Critics scrutinize budget of proposed rec center at Crown Mountain Park
October 18, 2013
Editor's note: This is the final part of a two-part series on the proposed midvalley recreation center at Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel.
Foes of a proposed midvalley recreation center contend there is too much financial risk involved because similar facilities elsewhere in the Roaring Fork Valley require large subsidies to keep them afloat.
"It is a money pit with no bottom," said a comment submitted by an opponent for inclusion on the "pros and cons" section of the Nov. 5 ballot.
Proponents insist they have taken a conservative approach to the annual operating expense estimates and likely would be able to bank funds for a later date if the need ever arises.
"We do not want to go into cost overruns," said Bill Reynolds, president of the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District board of directors. "We don't want to get into a situation like upvalley."
The Aspen Recreation Center relies on the city's general fund to subsidize about half of its annual operations. Revenues raise about $1.12 million annually, while expenses are $2.36 million. The subsidy from the general fund is $1.23 million.
The Glenwood Springs Community Center raises about 56 percent of its $2.04 million in expenses through revenues. It requires an $895,542 annual subsidy.
Both the Aspen and Glenwood Springs facilities include ice rinks. The midvalley plan does not.
Proponents of the midvalley recreation center acknowledge the facility won't operate in the black. The estimated total cost of operating the proposed 63,000-square-foot recreation center would be $1.46 million annually. Membership dues, fees for classes and rent for facilities would raise about $985,956 per year, or roughly two-thirds of the operating and maintenance expenses, according to the district's estimates.
Question 4C seeks voter approval of a 2.5-mill property tax levy to raise at least $478,233 annually for the life of the facility to subsidize operations. (The other question on the ballot, 4D, seeks voter approval of $25 million in bonds for construction. The bonds would be repaid through a property tax increase of 5.0 mills.)
Katie Schwoerer, an organizer of the opposition group No on 4C and 4D, said the numbers are flawed. The district is inaccurately counting on initial "honeymoon numbers" to continue well past the recreation center's initial months, she said. The foes believe the numbers will trail off, leaving a bigger gap for operations and maintenance.
"They never operate in the black," Schwoerer said. "They have to go back to the taxpayers."
Foes fear that the facility will be built and that the recreation district would then have to return to voters and say, "We've got a great facility, but we need more funds to operate it."
It's a part of the debate that's impossible to resolve prior to the election. Proponents said they dug into the numbers of other recreation centers to come up with their budget and the amount of the required subsidy.
The Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District contends in campaign materials that it actually would collect a surplus of funds for the annual property tax for operations and maintenance rather than require a bigger subsidy. The surplus funds would be banked in a reserve fund and used if use changes.
The property tax wouldn't entitle property owners to admission to the recreation center. The current projections are that the adult, in-district fee for admission would be $54 per month or the discounted amount of $540 for an annual pass. A four-month pass for fitness classes would be sold for $120, according to the district's current estimate.
On an annual basis, that would be $900 to use the swimming pools and other facilities and to take a couple of classes per week, such as spinning. That is in addition to whatever greater property tax would be paid for homeowners or increased rent for renters resulting from the property tax hike.
Seniors 70 and older who live in the district would get free admission, but they would be required to pay to attend classes.
An in-district family would pay $864 for an annual pass and $240 for a four-month pass for classes.
All told, the district anticipates that passes would raise about $675,480 annually.
Andy Wiessner, another organizer of the opposition group, said if those funds don't materialize, the recreation center would either be forced to make reductions to cut expenses or go back to voters. It's a risk he advises taxpayers not to take.
District officials counter by saying they have done their homework. They seek voters' trust.
Mail ballots for the Nov. 5 election started arriving this week. The Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District stretches from Old Snowmass to the Eagle-Garfield county line. It includes Basalt, El Jebel, Sopris Village, Blue Lake and Summit Vista as well as parts of Missouri Heights and the Fryingpan Valley.