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So Who Will Get Screwed out of Vail Sales Tax Revenue? Park City or Summit County.

You, me, and half of Park City are buying our Epic Passes right now.  If the rain we’ve seen recently continues into Winter, it’s going to be a hell of a ski year.  It might also be a hell of a year for our local governments to figure out whether they received the proper sales tax dollars from Vail.

When you buy your Epic Pass, Vail has to remit a portion of the sale (the sales tax) to Utah since they have operations here.  The state then keeps 4.7% of that and sends the rest to the locality where the operations are. The city or county gets then gets their portion of the money.  Sales tax makes localities very happy. 😉

Well, not always.  Last year there was an issue where some businesses outside of Park City city limits (i.e. in Kimball Junction) had incorrectly said they were in Park City. Their sales tax dollars went to the Park City instead of Summit County.  As dumb luck would have it, a Park City Municipal employee was eating lunch in Kimball Junction and got charged the Park City rate and said “uh, this doesn’t look right”.  Summit County filed some paperwork and received about a million dollars in tax revenue they were owed.  What we learned out of that process is that the tax collection process is hard… and it’s about to get harder.

This brings us back to the Epic Pass, PCMR, Canyons, Park City, and Summit County.  When you buy your Epic Pass, you never see the taxes. They are baked into the price, but they are there.  4.7% of the purchase price goes to Utah.  The rest goes to the locality, either Park City or Summit County.  The tricky issue is that Vail has operations in both Park City and Summit County. It gets harder yet because the tax rates are different.  Park City has a 7.95% base rate.  Summit County has a 6.05% base rate.  Let’s make it even trickier, since Park City has the right (as a city) to charge resort taxes.  That is an extra 6.35% tax owed to them.  So you buy your Epic Pass, where and how much taxes are going to who? Great question.

If you go to Jan’s and buy skis for $600, you are charged the Park City rate (7.95%), they add $48 to your bill, and that money goes to Park City.  Now you are buying the full Epic Pass online for $750, where the tax is some portion of that $750, with operations in two separate localities, where you never see the tax or tax rate, and Vail is going to remit some money to someone.

From a pure business standpoint Vail would be better off trying to run that all through the Canyons, since they would pay less tax. They are charging a flat $569 for the Epic Local Pass and I’m sure they would rather remit less money out of that to Summit County than remit more money to Park City, since Park City taxes are higher. That being said Vail is very good and this isn’t their first rodeo. Perhaps they have it all figured out.

I hope Summit County and Park City are just as good and ensure that the way Vail has it figured matches their figures.  If not, somebody is going to get screwed.


h/t to JLM for this idea


Vail May Give You a Cheap Epic Pass But What Are You Going to Pay for Parking?

A friend of the Park Rag sent a message about Vail that said… “yeah, cheap pass to get you in the door but then charge you for breathing on the mountain”.  Our minds naturally went to the low hanging fruit of additional charges… parking.  That led us to research what is charged for parking at or near a Vail resort:

  • Vail: $25
  • Breckenridge: $5-$20
  • Keystone: mix of free and paid (gondola and certain parking lots paid)
  • Heavenly: mix of free and paid (gondola parking paid)
  • Beaver Creek: free

In the past, PCMR had an add-on to their pass that included underground parking. It wouldn’t be a leap for Vail to begin charging for the underground lot and the surface lot at PCMR. The same could be easily justified for Canyons.  If you want to park all day at the lot at the Cabriolet lift, it may cost you.  Of course free parking will be available at a not-too-far-but-not-too-close lot via a shuttle for free.  If you see some parking lot construction equidistant from PCMR and Canyons, you’ll know we are on to something.

While any parking charges will likely be announced long after most of us have bought our Epic Passes, it wouldn’t surprise us to have to pay an extra $10 per day to use it.

h/t to ASM for suggesting this idea


PC CAPS is Teaching our Children the Wrong Lesson

During April 2012 there was a heated debate over whether to start the PC CAPS program, an initiative by the Park City School system to provide real-world experience to high school students through hands on projects. During 2012 there was also a budget crisis within the school system. They needed to slash $4.7 million from the budget and raise taxes to keep afloat. The decision was made to start the PC CAPS program and spend $150,000 over the next two years to put the program into place.

Two years later the annual budget for the program sits at $450,000 — six times what was promised. Oh, and there is another budget crisis causing taxes to be raised again. During this year’s budget discussion, School Superintendent Dr Ember Conley asked whether canceling the PC CAPS program would solve the $3 million shortfall and the response was that it wouldn’t make a dent in the problem. Yet, that’s not the point.

