A total of 26 units are soon to be completed by the town in the SMPA (Silver Jack) and Lot B North (Longwill 16) projects. Two of those units will be reserved for town employees. I am writing to add some important facts and historical context to the recent controversy surrounding Town Council’s July 23 decision to substitute a four-bedroom unit for a two-bedroom unit.
Let’s begin with an overview of the town’s prior history of reserving town-constructed housing units for town employees. In 2005, the town reserved one of seven units in the town-constructed Telluride Family Housing development. In 2006, the town reserved one of 16 units in the town-constructed Mendota project. In 2009, the town reserved two of 17 units in the town-constructed Entrada project. In 2018, the town reserved two of 27 units in the town-constructed Virginia Placer project for on-call first responders, adding those to the two-bedroom Shandoka unit already reserved for marshals on call. In each case, these units were taken out of any applicable lottery conducted for the underlying project.
As a result of the public outcry surrounding a former Telluride town manager who chose to live in Mountain Village, since 2010 our town manager has been required to live in the Town of Telluride as a condition of their employment. The town manager is the only town employee subject to such a restriction. Recognizing the corresponding financial burden imposed by this requirement, the town has historically made one of the two reserved Entrada units available to the town manager for either rental or purchase.
During the past four years, the town has lost 50 employees and gained 51 employees. With only four housing units reserved for town employees, plus an additional three housing units available only to first responders during the times they are on call, far too many of these individuals have been unable to find affordable housing. Losing a town manager is particularly expensive, costing the town between $25,000 and $50,000 each time in recruiter fees and staff time in order to find a replacement manager. In addition to the cost of the search, members of the current Town Council who participated in the 2017 manager search also became acutely aware of the fact that Telluride fell short in terms of both salary and housing when compared to peer mountain resort communities at that time.
In a recent survey of full-time town employees, 16 individuals expressed the desire to purchase any unit reserved for a town employee. Town staff responsible for recruiting and retaining town employees have confirmed the enormous value of having deed-restricted units reserved for town employees.
Since relocating to Telluride in November 2017, our current town manager, his wife and their four young children have lived in an approximately 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom unit earmarked for a town employee. In recent months, headhunters have made unsolicited calls to our current town manager, pitching various resort town manager vacancies. Consistent with the 2017 disparity, current vacancies offer both a substantially higher base salary and a larger housing benefit. The current Aspen manager vacancy includes an approximately 2,200-square-foot, three-bedroom home. The current Vail manager vacancy includes a more than 3,000-square-foot, six-bedroom home.
Recognizing the very real possibility that we might ultimately lose current and future employees, I suggested to Town Council at our most recent meeting that we modify a recommendation made by the Telluride Housing Authority Subcommittee. Instead of following the subcommittee’s recommendation to reserve a total of two units in the SMPA and Lot B North projects for town employees (a two-bedroom unit and a three-bedroom unit), I proposed that we still reserve a total of two units for town employees, but substitute a four-bedroom unit for the recommended two-bedroom unit.
In each case, two units of the 26 new units would be removed from the lottery. Unlike the recommended scenario, the suggested alternative scenario would free up the town manager’s current two-bedroom unit, meeting the need for the two-bedroom unit recommended by the subcommittee, while providing a 1,525-square foot, four-bedroom unit to accommodate the manager’s six-person household.
This Town Council, like each of its predecessor town councils, has the power to accept, modify or reject any recommendation of the Telluride Housing Authority Subcommittee. All three alternatives have historically occurred. In this instance, following robust discussion among council members, including public comment, four members of council voted to modify the subcommittee’s recommendation as suggested. Included in this decision was a careful balancing of the public demand for large, family sized deed-restricted units with the need to reserve similar units for town employees with large families.
After completion of the SMPA and Lot B North projects, there will be approximately 350 deed-restricted units within the Town of Telluride. Adding two units to the four units currently reserved for town employees increases the number of such units from 1.1 percent to 1.7 percent of that total.
To suggest that a majority of Town Council somehow blindsided members of the community, including members of the Telluride Housing Authority Subcommittee, is to ignore five critical facts: 1. The town’s 14-year history of reserving town-constructed units for its employees; 2. The high demand among current town employees to purchase any unit reserved for a town employee; 3. The significant challenges in recruiting and retaining both current and future town employees; 4. The significant disparity in the housing benefit currently offered by Telluride to its town manager compared to that offered by other mountain resort communities; and 5. The very nature of a recommendation from a subcommittee to the full Town Council.
A difficult decision was made in this case. Added drama after the fact is unfortunate and should be tempered with a full understanding of the facts.