Saturday, June 6, 2020

Mt. CB agrees to increase Housing Authority funding

“Housing is important”

By Mark Reaman

While voicing some concerns about the increase in cost, the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council unanimously agreed to sign on to a new agreement with the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority (GVRHA) that will cost the town about $20,000 more than it currently contributes annually. The town will contribute $38,500 in 2017 and is being asked to increase that to $58,750 by 2021.

Mt. Crested Butte would get to that point incrementally by raising its contribution to $43,500 in 2018, $48,500 in 2019, $53,500 in 2020 and $58,750 in 2021.

New GVRHA executive director Jennifer Kermode came before the council to present an amended intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between Mt. Crested Butte, Crested Butte and the city and county of Gunnison.

“A $20,000 increase is pretty big for us,” said Mt. Crested Butte mayor Todd Barnes.

“I would prefer to see an increase in the contributions from the bigger entities and not just the smaller ones like us,” said Mt. Crested Butte councilman Bill Thompson.

“I’d agree with that,” added councilman Nicholas Kempin.

Under the new agreement, by 2021 the county, the city of Gunnison, Crested Butte, and Mt. Crested Butte would each be paying $58,750 annually to the GVRHA.

“I’m not against an increase in the contribution amount but I would rather see everyone go up from current levels and get a larger pot,” said Barnes. “That is a significant increase for our town.”

Kermode said she was not in the executive director position when the decision was made to seek equal funding levels but she would investigate the reasoning. She indicated GVRHA interim director Paula Swenson had devised the funding equation.

“The bottom line is that we need to look at different boxes to find solutions to the housing situation,” Kermode said. “We can’t just build our way out of the problem.”

Barnes asked about the progress of the citizen survey of how to fund new housing projects. Kermode said about 65 percent of respondents would support a lodging tax, while a property tax has a lot less support.

“If we do get a lodging tax passed we can leverage that money pretty significantly,” Kermode said. “A 2 percent lodging tax would raise about $800,000 to $900,000 a year. That is a significant funding source.”

Kermode said an amended IGA was needed before the GVRHA could start the details of getting a tax issue on the ballot this November.

Mt. Crested Butte community development director Carlos Velado told the council that two potential major housing projects were on the horizon for Mt. Crested Butte. “If the things we are working on come through we would be using the Housing Authority more than we have,” he told the council. “We’ve moved from a county housing authority to a regional housing authority.”

“I’m not necessarily opposed to the equal funding concept,” said councilman Danny D’Aquila. “Housing is a moving target all over the valley. It is happening everywhere. And that number is still a pretty low figure.”

“If we as a county will support a regional housing authority, the money to support it has to come from somewhere,” added town manager Joe Fitzpatrick. “There are no perfect answers. But this approach ensures the stability of a good solid housing authority to continue to try to solve a serious problem all over the county. People can’t easily find housing right now.”

“The concept is good but the big difference is our town’s financial commitment,” said D’Aquila.

“Another argument is that this town really needs the employees,” said Fitzpatrick. “But we can’t house them all up here.”

“I would just prefer all of the entities to absorb an increase as well,” reiterated Barnes.

“If the needs assessment survey concluded 900 more units were needed to fulfill employee needs, Mt. Crested Butte will see benefit wherever they are built,” said Velado. “The Housing Authority is a significant resource for us. The workforce housing shortage right now is impacting businesses up here. This would be money well spent.”

Velado said the ultimate goal is for the Housing Authority to develop numerous revenue streams. He cited rents from the Anthracite Place affordable housing project as an example. “Over time, more projects could create more money and perhaps the government donations could be lowered over time,” he said.

“I have no issues with the request as long as the other players are at least equal players,” said D’Aquila.

“I’ve been skeptical about money for the Housing Authority,” admitted councilman David O’Reilly. “But with Carlos’ explanation I am comfortable. Housing is a major issue. It is important.”

The council voted 6-0, with councilwoman Janet Farmer not at the meeting, to enter into the amended IGA pending approval from the other three government entities. That action would increase the town’s annual contribution to the Housing  Authority and let the GVRHA begin the process of getting a tax issue on the upcoming November ballot.

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