Thursday, 19 February 2009

Take a look at Vail

Vail is a small community in Colorado with a permanent population of around 5,000 souls and a large seasonal visitor population. For a British equivalent, think Walton-on-the-Naze or somewhere like it.

Vail has a town manager and a town council of seven members of no discernible political affiliation. It runs its own police force of 31 constables and 32 support personnel, its own fire service which operates out of two fire stations and has five pump appliances and a ladder appliance. The town provides affordable housing for Vail residents, a library, maintains all streets and public works, waste, parks, tourism, licensing of premises for alcohol and the panoply of local municipal services. It manages planning and building control functions and environmental health. Oh yes, and it runs a free year-round bus service within the town and a subsidised service to surrounding hamlets and communities.

Most of the town's income comes from a local sales tax. Tourist hotel rates attract 9.8%, all other sales 8.4%. Of this, Vail gets 4% with the balance going to the County (Eagle County) and the State (Colorado). There's also commercial income from parking and permits, and a local construction tax that helps fund affordable housing. The town's finances are in good shape with healthy balances and a good proportion devoted to capital expenditure.

The town produces a comprehensive annual report - the 2008 report is HERE - that puts the annual report of my London borough, with fifty times the population, to shame.

The US has tens of thousands of Vails. And when I talk of true Localism, this is what I mean; a strong sense of place and community, real power and financial control, direct democratic accountability and shared aspirations for social and economic growth and betterment. And if I look between Vail and Walton-on-the-Naze I want to weep.


it's either banned or compulsory said...

An outlying suburb of my city used to be exactly like that until it was gobbled up in about 1900. You can still see the old Town Hall, Police Station, Fire Brigade HQ and Hospital.
That district is still the poor relation of the main city.

Sue said...

Looks too good to be true. It's wonderful! I love the bit in the leaflet that says "Citizens gather to plan for Vail's future during the 20/20 strategic planning process". (Page 3). True democracy in action.

Anonymous said...

Nice picture of the place in summer.

Isn't is a pretty swanky ski-resort in winter?

Probably a lot of revenue comes from that too.

Not to disparage your point, at all.

idle said...

Good post. Your point well made.

My concern is that the British have moved beyond the ability to govern their Vails in this way. I see each and every Vail (UK) being top-heavy in feckless idle benefit scroungers, rather than robust, self-sufficient burghers.

Umbongo said...

I love this "[Vail's] current debt is $10.3 million and will be paid off by 2012"

However, Vail Town Council is not loaded down with costs of education which is, I believe, either an expense of the State of Colorado or, more probably, is the province of a separate (elected!) school board whose funds are levied on the inhabitants of Vail direct through an extra property tax. When I worked in Denver (in the early/mid 80s) the property taxes were much higher than the poll tax (of blessed memory) payable in London at the time. If I recall correctly, the Denver schools' budget (income and expenditure) was dealt with separately from everything else.

Even so - the US is a democracy and locally generally acts like one. That's not to say that the citizens aren't occasionally swindled into financing over-ambitious projects (cf the replacement of Stapleton international Airport by Denver International) just like in Blighty (cf London 2012). However, in 1976, as a wonderful example of active democracy, the citizens of Colorado refused to fund the winter Olympics in Denver and the idiots of Innsbruck hosted them instead.