Environmental sustainability efforts have been identified as Vail’s highest priorities for action according to respondents who took part in the Town of Vail community survey which was circulated during the spring. The survey findings were presented to the Town Council on June 16 by the research firm RRC Associates which also included an overview of department and service ratings as well as comments associated with the public health crisis.
The survey was conducted in an online and mail-back format during March and April and generated 1,348 responses, an increase of 25% from the previous survey conducted in 2018. Participants included full-time residents, part-time residents, business owners, commuters and other parties.
When asked to rank community priorities from a list of 10 topics, respondents listed “actions to protect and enhance Gore Creek,” “actions to protect wildlife habitat” and “expand recycling and waste reduction efforts” as the top three priorities with 50% or more of the respondents listing them as high priority actions. The next highest rankings were for “renewable energy projects in town,” “housing for resident-occupied, deed-restricted households” and “defining comprehensive parking management policies (potentially through additional parking spaces and pricing/management strategies),” with 30% or more of respondents listing them as high priority actions. It was noted that year-round residents were twice as likely to rate resident-occupied housing as a priority than by part-time residents.
The survey contained several questions designed to provide insight concerning current opinions on housing-related policies, as well as preliminary information on attitudes toward a potential ballot initiative to fund local efforts for resident-occupied, deed-restricted housing. A key finding from the survey shows there is a slightly larger proportion of respondents indicating they are willing to consider a tax, 39%, than those indicating they will not consider, 34%. A notable 27% are uncertain. In a follow-up question, of those that are willing to consider a tax, almost half, 49%, favor a sales tax increase, compared to 31% identifying property tax as their preference. Another 20% were undecided. The results show that there are divisions of opinions on these questions and the “undecided” segment would likely be determinative in any election.
A series of questions related to COVID-19 were added to the survey during the early days of the pandemic to gather input on local behavior as well as opinions on the situation. The findings identified health and safety concerns expressed by older residents, requests for frequent updates on local infection numbers and testing, and an overall concern for employees and businesses impacted by the early closure of Vail Mountain and other shut-downs associated with the safer at home public health orders. Survey results also indicated a hesitation to take on extensive new building programs associated with implementation of the Civic Area Master Plan with only 12% identifying it as a first or second priority.
In its report, RRC acknowledges that the prolonged impacts of COVID-19 continue to influence local thinking and that changing priorities may not be fully captured in the results which were obtained primarily in late March through early April. “We believe the survey findings are relevant and can be used to support current and forward-looking planning by the town,” said Chris Cares, RRC managing director, who supervised Vail’s survey. “However, the impacts of COVID-19 are fluid and local opinions may be shifting, particularly concerning topics like the economy and public health.”
Regarding the overall direction of the town, the majority of respondents were supportive with 57% saying the town is going in the “right direction,” but down slightly from the 61% rating in 2018. Another 24% said Vail is on the “wrong track,” identical to the results in 2018. Slightly more respondents, 19%, said they “didn’t know” compared to 16% in 2018. A review of the open-ended comments associated with this question suggests concerns associated with the Booth Heights housing approval in East Vail, suggestions for greater protections for the bighorn sheep herd and comments of encouragement for Town Council’s exploration of alternative housing sites and its response to the public health crisis. Comments were also provided about the satisfaction and quality of town services.
Responses to a set of questions designed to evaluate satisfaction with accountability and outreach by the town were virtually identical to 2018. “Approachability of staff and Town Council members” received the highest score with a rating of 4.2 on a 5-point scale with 5 being “very satisfied.” The lowest rated attribute, “being collaborative in the decision-making process,” received an average rating of 3.6. Ratings for “offering public engagement opportunities” and “providing information to citizens” each received scores of 4.1.
Respondents offered higher overall scores for a variety of municipal services and departments, continuing a trend identified in 2018. The highest scores were given to the following categories, with 5 being “very satisfied.”
Relatively lower ratings were given to parking operations:
Vail’s events program received attention in the survey and a series of questions probed the experience created by events, the number of events and satisfaction with events. The results indicate a high level of satisfaction with events, with general improvement in ratings over already positive 2018 results. Most respondents said events create a positive or very positive experience for residents and guests, 87%. Additionally, most respondents felt the number of events was “about right,” 76%, with 17% saying there are “too many.”
In addition, the survey addressed transportation-related topics. Responses on a question about the use of outlying neighborhood bus routes in Vail indicate 50% would use the bus more in summer if service was increased and 42% said they would use service more in winter.
Lastly, respondents were asked a series of ownership and property rental questions. One of the questions was: “to what extent the loss of long-term rental housing is a problem for Vail at this time.” Nearly half, 49%, identified the loss as a serious or critical problem with 22% indicating one of the lesser problems or not a problem.
The third-party consultants that assisted the town also emphasized the power of the open-ended comments received from the Vail community. Respondents took time to deliver over 10,000 written messages that include a wide range of suggestions and opinions addressing issues and opportunities. These comments have been organized to assist town staff and decision-makers to consider verbatim input on a wide variety of topics as Vail looks to the future.
The full report from RRC Associates is available here.