Basalt seeks tax increase for parks, open space
October 9, 2006
A proposal to raise Basalt’s sales tax to fund open space purchases, parks and trails – issues typically as popular as apple pie in the Roaring Fork Valley – has run into surprise opposition from a prominent town resident.Charlie Cole, who has been involved in numerous civic endeavors in recent years, said he isn’t opposed to buying open space. “It’s a very noble cause,” he said.But Cole believes the town has other important business it must address first. Revenues from a sales tax increase should be used to ease the flood risk on the Roaring Fork River, he said.”They’re avoiding addressing a very important issue,” Cole said.The town is seeking approval for a 1 percent sales tax increase. It would boost the town government’s sales tax from 2 to 3 percent. The total sales tax, including levies from the county and state government, would increase to 7.8 percent in the Eagle County portion of Basalt and 8.8 percent in the part of town in Pitkin County.The 1 percent tax hike would raise an extra $1 million in revenue annually, based on current collections. The amount will likely increase in future years.The ballot wording would authorize the Town Council to spend the funds on purchases of open space, as well as trails and park projects.Survey shows community wants trailsThe council voted to pursue the open space tax after a 2005 community survey indicated residents want improvements on pedestrian and bicycle trails, and pedestrian crossings on Highway 82, according to town manager Bill Efting.He said the tax wouldn’t be enough to allow Basalt to make large purchases on its own, but it would put the town in a position to work with partners on open space deals. “It gets you to the dance,” Efting said.As an example, he cited the team effort by Basalt with Pitkin and Eagle counties last week. They signed a contract to buy conservation easements on the Grange Ranch, between the core of Basalt and Emma. Basalt is contributing $250,000 from its general fund to the $5 million deal.Approval of the sales tax increase would allow Basalt to engage in more efforts like that, Efting said. Plus, $1 million annually would be enough for new trails and park projects.In discussions earlier this year, the Town Council considered broader uses for the tax revenues, including improvements to the Roaring Fork River and road maintenance. The board ultimately decided to narrow uses to open space, parks and trails to increase chances of approval.Cole wants voters to defeat this question, then he wants the Town Council to seek the tax increase again as soon as possible – with the revenues devoted first and foremost to river projects. When the flood mitigation is complete, the town could use the revenues for open space purchases, he said.Major flood mitigation neededThere is no lack of flood-mitigation projects looming for the town. A consultant hired to study Basalt flooding issues concluded in September 2004 that it will cost between $15 and $20 million to alter the Roaring Fork River channel enough to significantly reduce the flood risk. The consultant’s study said subsurface dams and other structures are needed to slow the river’s velocity and stabilize the banks.The study identified two mobile home parks in the heart of Basalt at high risk of catastrophic flooding. The town has deemed the relocation of the residents of the Roaring Fork and Pan and Fork mobile home parks as a high priority.In addition, the study led to regulations that make it more difficult to develop property in the flood way, or the path the most devastating flood waters would likely take. That’s preventing redevelopment of the mobile home parks in a safe way, according to Cole.”Unless they do something about it, Basalt is basically on hold,” he said.Efting said the town government is seeking a “peer review” of the consultant’s work to make sure the $15 to $20 million worth of work is really necessary. A private firm will be hired this fall to undertake that review.”I don’t blame people for being frustrated. So are we,” Efting said about the speed of the flood mitigation. But he also noted negotiations are underway on a major piece of the puzzle. The town is working with the Colorado Department of Transportation to make alterations to the Upper Basalt Bypass Bridge, which the town consultant has identified as a big influence on flood patterns.Cole isn’t undertaking an extensive campaign to defeat the measure. Mostly, he said, it’s word of mouth.The Basalt sales tax proposal is question 2A on both the Pitkin and Eagle county ballots.Complete election coverage is available at http://www.aspentimes.com/election. Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.