado retailers as part of a subscriber promotion. The program aims to support local businesses while incentivizing folks to choose solar energy.

Anyone with an electricity bill can participate in the community solar program. Instead of having solar panels on their roofs, households and businesses can subscribe to a portion of the energy produced by the community solar garden.

SunShare is offering gift cards to local businesses for subscribers who enroll by Sept. 15.

Opinion | Bruce Butler: Improving workforce housing in 700 words

Last month, the Summit Board of County Commissioners proclaimed a workforce housing crisis in Summit County. It doesn’t take a proclamation to know that workforce housing is expensive and in short supply, which has resulted in people leaving Summit County and significant staffing shortages for local businesses.

Many blame the proliferation of short-term rentals for the problem, but high land costs, high construction costs, civil infrastructure limitations and area median income targets — which often exclude lower wage workers — are all contributing factors.

Summit County voters have overwhelmingly approved taxes to help increase the supply of workforce housing. So now the challenge is: How do we make those tax dollars go further?

At this point in time, public funds should be building only rental housing inventory. The absorption on apartment rentals is functionally 100% in Summit County, which affirmatively makes the market-driven case for more of it! For-sale housing has its value and place, but the quickest way to address the acute shortage of workforce housing is to construct apartments that accommodate the transient nature of Summit County’s workforce. Breckenridge deserves credit for being ahead of this trend. The rest of the county should follow its lead.

Do not buy old hotels and covert them to condominiums — convert them to dormitory-style apartment rentals so that the properties can be redeveloped over time as these buildings reach their planned obsolescence. If we are going to build workforce condos, offer them directly for sale to local qualifying businesses. Housing is an asset. It will incentivize employee loyalty and stability if housing is tied to employment, and the invested business community will ensure its common asset is maintained and safe.

Summit County should be partnering with entities that specialize in developing and operating low area median income workforce apartments, like Archdiocesan Housing, which built and operates Villa Sierra Madre in Silverthorne. Summit School District should partner with the town of Silverthorne to swap the old Silverthorne Elementary School site on Brian Avenue for town-owned land immediately north of the current Silverthorne Elementary. This would ensure the ability to expand the school, if needed, and make land that is ideally situated for workforce housing immediately available. What the heck, maybe even make a few houses available for sale to teachers and school bus drivers!

Since building materials and construction costs are at an all-time high, partner with local architects to design some prototypical housing units that conform to dimensional lumber and shelve counter-productive zero-emissions regulations that are impractical and only lead to higher construction costs just as inflation is gripping the economy. This would reduce material costs and construction waste.

How about incentives for locals to create housing for long-term renters? Waive water and sewer tap fees for construction of accessory dwelling units that are committed to five years of long-term workforce rental. If the long-term rental commitment is broken between three and five years, the owner owes 50% of the tap fees. If rented for fewer than three years, the owner must pay back all the tap fees and a penalty. This incentivizes private capital to build workforce housing, too.

Rather than apply one-size-fits-all regulations to short-term rentals, let’s directly address the most persistent complaint about short-term rentals across the county, which is that vacation party houses are proliferating in the middle of otherwise single-family residential neighborhoods, resulting in all sorts of noise, trash and parking problems.

The county and the towns should work together to create rental zone overlays. The goal should be to direct as much short-term rental traffic back toward the places that were designed, built and intended — from Day 1 — for short-term rentals, like Copper Mountain, Keystone and the Breckenridge base area. Drop counterproductive regulations, like arbitrary maximum occupancy, in these zones. Keep the short-term rental permitting fees in these districts as low as possible and increase the fees in predominantly single-family neighborhood zones.

Hotels and other commercial lodging entities pay much higher taxes and additional lodging taxes mostly to promote tourism. Do we really need to promote more tourism in Summit County? Maybe we could work with voters to direct lodging tax back toward workforce housing.

That is 692 words. Keep the ideas flowing.

Bruce Butler

 

Demand management discussions continue amid worsening Colorado River ‘crisis’

Lake Powell is shown here, in its reach between where the Escalante and San Juan rivers enter the reservoir, in an October 2018 aerial photo from the nonprofit environmental group EcoFlight. Colorado water managers are considering the implications of a program known as demand management that would pay irrigators on a temporary and voluntary basis to take less water from streams in order to boost water levels in Lake Powell, as an insurance policy against compact curtailment.
Photo courtesy of EcoFlight

ASPEN — The crisis on the Colorado River is not waiting for the state of Colorado to develop a program to avoid water shortages.

That was the message that Colorado Water Conservation Board members received from some commenters at their regular meeting Wednesday, July 21. The state water board is investigating the feasibility of a program known as demand management, which would pay irrigators on a temporary and voluntary basis to not irrigate and instead use that saved water to meet downstream obligations on the Colorado River.

James Eklund, former head of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and one of the architects of the Drought Contingency Plan, which allows for the possibility of a demand-management program, urged the board in the public-comments portion of the discussion to take swift action on what he called arguably the largest water crisis Colorado has ever faced.

“Time is not your or our collective out. If you wait, that’s a decision that you make to determine whether or not we have a hand on the steering wheel as we move forward with this river,” he said. “The waiting is, I think, folly.”

In written comments, some environmental nonprofit organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited, said they were in favor of a demand-management program and urged the state to move forward more quickly.

The state received the comments in response to a draft framework released in March of what a demand-management program could look like, with three tiers of implementation options, guiding principles, threshold issues, trade-offs and equity considerations. The framework matrix is based on the findings of nine workgroups assigned to tackle different aspects and challenges of a potential program.

In addition to written comments, Trout Unlimited Colorado Water Project’s director, Drew Peternell, also told board members at the meeting that the group has concluded that demand management should be one tool Colorado uses to avoid compact curtailment.

