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Voters asked to OK financing for recreation plans

John Colson

When Aspen voters step into the voting booth on May 4, they will be asked to approve the issuance of $13.89 million in revenue bonds to pay for a broad range of recreational amenities.

The money is to be used to: Build several new ball fields, two at Iselin/Rotary Park and two at the Moore playing fields, plus a soccer field at the Moore site, as well as parking area, landscaping and other amenities. Build a new indoor/outdoor swimming pool facility at the site of the existing James E. Moore pool. Build trails, erect pedestrian bridges across Maroon Creek Road, and put in landscaping and a soccer field at the community campus along Maroon Creek Road. Build eight new tennis courts and do some landscaping, plus build a pedestrian underpass, at the Plum Tree site next to the Aspen Golf Course. Renovate and im-prove the Aspen Ice Garden. Work on the town’s trails system, including a new tinted concrete pad on the Rio Grande Trail and creation of a pedestrian way and “country lane” effect along Cemetery Lane. Install a basketball court, playground and landscaping at the Yellow Brick Park. Build a new pro shop and nordic center at the Aspen Municipal Golf Course (this project is to be paid for out of golf course user fees). Restoration of the playing field, restroom and playground facilities at Wagner Park, plus landscaping. The odd thing about this ballot question, apparently, is an almost complete lack of opposition to the plan.

“I don’t know of anyone,” said bond supporter L.J. Erspamer, a local realtor who is on the steering committee of the Committee for Parks and Recreation.

Some have simply questioned the use of a revenue-bond issuance to pay for the improvements, claiming the use of “general obligation bonds” would have saved the city some money.

The revenue bond is to be paid back over the course of 20 years, and is expected to cost approximately $22 million after all interest and principal has been repaid. The ballot language, according to City Finance Director Tabatha Miller, requires the city to list the “maximum possible repayment figure,” which she said is estimated at $24.1 million if interest rates spike suddenly before the bonds can be issued next summer.

City officials have said the City Council decided to go with revenue bonds because it wanted to be able to promise voters there would be no tax increase associated with the ballot question.

General obligation bond questions, according to Miller, are required to include language about possible future tax increases in case the city runs into trouble making its payments on the bonds.

But revenue bonds, because they are tied to a particular revenue source (in this case, the city’s half-cent sales tax for parks and open space), require no such language, allowing the city to make the “no new taxes” pledge.

Miller conceded that general obligation bonds are somewhat less expensive than revenue bonds, and that the city might have saved $100,000 or so by going with such a bond. But she said the City Council decided the ability to make the “no tax hike” pledge outweighed the relatively small amount of potential savings.

Miller said the parks and open-space sales tax generates between $3 million and $4 million per year in revenues, and the bond payments are expected to be only $1.2 million per year, leaving plenty of money for other projects and obligations.

The only organized opposition to the recreation proposal has come from the Castle/Maroon Creeks Caucus, which has raised concerns about the lighting and use of the new playing fields.

Although the council listened sympathetically to presentations from caucus members, no decisions were made about how the city might deal with their concerns.

Erspamer, who has been involved in his committee’s work to promote passage of the bond issue, said concerns such as those expressed by the caucus can be worked out when the details of the improvements are being put together.

He said the ballot question will merely give approval to the funding, but that none of the specific details associated with the projects have been finalized.

“None of this is set in concrete,” Erspamer said.


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