Basalt council majority sets course on park ballot question |

Basalt council majority sets course on park ballot question

This drawing shows the Basalt River Park at the proposed full design. It features a children's play area, a great lawn with stone terraces, gathering areas on the waterfront and boardwalks.
DHM Design/courtesy image |

After countless meetings, fights and deliberations in recent months, the Basalt Town Council carved out a proposed direction Tuesday night on building a park at the Pan and Fork property.

Although no formal vote was taken, the council majority directed their staff to prepare language for the November ballot that will seek voter approval for about $6.5 million in bonds to pay for park improvements.

The proposal won’t require new property taxes. Instead, the town government will ask voters to extend existing property taxes — set to expire in 2020 — for another six years. Town officials said at Tuesday night’s meeting they think they can make a good case for the funding because interest rates are at their lowest level in nearly 70 years at 1.5 percent.

The town’s existing sales tax for parks, open space and trails also will be used to pay off bonds under the proposal.

“We could get the fries and a shake for the $7 million.”— Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle

Five of the seven council members were at the meeting. Gary Tennenbaum and Auden Schendler couldn’t attend. The five council members discussed paring down a $7.1 million “wish list” of park amenities and related infrastructure improvements recommended by their Parks, Open Space and Trails Board and a consultant.

However, they stuck with the plan and figured with “value engineering,” they could reduce the cost by about 10 percent.

Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle said her typical approach is to order what she knows she can afford. After listening to a payment plan from Town Manager Mike Scanlon, she said she believes the town can afford several proposed amenities. The council likened the proposal to ordering fries and a shake with a burger.

“We could get the fries and a shake for the $7 million,” she said.

The council reserved the right to pare down the park construction plan further, but as it stands it would include work on Two River Road near the intersection of Midland Avenue, reconstruction of bus stop structures, a band shell structure, bathrooms and amenities such as a “water structure” that kids could safely play in.

Councilman Bernie Grauer said he is hearing from constituents that people are willing to pay for amenities to make a nice park. They don’t want to see just grass in the property. He said elements like a kids’ water feature are critical.

“To me, that’s the essence of making the park usable,” he said. “You’ve got to put sugar in there to get voters.”

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said voters in the Roaring Fork Valley have proven they will support well-reasoned funding requests for open space and schools. She said she feels Basalt voters will approve bonds to build what she called a “legacy park.”

“It’s going to be a sales pitch,” she said.

Councilman Mark Kittle initially favored paring the cost of the project down, but he became convinced that funding the improvements now, while interest rates are so low, was the best course.

Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer was the lone skeptic.

“I want this but it’s a big number,” she said.

The purchase of additional property at the Pan and Fork site isn’t included in the price. The town is negotiating with the nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. to buy 2.3 acres along Two Rivers Road. The town already owns about 3 acres along the Roaring Fork River.

Bonds wouldn’t be used to buy the additional land. Scanlon is working on a plan to issue Certificates of Participation, where the town would use the land as collateral with lenders.

The staff will return to the council with additional details and proposed ballot language at the Aug. 9 meeting. A public hearing will be held at the meeting so residents can express their opinions.

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