Campaign heats up over proposed midvalley recreation center
Ryan Summerlin September 27, 2013
Friends and foes of a proposed midvalley recreation center have stepped up their campaigns in recent days with emails and social-media postings targeting voters in Basalt, El Jebel and surrounding areas.
An unidentified individual or group called Stop the Tax sent a blast email Wednesday night urging recipients to vote “no” on Pitkin County and Eagle County ballot questions 4C and 4D. Question 4D seeks approval to issue $25 million in bonds to construct the recreation center. The bonds would be repaid through a property tax increase.
Question 4C seeks to raise the property tax by 2.5 mills to raise funds for the operations and maintenance of the facility.
The 63,000-square-foot, indoor recreation center is proposed in El Jebel at Crown Mountain Park.
The opposition centers on the property tax hike required to build and operate the facility.
“This is a tax that your children, and grandchildren, will have to pay off when they start their life as an adult,” Stop the Tax’s email said. The organization didn’t respond to an email request for an interview from The Aspen Times.
Once built and operating, the recreation center would add $298.50 to the property tax bill of a home with an actual value of $500,000. When the existing tax is added in, the tax bill would be $390.20 annually.
Other opponents of the proposal have relied on letters to the editor of local newspapers to present their views. Bob Schultz, a midvalley activist and critic of the recreation-center proposal, said he knows of no organized opposition. It appears to be independent, unaffiliated efforts, he said. Schultz said he wasn’t involved in the Stop the Tax email.
Proponents of the recreation center also are ramping up their efforts. Email blasts have been going to 1,700 people identified as supporters, said Laurie Soliday, chairwoman of the campaign committee Friends of the Mid Valley Rec Center. The committee will rely heavily on social media, she said.
“Technology allows us to do so much more than we did with the last vote,” Soliday said, referring to a 2002 election to form the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District and construct the park.
The committee will send out a direct-mail piece to registered voters in the district late this week or early next week. In addition, banners and yard signs will appear soon at midvalley locations, Soliday said. Volunteers are being recruited to place information on doors of households throughout the midvalley over the next three weekends.
A barbecue hosted by the committee attracted roughly 400 people on a rainy Saturday earlier in September. Committee members also are promoting the ballot questions at events such as Back to School Night and the Basalt Sunday Farmers Market.
“Contact with neighbors is key,” Soliday said. “We’re just getting the message out every day from now until the election.”
And what is the proponents’ central message?
“This is a tangible tax hike,” Soliday said.
By that, she means the community will get a facility that promotes health and fitness. It will add numerous amenities, such as a pool and gymnastics equipment, that can be used year-round. While making a direct appeal to people who would use such a facility, the committee also will appeal to the civic-mindedness of others.
“That’s part of being a citizen of a community — you pay (for) things you never use,” Soliday said.
Families without children in the Roaring Fork School District still pay taxes because it benefits the community, she said. Likewise, people pay taxes to the Basalt and Rural Fire District but hope they never need fire suppression or ambulance service, Soliday added.
The direct-mail piece being sent by the committee will outline five reasons they want residents to vote “yes” on the questions.
Schultz, acting as a private individual, submitted language that will be included with the ballot question on why residents should vote “no.”
Among the reasons is his claim that the facility will be a “money-pit with no bottom.” Schultz wrote that residents are being asked for new taxes to build and operate the recreation center and they still will be charged a monthly fee to join and additional fees to participate in classes.
“Our community faces much greater funding needs for education, firefighting, affordable housing, and environmental protection, we need to align our priorities with our spending,” Schultz wrote in his comments for the ballot.
In an interview, he said Crown Mountain Park is already a great amenity that presents opportunities for play and exercise.
“It should be a park,” he said. “It’s fine the way it is.”
Bob Kaufmann, a member of the Friends of the Mid Valley Rec Center committee, countered that the recreation center is a perfect focal point for Crown Mountain. The park was the preferred site by residents who were surveyed, he said, and the 63,000-square-foot size was arrived at after residents were asked what services and programs they desire.
Expect the debate to intensify during the six weeks leading up to the Nov. 5 election. Ballots will be mailed in mid-October for early voting.