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Vail’s proposed 2021 budget guided by town’s ‘crisis level’ recession plan

November 16, 2020, 11:26 am

The Town of Vail on Monday issued the following press release on its proposed 2021 budget, which is available for review and guided by the town’s “crisis level” recession plan:

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Public comment opportunities will take place Tuesday, Nov. 17 and Tuesday, Dec. 1 in virtual formats as the Vail Town Council reviews the proposed 2021 municipal budget. The $99.5 million expenditure plan is available here. First reading of the budget ordinance is listed as action item 5.1 on the Nov. 17 meeting agenda which begins at 6 p.m. via Zoom. To register to provide public comment during the meetings, visit vailgov.com/town-council or to provide public input prior to the meetings, email publicinput.vailtowncouncil@vailgov.com.

The 2021 budget has been guided by the town’s “crisis level” recession plan which focuses on recovery from the global pandemic. This includes conservative revenue projections, maintaining budget reductions that were made earlier in the year and prioritizing Town Council’s strategic goals identified in its Council Action Plan and 2020 community survey. The goals include ensuring citizens are afforded the opportunity to live and thrive in the community, providing a world class guest experience, balancing Vail’s economic, environmental and social needs to deliver a sustainable community as well as growing a vibrant and diverse economy.

The recommended operational budget for 2021 is $48.5 million, a decrease of 5% from the 2020 original budget and flat with the 2020 forecast. The proposed spending plan reflects projected decreases in revenues in the areas of sales tax collections, parking and lift tax.

Programs proposed to be funded as identified in the Town Council Action Plan include the following:

Community: With acquiring resident-occupied, deed-restricted housing a significant community priority, the 2021 proposed budget includes $2.5 million to continue the success of the Vail InDEED Program. To date, the program has funded approximately 153 new deed restrictions within the town at an average cost of $63,000 per deed restriction. The proposed budget also includes funding to allow for a housing demand trends and needs analysis; housing site plan feasibility studies; and a 2020 Housing Strategic Plan update. In addition, efforts to pursue a long-term funding source for housing will continue to be evaluated.

Economy: Special events funding of $1.8 million is proposed which includes a mix of ambient and music entertainment, signature events and new events designed to meet public health guidelines. This budget is 43% less than the 2020 original budget due to the loss of large events such as Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships, Spring Back to Vail and Snow Days.  Another identified economic priority is $250,000 for planning and feasibility studies to implement the Civic Area Master Plan adopted in 2019.

Sustainability: Recommended funding includes $100,000 for wildlife habitat improvements in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service; $50,000 to help cost-share the U.S. Forest Service Front Ranger program; $50,000 for a biodiversity study; $25,000 for an e-bike share program; $40,000 for Actively Green programming; $30,000 for Sustainable Destination monitoring; and $300,000 to update the Vail Vision Plan.

Experience: Council and staff continue to strive for improving the guest and citizen experience with $50,000 proposed for year-two of a series of initiatives, including the PrimaVail customer training program and employee engagement; Vail Après bell-ringing; and Revely Vail activities to complement Vail Mountain’s early season snowmaking capabilities.

To make up for a projected decrease in total revenues for 2021, the $71.3 million forecast represents a 19% decrease from 2019 totaling $14.2 million and 7% less than the 2020 forecast. Department spending maintained the 10% cuts made during 2020 along with deferrals of capital projects to future years to help absorb the decreases in revenues. An estimated $1.1 million in general reserve funds is also included. In addition, use of public financing to cover expenses related to the estimated $19.6 million renovation and expansion of the Public Works Shops is being contemplated by Town Council which would save an estimated $2.5 million rather than if the town delayed the project for 7 years until able to cash-fund.

Other capital improvements deemed essential to fund in 2021 include: $9 million for a roundabout, sidewalks and medians along the South Frontage Road from Vail Health to the Lionshead parking structure and $2 million for relocation of Children’s Garden of Learning to the charter bus lot in Lionshead. Other than a $2.5 million traffic impact fee paid by Vail Health, both projects would be funded by the Vail Reinvestment Authority which has an estimated cash balance of $40 million at the end of June 2030.

Projects funded from the Real Estate Transfer Tax fund include: $4.6 million for environmental sustainability projects, including $1.75 million for water quality infrastructure; $1.1 million for a solar array at Public Works; $250,000 for streambank erosion mitigation; and $500,000 allocated to the acquisition of open space land. Separately, the RETT Fund also supports park, playground and landscape maintenance, $1.7 million; forest health activities, $292,000; Art in Public Places, $101,000; operation of the Nature Center, $90,000; and capital improvements to town-owned facilities managed by the Vail Recreation District.

As a service organization, most municipal services expenditures relate to staffing. For 2021, this represents $34.1 million, or 70% of total expenditures, which includes both salary and benefits.   

The town’s proposed staffing level includes 336.5 full-time equivalent positions, an increase of 5.2 or 1.6% from 2020. Four positions previously approved in the original 2020 budget but later frozen have been authorized to be filled in early 2021. These include a fire inspector, construction manager, environmental coordinator and senior planner. New positions include a housing planner and administrative support for economic development and environmental sustainability. Merit raises of 1-3% are proposed to be included in the budget upon review of the town’s financial position in first quarter. Every town employee will go one year without a merit increase, as implemented in 2020.

Between 2020 and 2024, the town is projected to lose up to $24 million in revenues due to economic impacts of the pandemic and recovery period. This includes more positive revenue assumptions than previously projected as the summer months have improved, including record collections for September.

By the end of 2021, reserves are projected to be $33.1 million in the general fund, or 75% of annual revenues in a normal year. This is well above the 35% minimum required by Town Council as a budgetary policy. Town-wide reserves are projected to be $70 million at the end of 2021.

To review the staff memo and the budget in its entirety, click here.

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