“We realize you are taking on some very tough issues, but I also want to urge you to pick up the pace,” he said. “Hydrology on the West Slope is not good. Additional shortages on the system are likely. They would be painful. Now is the time to get something done.”

Gail Schwartz, who represents the main stem of the Colorado River basin on the nine-member board, noted the gravity of the situation and invoked the warnings of 19th-century explorer and river runner John Wesley Powell, after whom the second-largest reservoir in the country and ground zero for many of the basin’s most pressing problems is named. In 1893, the prescient Powell said the American West was “piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply these lands.”

“I think that we are at this extraordinary moment in time,” Schwartz said. “This is a desert and we are going to empty every bucket, we are going to empty every river, and this is the inevitable unless we can develop the courage and the ability to step forward.”

The controversial water-banking program, which some fear could harm agriculture on the Western Slope, has sparked a lot of discussion but little agreement over the past two years. Some have expressed frustration with what they say is the state’s slow pace of a program rollout and want to begin pilot projects to test the program’s feasibility. Mark Harris, general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, urged the board in his comment letter to take aggressive action.

“The only way to really raise the important questions and to identify the positive and negative consequences of our actions is to try something,” Harris said. “There is no other way to advance the agenda without taking some well-considered risk.”

Water from the Government Highline Canal pours into Highline Lake in Mack. The Grand Valley Water Users Association – the group that regulates water flow in the canal – is calling for the state to take more aggressive steps to test out the concept of demand management.
Bethany Blitz / Aspen Journalism

Drought Contingency Plan

Under the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan, signed by the seven Colorado River basin states, the Upper Basin — Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming — can develop a program to send up to 500,000 acre-feet of saved water downstream to Lake Powell as a kind of insurance policy to bolster levels in the reservoir and help meet Colorado River Compact obligations. If the Upper Basin states were not able to deliver the 75 million acre-feet of water over 10 years to the Lower Basin — Nevada, Arizona and California — as required by the 1922 agreement, it could trigger what’s known as a compact call, which would force involuntary cutbacks in water use.

Over the past two decades, climate change has been robbing the Colorado River system of flows, and levels in the river’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, have plummeted to record lows. Federal officials have begun making emergency releases from Upper Basin reservoirs to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydroelectric power. But some water managers say unless this Upper Basin reservoir water is replenished with big snow next winter, the releases may be a one-time, stopgap solution.

In addition to the urgency imposed by the worsening hydrology, the clock is ticking on the storage agreement laid out in the Drought Contingency Plan, which allows for the development of a demand-management program. It expires in 2026, when a new round of negotiations begins. All four Upper Basin states must agree to move forward with a demand-management program; Colorado cannot go it alone.

Decision-making roadmap

Despite the sense of urgency expressed by some members, the Colorado Water Conservation Board did not approve the next step forward that was recommended by staff: adopting a decision making roadmap, which sets out a timeline for determining if demand management is achievable and worthwhile for Colorado. Tackling whether demand management is achievable was set to tentatively begin in September, and looking into whether the program is worthwhile for Colorado was supposed to begin in November.

Schwartz made a motion to adopt the roadmap but later withdrew it after some board members said it was too broad, left too many questions unanswered and did not incorporate feedback from the board.

“I feel this roadmap is incomplete, and until I see the roadmap with the comments from the board, I don’t feel comfortable moving forward,” said Jackie Brown, who represents the Yampa and White river basins.

River District’s interests

Demand management was also a topic at the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s quarterly board meeting in Glenwood Springs on Tuesday. Amy Ostdiek, the CWCB’s deputy section chief for interstate, federal and water information gave a presentation on the state’s progress.

The River District, which represents 15 counties and advocates to keep water on the Western Slope, is conducting its own investigation into the feasibility of demand management through meetings with water users and plans to release a report of its findings. The River District has not yet taken a position on the potential program.

Aspen Journalism

“My personal view is that we are going to keep pushing to protect the River District’s interests in a demand-management program, but we realize this is something necessary to move forward sooner rather than later,” said Peter Fleming, River District general counsel.

Board president Marti Whitmore, who represents Ouray County, asked staff to come up with a proposal with specifics on a demand-management program.

“The time is right to come up with something to put on the table for discussion purposes,” she said. “I’m just looking to break the logjam here, so we are talking some substance instead of just frameworks and process. It could be an opportunity for the River District to provide some leadership.”

Colorado Water Conservation Board members plan to continue discussing demand management at an Aug. 18 workshop.

Letter to the editor: County must provide more transparency on real estate loans

On July 10, reporter Jenna deJong penned a fascinating story titled “Summit County continues to offer home loans to staff amid workforce shortage.” I’m writing this because my name appeared in that story as someone who has a problem with the county government providing real estate loans to staff. To be clear, I have no problem with the county providing down payment assistance to regular, full-time staff in the current program. There are clear guidelines governing that program, one of which is that there is a $30,000 cap to the assistance allowed any individual.

In the story, County Manager Scott Vargo alleged that there is a second “program” for senior staff, in part, for staff retention. That “program” provided more than $1.1 million to four staff members, far above the $30,000 cap per individual for down-payment assistance. In fact, it’s more than 10 times that. I don’t believe for a minute that there is a second “program” for senior staff. I do believe that special arrangements were made to provide real estate loans to a handful of senior staff, and I think that’s a problem.

Finally, the story states that Eagle, Pitkin and Grand counties have similar programs. While they may have down-payment assistance programs, none of them are providing full-blown real estate loans to senior staff. Summit County, however, did just that while declining to provide promised road maintenance in the county due to “budget constraints.” It’s time for some of that promised transparency, I think.