Interviews by Phil Lindeman
The Town of Eagle is a community in flux. The same can be said of just about any town, but Eagle is at a peculiar crossroads. After skirting most of the fallout from the nationwide depression, Eagle was hit hard in the past two years. The town now has one of the highest home-foreclosure rates in the state, spurred by a rash of job losses and a noticeable dip in down-valley tourism.
Last month, the changes extended to 200 Broadway when residents elected four new town officials, including three Town Board trustees and a mayor in long-time public figure Yuri Kostick. With the exception of Anne McKibbin, who has served on town commissions in the past, new trustees Joe Knabel and Brandi Resa have never held public office before. McKibbin brings eight years of experience with the town’s inner workings, and all three trustees bring fresh ideas to the town board.
As a follow up to interviews with Kostick and Resa a week after the elections, SneakPEAK asked Knabel and McKibbin to weigh in on everything from Eagle’s current economic hurdles to the future of down-valley growth.
SneakPEAK: Now that campaigning is finished and you’ve taken office, what issue requires your most immediate attention?
Joe Knabel: Improving the financial strength of the town is very important at this time. Due to the economic conditions, we have seen a decrease in the available revenues to the town. While aggressive steps have been taken to cut back on the expenditures, the overall budget has seen a steady decline over the past several years. The town needs to continue to support the existing businesses where we can and create opportunities for growing new businesses. As citizens of the town, we all pay our share of property taxes, but the main “boost” to the town’s budget comes from sales tax revenues generated by the local businesses.
Anne McKibbin: The most important issue for the town has been and will continue to be living within its means. The town’s budget is driven largely by sales tax revenue, and preserving the existing revenue stream while working to bring commercial development to the town that will add to that stream is critical. At the same time, the town needs to be very careful in planning its expenditures to make the most of the financial resources we have. As much as possible, I would like to see the town remain financially viable without the need for significant cuts in staff or services.
SP: Your most pressing concern may be different from Eagle’s biggest long-term challenge. If so, what’s the biggest challenge the town faces?
Knabel: During the campaign, I mentioned that one of the biggest issues facing the town over the next several years would be the replacement of the existing town manager. Willy Powell, the existing town manager, has indicated his desire to retire within the coming years, though an exact timeframe has not been decided upon. Willy has been committed, persevering and enduring at the position of town manager – finding the right replacement will not be a simple task. Regardless of the path the town chooses in the selection of the town manager, we must consider a transitional period so there is not a missed step in the operations of our town and its government.
McKibbin: (Answered the same as the first question.)
SP: The Eagle River Station proposal is a major issue, and you now share office with people of differing views at a time when residents demand action. How will you work productively with other officials to find a solution you think is best?
Knabel: It is the responsibility of the Town Board of Trustees to make decisions for the community based on fact rather than emotion. We must be able to weigh through all the information and make the best decisions for the town and its continued financial strength. In the case of Eagle River Station, the project will be voted on by the citizens of the town. If the project is approved, the Town Board of Trustees and the town staff will continue to work with the development team to ensure the greatest success for the project.
McKibbin: The town board is like any other group of people charged with a responsibility: Not everyone will agree on how to best address any one issue. The art of finding solutions is to hear what everyone has to say, to actively contribute to that discussion, and then in the end reach a consensus about how to move forward, and then move forward as a unified body. It does not preclude disagreement, but it does require respect and a willingness to acknowledge and support a collective action or decision once that action or decision has been made.
SP: Economic uncertainty is inescapable in Eagle County, from school district budget cuts to a disappointing season at up-valley ski resorts. How will you ensure Eagle’s long-term security while moving forward with town projects?
Knabel: The town needs to have an established, yet flexible, long-term economic plan that can be monitored for progress. The plan needs to be flexible to allow for the uncertainties that inevitably occur. In better terms, the plan needs to be somewhat conservative to allow us to “weather” through the economic uncertainties. I do believe that the town must capitalize on any development opportunities that are presented as long as they meet the long term economic plan for the town and they satisfy the requirements set forth in guiding documents.
McKibbin: The town needs to position itself to be receptive to property owners and developers who wish to bring commercial enterprises to this town that will provide jobs, increase business diversity, and either directly (as a retail business) or indirectly (by infusing money into the community through payrolls which can then be spent at other town businesses) support and hopefully increase our tax revenues. With the new Eagle Area Community Plan, we have taken a significant step in this direction. More tangible actions, such as the upcoming redesign of Eby Creek Road, are ways the town can mitigate economic uncertainty.
SP: As of 2011, communities in the Central Rockies had the highest home foreclosure rates in Colorado. Foreclosure filings in Eagle County hit 437 last year, with the majority coming from Eagle and Gypsum. What can be done at the town level to help struggling homeowners?
Knabel: Unfortunately, home foreclosure is typically a direct result from the homeowner’s loss of income or a result of financing decisions that did not work out. The Town Board of Trustees needs to continue to work to keep the town in the best financial position. In a time when foreclosures have been at historically high levels, increases in property taxes may not be the most feasible solution. On several occasions, I have heard citizens recommend an increase in property taxes to help offset the decline in sales tax revenues for the town. This option would only add further financial burden to an already unstable housing market. It is my opinion that the town needs to capitalize on new development opportunities to create both immediate and long-term jobs for the citizens of our community.
McKibbin: The town can best help struggling homeowners by first making sure it takes care of itself and continues to provide the essential services that all of us as homeowners expect and need. We need to do that as much as possible, without adding burden to homeowners and property owners. We certainly will not solve the economic crisis on our own, but we can continue to make Eagle an attractive place to live.