Controversial Pan and Fork land purchase heads Basalt ballot issues

To buy or not to buy: The town of Basalt owns property along the Roaring Fork River at the former Pan and Fork site. A ballot question proposes buying an additional 2.3 acres adjacent to Two Rivers Road.
Aspen Times file photo |


Here are Basalt’s ballot issues in a nutshell:

2F: Buy 2.3 acres of land at Pan and Fork

2G: Basalt Riverfront Park improvements

2H: Use existing open space funds for maintenance

2I: Broadband issue

4A: Library funding

While the purchase of additional property at the Pan and Fork site and improvements to a park have hogged attention this campaign season in Basalt, voters also will be asked to settle two other issues and a funding request by the library.

Questions 2F, 2G, 2H and 2I were placed on the ballot by the town of Basalt. Question 4A seeks a tax increase for the Basalt Regional Library.

Question 2F seeks approval to purchase 2.3 acres owned by the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. for $3.1 million. Since the ballot wording was approved, the actual purchase price of $2.9 million was negotiated between the town and the seller.

Question 2G seeks as much as $4.12 million in funding for park improvements at the Pan and Fork site. It is tied to 2F. If 2F fails, the money sought in 2G won’t be bonded by the town, even if the measure is approved.

Question 2H seeks approval to use existing sales taxes collected for open space and trails in Basalt for maintenance of open space, parks and trails.

Question 2I seeks permission to allow the town to explore options for providing high-speed internet services, telecommunications services and cable television services.

Question 4A proposes to raise $350,000 annually for seven years for sustaining and maintaining the library operations and services and building reserves for capital maintenance. The library district’s boundaries includes much of the midvalley, so voting on the issue isn’t restricted to Basalt.

Following is a summary of each of the questions.

Land purchase proposal

The town is proposing to buy 2.3 acres at the Pan and Fork site. It would dedicate 1.3 acres for a town river park. The remaining 1 acre on the western side of the property, closest to the Rocky Mountain Institute, would be “made available for commercial or public purpose building development.”

The ballot question seeks to issue bonds for as much as $3.1 million. However, since the wording was finalized, the town negotiated a purchase for $2.9 million, based on an appraisal.

An existing property tax that is being used to pay off bonds issued in 2013 would be extended for another six years to pay off the bonds used for the land purchase. They would be paid off in 2026.

The debt would be reduced, if the funding is approved by Basalt voters, by pledges made by the open space programs of Pitkin and Eagle counties to help with the purchase. Each county pledged $400,000, so Basalt would receive $800,000 for the purchase.

Numerous pro and con statements were submitted to be included in election material distributed through the Eagle and Pitkin county clerk offices.

The supporters’ comments center around the creation of a legacy park. The comments included:

Purchase of the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park will create an urban riverfront park unmatched in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Interest rates are low. It is an excellent chance to do something for the residents of the town that will have lasting community benefits for years.

Although it will temporarily extend the annual property taxes associated with the Pan and Fork, taxes are not anticipated to rise above the amounts now being paid annually by each property owner.

The opponents’ comments focus on the economic burden on taxpayers by sinking additional millions of dollars into the Pan and Fork property. The opposition comments included:

There is a lot of confusion regarding the ballots. Money allocated to 2F should be used to insure a better yet slightly smaller park with appropriate maintenance, not to purchase more land.

The town has many needs expressed. We will be saddled with too much tax increase to allow other very needed projects.

Linking the cost of minimal park improvements in 2G to the approval of the bond to purchase land in 2F ignores the public good.

Park improvement proposal

The town’s vision is to develop a park on the land it already owns by the Roaring Fork River and add 1.3 of the acres it is proposing to buy. The proposed park amenities and related infrastructure would cost as much as $4.12 million.

Some voters are angry that the park improvement funds will be sought only if the land purchase is approved in question 2F. They feel that is an effort to blackmail voters.

Town council members said at the time the ballot question wording was approved that they would fund the park improvements incrementally with existing funds if the land purchase isn’t approved.

Supporters of the issue submitted the following comments:

Passage of 2G will complete the public investment needed for the Pan and Fork River Park complex, making the planned park “event ready” quickly and for the lowest cost.

With low interest rates, it is an excellent chance to do something with lasting community benefits.

The Roaring Fork river frontage plus open space in front of the library could create one of the greatest parks in Colorado.

The comments against the ballot issue included:

The proposed park is too large and costly for a small town.

The public does not trust the leadership to purchase the entire parcel and then control the development.

If 2G fails, the burden would be placed back on the present owners of the Community Development Corp. property, our council and the Planning and Zoning Commission to work out a solution with a developer favorable to the town and the developer and not pass this on to the taxpayer.

Lesser-known ballot issues

Questions 2H and 2I didn’t spur any pro or con statements for the campaign.

2H seeks approval to use as much as 20 percent of the revenue generated by Basalt’s existing 1 percent open space tax for maintenance of parks, open space and trails. The initial ballot approval didn’t designate funds for maintenance.

In 2I, the town is following the lead of other municipalities and counties in Colorado to grant more flexibility and options in pursuing new and improved high-bandwidth services.

The library funding question aims to resolve a funding deficiency that proponents say exists because property tax revenue still hasn’t bounced back to prerecession levels. The library board members contend they have pared their budget to the lowest level without cutting operations and services.

If approved, the question would approve a property tax hike to raise $350,000 annually through the 2023 tax collection.

Proponents of the tax increase submitted the following statements:

The Basalt Regional Library is a symbol of all that is good about Basalt and the midvalley. It is one of the most highly utilized, modern, efficient and well-maintained buildings and operations in the midvalley.

After several years of diminishing tax revenue used to fund operations, Library management responded with drastic budget cuts, followed by minimal budget increases (under 1 percent per year) between 2011 and 2016.

Opponents of the measure submitted one statement. It reads, in part:

The Basalt Regional Library District is in excellent financial shape. Based on the 2016 published budget, it has ($1.66 million) in reserve funds available for future years. $844,037.60 of this is in the General Operating Fund. It has no specific dollar need for improvements or operating expenses. It will receive a large increase in dollar revenue from the annual reassessment of real estate property within the district Aug. 1, 2017.

The complete list of pros and cons were mailed to voters in Pitkin and Eagle counties. Ballots are being mailed Monday for the Nov. 8 election.