Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series looking at the Nov. 5 ballot questions connected to the proposed indoor recreation center at Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel. Friday’s article will look at the debate over funding operations and maintenance of the facility.
The debate over the proposed midvalley recreation center is really quite simple.
Proponents say the 63,000-square-foot, indoor facility would be a great amenity that provides everything from lap and leisure swimming pools to a senior center for midvalley residents at an affordable price.
Opponents don’t see it that way. They say the facility is too big, adds too much to property bills and runs the risk of requiring a further subsidy for operations.
A core constituency of support is parents — some but not all — who don’t want to haul their kids to gymnastics at the Glenwood Recreation Center or the swimming pool at the Aspen Recreation Center.
“This is a tangible tax hike,” said Laurie Soliday, chairwoman of the issue committee Friends of Mid Valley Recreation Center. Soliday is the owner and operator of a midvalley day care. She said the recreation center appeals to her because it provides “community capital” by offering kids of all ages somewhere to go after school and during summers.
Uses determined by surveys
The facilities touted by supporters include the pools, a lazy-river water feature and a hot tub; a climbing wall; a gymnasium for basketball, volleyball, martial arts, indoor soccer, dances, movies and birthday parties; a second gym dedicated to gymnastics and zero-gravity training for aerial training into a foam pit; an indoor track for jogging and walking; two group fitness rooms, weight-training and cardio equipment; a senior center; and a community room that can accommodate up to 100 people.
The uses and programs were determined after extensive interviews with midvalley residents, according to Bill Reynolds, president of the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District. The proposed location of the recreation center at Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel was also determined through the surveys.
“There has been a lot of talk about the size,” said Reynolds. “This facility, first and second floor, is 63,000 square feet. Its footprint is 43,000 square feet.”
The total acreage used for the facility — from the building to parking and landscaping — would be 7.6 acres. Crown Mountain Park is 120 acres.
Consultants advised Crown Mountain to go with the size of a facility that’s needed from the beginning rather than return to voters at a later date to fund an expansion, Reynolds said. Reducing the facility to reduce the cost would dramatically affect programs and other offerings, he said.
Therefore, the proponents tried to balance size with need. “We’re not talking about making this thing into a Taj Mahal,” Reynolds said at what was billed as a neutral informational gathering Tuesday evening. State law prohibits district officials from spending money or time campaigning for the measure. Friends of Midvalley Recreation Center is an independent issue committee.
The proposed facility does not include a sheet of ice, as some midvalley residents believe.
Two tax hikes on ballot
The park and recreation district is seeking voter approval of two ballot questions in the Nov. 5 election. Question 4C seeks a property tax increase of 2.5 mills to raise at least $735,000 annually for operations and maintenance of the facility.
Question 4D seeks approval to issue $25 million in bonds to construct the center. The property tax for residents of the district would go up by 5 mills to pay off the bonds. The total repayment for the construction bonds over 20 years is estimated at $50.85 million.
While the tax hike for construction would expire after 20 years, the tax hike for operations and maintenance would continue indefinitely.
The recreation district’s boundaries match those of the Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District. That encompasses Basalt, El Jebel, part of Missouri Heights, park of the Fryingpan Valley and upvalley Old Snowmass.
District officials acknowledge the midvalley center would be the first in the Roaring Fork Valley to be supported by a dedicated property tax. Recreation centers in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Snowmass Village and Aspen were built and are operated through sales and recreation taxes as well as real estate transfer assessments. Some of the municipalities also use general funds to subsidize operations.
Critics target the tax increase
Most foes to the recreation center have focused on the cost. Andy Wiessner of rural Pitkin County said the property tax increase would be 9.6 percent for residents of Basalt and about 11 percent for residents elsewhere in the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District. His figures came from the assessors’ offices of Pitkin and Eagle counties.
“Eleven percent is a big increase,” Wiessner said.
He said he doesn’t feel that indoor recreation is an essential public service that should be funded through property taxes. Specifically, he criticized the idea that residents of the Colorado Rockies need facilities such as an indoor running track. “What’s the matter with running outdoors?” Wiessner asked.
Katie Schwoerer, a former councilwoman from Basalt, is also organizing opposition through the Vote No on 4C and 4D issue committee. She said the overall cost of construction and operations would be as much as $60 million over the next 20 years. That would make the annual tax rate by Crown Mountain one of the largest in the midvalley.
“That’s the most significant tax other than (the downvalley school district),” she said.
Two sides, two views
Each side is trying to spin the property tax impact their way. The supporters of the recreation center said the midvalley has an opportunity to add a state-of-the-art facility at a marginal cost. The combined cost of the property-tax hikes for construction and operations would add $66.12 per $100,000 on the value of a house in the district. The annual property tax cost for the owner of a house with a value of $500,000 would be $330.60.
Crown Mountain already collects a property tax for the creation, operations and maintenance of the outdoor park. The existing and proposed property tax would be $85.82 per $100,000 of home value.
Soliday said that is a wise investment for a facility that promotes health, wellness and community. Proponents have said during the campaign that numerous adult and children’s programs will be offered at the recreation center.
Wiessner said midvalley property owners have a finite tolerance for increased taxes. He doesn’t think the limited capacity should be spent on the indoor recreation center.
“If we’re going to spend the money, let’s spend it on our schools,” he said.
Schwoerer said not every town in the valley needs its own recreation center. Other towns already have great facilities, she said. A more cost-effective option for the midvalley would be covering Basalt’s pool and making upgrades that would allow year-round use.
She questioned why people live in the mountains if they want all the amenities of a Denver suburb.