Thursday, November 23, 2017
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Two sides of the aisle

Some contend I have been “too negative” with my comments and attitude on the Brush Creek proposal. I don’t agree. Disagreement with public policy decisions is not negative—it is part of a public debate and while perhaps focused on the “other side,” it is not necessarily negative. In fact, others have praised those same comments on the issue. We all should understand that whether a position is perceived as positive or negative depends on which side of the aisle you are on. With that in mind, let’s look at a few other issues.

Tax increase requests

We can start with the two tax issues on some election ballots at the north end of the valley.

The proposed 5 percent excise tax on vacation rentals in Crested Butte is expected to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, to be used for affordable housing in town. Despite a flyer circulating around town that states, “No jurisdiction in Gunnison County currently has a dedicated source for affordable housing,” the town does have such a source—but it is really inconsistent. Crested Butte has an affordable housing impact fee on new construction. In 2015 it brought in $212,411, while in 2017 it is bringing in $30,819. Big difference. Town planner Michael Yerman noted that the town ponied up $374,000 in tap fee subsidies for deed-restricted units in 2015, so that income stream doesn’t even cover the economic incentive used by the town to assist with affordable housing.

On the other hand, some locals who short-term rent their property as a means to remain in town have pointed out that with the excise tax, their renters will be paying between 25 and 30 percent in fees and taxes on top of the rental rate. The worry is that those renters will look just beyond the borders of Crested Butte to rent in places like Skyland or Mt. Crested Butte and this could actually reduce sales tax revenues in town. It becomes a matter of how much people are willing to pay to taste the Crested Butte experience. My guess is: A lot. We’ll see. And if it passes, which I think it will, the council can keep an eye on it and ask for adjustments if needed.

On the Crested Butte Fire Protection District request for a property tax increase, the idea of supporting health and safety services is a no-brainer. The issue becomes a tad complicated when there is some nebulous wiggle room on what ultimately will be needed to provide paid fire and EMS protection in the long run to the north end of the valley. While the district currently has more than $2 million in reserve funds, it is anticipating a $250,000 to $300,000 deficit in 2018 without the mill levy increase. District administration is also anticipating the need for more salaried EMTs in the very near future. The current deficit budgeting process is not sustainable and, lord knows, while no one likes a tax increase, when the house is on fire or the kid is choking, you’d pay a premium for quick professional service and that’s what this request helps provide.

Gunnison river access

The county’s acquisition of 12 acres of land along the Gunnison River just north of the city appears to be a great pick-up. I walked the property last week and it is beautiful and full of opportunity. It could provide public boating access away from what has become the major, overcrowded river access point off of Highway 135, a stone’s throw away. It appears there could also be opportunity for camping, a trails network, fishing and perhaps even some housing. Who knows what else?

For a million bucks that might be reimbursed by the feds who had pledged in the past to pick up such property in return for filling up a big portion of the Gunnison River Canyon when Blue Mesa was formed, the public gets a great piece of acreage with huge river access. The property is close to a bunch of people and will get used.

County commissioner John Messner heard about the potential sale of the prime piece of real estate and made a move. The rest of the county jumped on board and figured out how to get it done. Part of that was a contact with the Bureau of Reclamation to potentially pay for all or some of it. Perfect.

The county’s notice about the land acquisition came with a note promising that “a public planning process will assist in determining the future design and use of this area, and a project completion timeline will be developed during the planning process.” That should be the standard for every piece of property owned by the public and could bear a bounty of fruit with unique ideas and community buy-in. At first glance, this deal seems positive for everyone, no matter on what side of the aisle you are sitting. Kudos to the county.

ADU support

Gunnison district court judge Steve Patrick has made it clear that if you buy a property in the town of Crested Butte with a deed- restricted accessory dwelling unit, it should be rented to long-term residents. A couple of local property owners purchased such property and didn’t like that town rule. They tried to skirt the regulation. They ignored it and then tried to “rent” the ADU for $1 per month to comply with the law. Then they sued the town. Judge Patrick has ruled consistently in recent court decisions that not renting the ADUs wouldn’t fly.

There is little doubt the property owners will appeal Judge Patrick’s decisions. They don’t want strangers in their backyard ADUs and I have some (a little) sympathy for that. But a deal is a deal. What the property owners suing the town should realize is that even if they win, they’d still lose. A win for them will weaken all the deed-restricted ADU rentals in town for locals. That will deteriorate a system that keeps workers and families living in town and that benefits all property owners—including the ones litigating the town over the issue. Judge Patrick is on the right side of this one and the property owners have time to realize they can be too.

Off-season

It’s pretty quiet out there in Crested Butte right now. It is supposed to be. Off-season is a time to recharge the batteries and prepare for the next on-season. The off-seasons are shorter than just a few years ago and even now the weekends are busy-ish. But lines are nil, Elk Avenue parking is plentiful, trails are quiet but beautiful. These are good weeks as we move toward five months of skiing. It is better to begin a new season with charged batteries and that is one beauty of off-season. So let’s not work to erase it from the rhythm of our year. There is too much beauty in an off-season.

Having said that, the ski resort began snowmaking this week. I haven’t hung up the bike yet but I have dropped off the skis for early season prep. The lifts start spinning in less than three weeks. This can be an exciting time on all sides of the aisle.

—Mark Reaman

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