The point is that school leaders made announcements to the public stating that PC CAPS will cost the tax payers no more than $75,000 per year to get up and running. Three months later they hire a PC CAPS Coordinator that makes $125,000 per year in total compensation. At the same time in 2012 the Park Record reported “[PCSD Student Services Director Tom] VanGorder said initially they don’t plan on building a PC CAPS building, but will ask the participating businesses to provide workspace at each location for the students.”  Two years later they need $5 million for a new building to house the PC CAPS program. It begs the question whether there is anyone who can accurately forecast expenses in the school district or whether the public is just told what they want to hear. Worse yet, no one seems to even apologize for the inaccuracy. It leaves the public saying “can we trust what is said going forward?”.

It is true that the PC CAPS has received grants of $262,550 (according to their website) to offset some of the expense. However, this likely offsets about a 30% of the expenses through the end of this fiscal year — and that doesn’t count the $5 million toward the new building that wasn’t going to be needed.

The PC CAPS program generally seems like a good idea.  Many kids are getting an experience that would be tough to get elsewhere.   The problem is that the program was sold with false promises.  If Tom VanGorder stood up in 2012 and said this program is going to cost about $500,000 per year and we are going to spend $5 million on a building to house the students, does anyone think CAPS would have been approved?  Probably not… but at least it would have been honest.  Perhaps it’s just another case of “say and do whatever is needed to get the outcome you want.”  I’m not sure that’s a lesson our school system wants to be teaching our kids.

More good news… if you had already bought a PCMR pass. Looks like you’ll be taken care of

Many of our friends who had bought PCMR passes were worried that they would be in trouble with the Vail buyout of PCMR.  According to the buyout press release, “All PCMR passes for the 2014-2015 ski season will continue to be honored and can be exchanged or upgraded for a season pass that will also be valid at Canyons. ”

That’s more good news.

See the whole press release here.

By Abstaining, School Board Member Tania Knauer Exemplifies What Is Wrong With Many Park City Leaders

The Park City School Board recently voted to increase property taxes by over $3 million dollars to cover upcoming shortfalls. That vote was 4-0 with one member abstaining. One member abstaining? Was that one member absent? Did she miss part of the discussion? Did she need to leave during the vote to use the bathroom? No. When School Board president Moe Hickey announced that it was a unanimous decision, Ms. Knauer spoke up and noted that she had actually abstained from voting.

The Park Record reports that during previous comments during the meeting Knauer stated, “My concern is the budget is not sustainable. I feel uncomfortable voting (in favor of the increase).” Then why abstain? Either you think taxes should be increased or not. Put another way, most people wouldn’t be ambivalent about school funding vs. tax increases. As an elected official you should have an opinion and that is why voters elected you.

This feels more like a stunt out of Washington where an elected official worries that a “vote against education” will be used against them. Am I watching House of Cards or is this is the Park City School Board? Perhaps the next election is more important than convictions.  There seems to be a fear of going against the herd.

This concern goes beyond Ms. Knauer. When Park Rag’s predecessor, Summit Counts, was being formed the initial idea was to show which local representative voted for or against each idea. What we found was that almost all votes were unanimous. Very infrequently did an opposing vote ever get placed. This says to Park City citizens that it doesn’t really matter who you vote for because it will all end up the same. There is a strong lack of diversity in how our officials vote, but that is a topic for another day.

I don’t know Ms. Knauer personally but judging from her resume she seems very competent and dedicated to education and our children.  In this case, though, Ms. Knauer contributed to the problem. Instead of voting with her convictions, or at least her comments, she took the easy way out. A 4-1 vote would have said something. Yet we got fear, and a 4-0 vote with one abstaining, and it’s just more of the same…

… and really disappointing.

Death of Crane Driver Shows Why Projects Like Discovery Core Aren’t Smart

Earlier this year, the Summit County Council refused to grant special exceptions to the Discovery Core Project, a housing development behind Weilenmann School. The project required special exceptions because its roads were too steep and setbacks weren’t big enough. Things about it just weren’t safe.

The intelligence of this decision was highlighted by a tragic accident just down the road in Summit Park on September 3rd. The Park Record reported that the driver of a crane “was driving a crane near the intersection of Upper Evergreen Drive and Paradise Road when it went off a steep embankment into a ravine and rolled over onto its side.” Details are still unknown as the accident is under investigation.

