Where has the sky fallen?
By Mark Reaman
The Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority will soon be polling residents in the county to determine if there is support for a property tax increase to help fund affordable housing. The housing authority recently discovered that the state did not sanction housing authorities to initiate lodging taxes. The board’s polling firm, Magellan Strategies, had determined there was support for such a funding mechanism for the issue throughout the county.
GVRHA executive director Jennifer Kermode presented the Crested Butte Town Council with some results of the lodging tax poll on Monday and indicated that the majority of people interviewed, 77 percent, agreed that the county is experiencing a housing shortage. And while 62 percent of the respondents would support a 2 percent lodging tax, just 47 percent would support a property tax increase. About the same minority support was evident for a combination of the two types of taxes.
“Originally the idea was for a lodging tax but we discovered a couple of weeks ago that is not possible under state regulations,” said Kermode. “So we are investigating the property tax question. We could do that but the assessor needs to know by the end of July if we want to put it on the ballot. If we wait a year that would mean we wouldn’t start collecting funds until 2019, so ideally we would like to do it this year.”
“We could also go the route of a sales tax but it is high already at near that 10 percent mark, so right now the board is looking at the property tax,” said Crested Butte community development director Michael Yerman, who sits on the housing authority board.
The board is leaning toward asking voters for a 1.5 mill increase that would bring in between $800,000 and $1 million annually,
“The next step is to commission another survey to help get the message out to the public about the need for a funding stream. A consistent message is really important,” said Kermode.
“I’m more concerned with the message of where the money will be spent,” said councilman Chris Ladoulis. “The term ‘affordable housing’ can sometimes be sketchy to some. ‘Workforce housing’ is more palatable. But overall, I’d be curious about how people would want it spent.”
“Not every government body in the county has as much detail in their housing plans as we do in Crested Butte,” said councilman Jim Schmidt. “But we need the housing and it is something we have put off. It is worthwhile to do the polling. We don’t want it to fail.”
Ladoulis asked for an example of where the lack of housing caused a crisis situation. “If we are saying the sky is falling, where did the sky fall?” he asked.
“West Yellowstone, Montana almost came to that point,” responded Kermode, before also mentioning the dire situation in the town of Vail. Yerman used Estes Park as an example, where government jobs like the town planner position remain unfilled because of lack of housing.
“In many places business owners have had to change their business model because they can’t get enough employees,” said Kermode. “A restaurant might just do lunch or just dinner instead of also offering breakfast, for example.”
“People may be more open to such a tax if we can show different options and solutions,” said councilman Paul Merck. “People don’t want a tax increase without solutions.”
Schmidt noted that future solutions could depend on the development of the 17-acre Brush Creek parcel that is being considered for some affordable housing development.
“It takes a lot of different avenues to tackle this,” said Kermode. “For example, looking at rules and regulations to incentivize public-private partnerships is a method. More infill development can be utilized. You can’t just build your way out of the problem.”
“Solutions are also different at the north end of the valley,” added Yerman. “Prices are so high up here that deed restrictions are necessary. The advantage of doing a new poll now is that it will be in July when the need is most evident.”
“People need to understand specifically where the money will be spent,” said mayor pro tem Roland Mason. “That is one reason I think the RTA sales tax issue passed.”
The council agreed to support the new survey and said it would be willing to consider supporting a property tax on the November ballot based on the information obtained.