Basalt likely to seek voters’ trust in election
August 13, 2013
Basalt town government will likely seek $5 million in bonding authority and a healthy dose of trust from voters in the November election.
The town wants approval to issue the bonds to generate money needed to relocate residents of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park, make alterations to ease the flooding risk of the Roaring Fork River and build a new riverside park, Town Manager Mike Scanlon said Monday.
Town officials believe the bonds can be repaid without raising property taxes — but that's where trust from voters comes in. By law, the ballot question must state how much property taxes could rise even if the intent isn't to raise them, according to Scanlon.
The ballot question will explain that the town doesn't foresee a property tax hike to repay the bonds, he said.
So how will the town pay off the bonds? The majority of it will come from an existing 1 percent sales tax for parks, open space and trails, known as the town's POST tax. The town has received a legal opinion that those funds can be used to relocate the mobile-home residents who reside on property that will become the park, Scanlon said. The money also can be used for river alterations, Scanlon said, but they cannot be used for purposes that ultimately have a direct benefit to a private party such as a developer, he said.
Money recouped from a developer would pay off 17 percent of the bonds. Money would be loaned to the Basalt Sanitation District for a project tied to the Pan and Fork redevelopment. Repayment of that money would go toward paying off the bonds, Scanlon said.
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Town officials concede that the complicated information will be a lot for voters to digest in a relatively short time. Plus, it comes at a time when residents indicate they don't know what the town government is up to (see related story on A6).
The Basalt Town Council must approve language for a ballot question by Sept. 6. During the two-month campaign, the town can offer neutral information — such as pros and cons of the bond issuance — but it cannot try to "sell" the proposal to voters, Scanlon said. It is unknown whether an issue committee will emerge to promote the ballot question.
The town envisions a $7.5 million project related to whipping the Pan and Fork site into shape for development. The majority of the money is needed for the relocation of residents of the mobile home park, which is in the 100-year floodplain.
Scanlon and his staff are working on relocation with families that occupy eight of the homes. That space is needed for staging for the first phase of the river work, Scanlon said. Residents will be offered assistance finding other housing, and in cases where they own the units, they will be offered money to offset the loss of their homes. Federal law prohibits moving many of the trailers because of their age, Scanlon said.
The election for bonding authority could be viewed by some voters as a referendum on development, Scanlon and Mayor Jacque Whitsitt acknowledged. About 2.2 acres of the Pan and Fork site are eyed for a commercial and residential development as well as a nonprofit campus.
To ensure the redevelopment, the trailer-park residents must be relocated, the river work must be completed and the park must be created, Scanlon said. Even if a resident is opposed to development, the project makes sense because it will add public access to the river, he said.
"It's a long-term investment in the town of Basalt, whether it's east or west," Scanlon said.
Merchants in the downtown core are pressuring the town to take action to draw more activity there. Willits Town Center in West Basalt became a commercial powerhouse last year when Whole Foods Market opened.
Scanlon said the redevelopment is a worthwhile project to pursue because it benefits Basalt — not because it is downtown's answer to Willits.
"First of all, you have to get over this arms war," he said.
Whitsitt said infill development within the town's boundaries is consistent with her slow-growth approach.
"I've been one that's been screeching on the brakes (on development) for 15 years," she said.
For the $7.5 million needed for the project connected to the redevelopment of the Pan and Fork, about 6 percent or $500,000 would come from the town's general fund, according to Scanlon's plan. Another 27 percent or $2 million would come from existing revenue from the POST tax. The remaining 67 percent or $5 million would come from the bond proceeds.
If voters don't approve the bonding authority, the residents of the mobile-home park still will be relocated, but it will take longer, Scanlon said. The river work also will be phased over a longer period of time.