Yet, what we know is that the south side of I-80 from Summit Park through Pinebrook can be some of the most challenging driving both because the roads are steep and turns can be tight. The County has rules in place to not only protect the people who live in these areas but the people that construct these places.

While there is always a battle in Summit County between property owners’ right to build and those who want development stopped, the issue of safety goes beyond that. Often a property owner feels like they have the right to do whatever they want with property. That right doesn’t extend to issues that could be a safety concern for residents, visitors, and those working on construction.

The County Council did the right thing when they denied exceptions that could have led to unsafe conditions and an accident like this only amplifies the wisdom of that decision.

Can the Park City School District Be Saved From Itself (and Us)?

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”  –-Walt Kelly

On Thursday night the Park City School Board voted to increase taxes in order to cover a shortfall and raise $3+ million per year. The reasons communicated by various board members include the need for more teachers due to increased enrollment, enrollment by out of district students, agreeing to too much in teacher salary/benefits during the previous negotiations, and healthcare costs that have risen more than could be expected.

Two days before, citizens spoke to the School Board during a truth and taxation meeting.  Former School Board member Vern Christensen put together a forecasting model that suggested that given the best case the school district would no longer be able to raise taxes (due to state limits) in 6 years.  His worst case had us hitting that limit in 3 years. He stated that the costs were out of line with a reality where compensation rises, pensions rise, insurance costs rise but we don’t have the money to pay for it.  Another citizen said that in 2012 taxes were raised and that was supposed to last 5 years.  She asked why 2 years later we were here again.  Snyderville Basin Planing Commissioner Chuck Klingenstein said there were no programs in place to monitor this situation, no forecasted budgets, no implementation plans, and no assessments of programs.  He also lamented that he felt like he put in a lot of research time during the proposed 2012 tax increase but it seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Unfortunately deaf ears seem to persist.  The vote was 4-0 in favor of the tax increase (with one member abstaining). Yet, during the discussion leading up to the vote, one could tell that the board seems to realize there is a problem.  School Board President Moe Hickey commented, “There is no significant cut unless we cut programs or change delivery mechanisms.”  Another member commented they they previously had tried to increase class size to help solve budget problems, “and the people went nuts”.  It was also stated that they realize program like Early Release put pressure on the system.   It’s almost like the $17 trillion national U.S. debt.  Most people realize its an issue, but it’s just too big to solve. So they let it ride and hope for the best.

The School Board did discuss some “solutions” like encouraging the Utah state legislature to give schools more money, talking about lowering future growth of teacher salaries and benefits, and mentioning that retirement funding requirements may not continue to rise every year. Unfortunately this mix of candy cane wishes and gingerbread hugs isn’t likely to come to fruition.

The truth is that we as a community are nearing our limit to fund the school system we currently have.  Even if we are willing to pay increasingly more taxes for the same outcome we have today, shortly that ability to raise taxes is going to be slammed down on us by state law.  At that point, it is likely drastic cuts will take place.  As has been repeated by School Board members, there are really only two ways to address the issue long-term, cut programs and reduce overall money spent on compensation.  That is what will happen, one way or another, eventually.

Given the current situation, we as citizens can’t demand the problem be fixed but then “go nuts” about class sizes.  We can’t say we need to figure out how to handle rising salaries but then write 100 letters to the Park Record complaining that if we don’t have the best paid teachers in the state our children will suffer.  We can’t say we need to cut programs but then protest when the CAPS program is shelved or early release is cut back.

If we don’t begin to realize that cutbacks are needed, taxes will continue to rise, until they can’t.  At that point the only option will be cuts in programs and cuts in teachers.  Meanwhile, the average citizen’s property taxes will have been raised for education — and if you are one of the unlucky ones your home valuation will have risen from 2010-recession lows — it will be a triple whammy.  You’ll have paid more taxes to schools along the way.  Then your home value increases and you pay even more.  Then the teachers and programs are swept away regardless, leaving higher taxes but worse education than you started with.

Unfortunately there will be pain.  We can’t get anywhere from here without a little discomfort.  The question is whether we as citizens are willing to give our elected officials the “cover” they need to do what must be done now, or will we continue to demand that which is unsustainable?  If we choose the latter path we need to be prepared for an eventual eruption that will likely be very devastating to our community.

Note: if you’d like to hear audio from the meeting where they vote to raise taxes, the Park City School district has it online.  It’s great that they offer this, by the way.  Unfortunately, this time it’s poor quality, so we have tried to increase the sound on the copy below. You’ll likely have to increase your volume to hear it.

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