Basalt officials see election as referendum on park
The Basalt Town Council is trying to craft a ballot question that will earn voters’ trust in November over use of the controversial former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park property.
The council majority decided Tuesday night it will ask for a greater bond amount than informally eyed one week ago because they want to wrap the cost of buying 2.3 acres into a package with funding for park improvements.
On Aug. 2, the council was leaning toward seeking $6.5 million in bonds to pay for park improvements and using a different financial tool, Certificates of Participation, to buy land from Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. The certificates, which would be paid from sales tax revenue and other sources, wouldn’t have needed voter approval.
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt argued against separating out park improvements from land acquisition costs at Tuesday’s meeting. She said some constituents might construe that as the council trying to sneak through the purchase of the land and circumventing voters.
“It quite possibly could be a reason for this to fail,” Whitsitt said. “I think it’s really important that we put the purchase of the land in here.”
None of the five council members in attendance objected. Councilman Auden Schendler couldn’t attend the meeting.
It isn’t known yet how much the town will seek in bonding. Bond counsel Paul Wisor of Kline Alvarado Veio in Denver recommended seeking $6.95 million to pay for the park improvements, including a cushion in case extra money was needed and fees to issue the bonds. The payoff amount, with interest, would be no more than $9.03 million.
If the purchase of the land is wrapped into the bonding question, the principal and interest could swell to $12 million.
Town officials wouldn’t ask for a new property tax to pay off the bonds, but they would seek voter approval to extend existing bonds. The amount of extension depends on the land sale price and will be determined in coming weeks.
Town staff is negotiating the purchase of the 2.3 acres from Roaring Fork Community Development Corp., but no proposed contract is completed. The intent is to get a contract — and a solid sales amount — as quickly as possible. Ballot wording must be finalized by Sept. 8.
The town already owns 3 acres at the former Pan and Fork site along the Roaring Fork River. That land will be developed as a park. Community Development Corp. owns 2.3 adjacent acres along Two Rivers Road. The town wants some of that property for a park and some for commercial development.
The council debated what kind of wording should go on the ballot question to clarify the intended uses of the property it wants to purchase as well as the proposed park improvements.
“I think as a voter, I’d want to know where the $12 million is going to go,” Councilman Mark Kittle said. He argued for offering as many specifics on the plan as possible to earn voter confidence.
Other council members argued against including a laundry list of park improvements since the plan hasn’t been settled. Any improvement that’s listed in the ballot question must be funded and constructed, Wisor said.
The phrasing could make or break the ballot question because use of the Pan and Fork already is a heated community controversy. Councilman Bernie Grauer said it would be “safer” if the ballot question was clear that roughly half would be available for commercial development.
The council briefly discussed language saying half of the land purchased from Community Development Corp. would go to a park and half to commercial development. However, that language was scrapped in favor of Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle’s suggestion to say a “portion” would go to a park and a “portion” to commercial development.
The council must take another crack at ballot language at its next regular meeting Aug. 23. Public information sessions will be held Aug. 18 and Aug. 25, with times and locations to be announced. The town also will set up a booth at the Sunday Market on Aug. 21 to share information.
Grauer said the ballot question must be worded to give a clear choice to voters.
“I want this to be a referendum on what kind of park people would like,” he said.
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To level the playing field between those who pay sales and lodging taxes on nightly rentals and those who skirt them, the city is ready to take names and make them pay.