Guest commentary: Too many dollars and no sense
September 29, 2013
The proposed Crown Mountain recreation center is a pipe dream we neither can afford nor need. At more than 63,000 square feet and a cost exceeding $14 million, the impact on our pocketbooks will be substantial, as will the impact on the land.
The district board of directors (by the way, when are their terms up?) maintains a website with information on the proposed rec center, including an explanation of the two questions on our upcoming ballot.
First, the proposed $25 million construction bond represents a property tax increase of 5 mills, which equates to an estimated $3.32 a month per $100,000 of a home's market value (also known as the assessor's "actual" value). The second question asks for as much as a 2.5-mill increase for operations and maintenance at full build-out, representing an additional estimated tax impact of $1.66 a month per $100,000 of a home's actual value.
Collectively, the estimated tax impact is $4.98 a month per $100,000 of a home's actual value (or approximately $25 a month for a home valued by the assessor at $500,000). This is on top of the current mill levy for the rec district of 2.283 mills, so the new total could be as much as 9.783 mills for residential property, representing a whopping 329 percent increase.
At the present tax rate, this converts to a total of approximately $389 a year for a $500,000 home instead of the current payment of approximately $91 a year. Do your own math in terms of what it will cost you based on your home's valuation.
One of the stated goals of the Crown Mountain Recreation District is to enhance the land's open space attributes. In a sea of brick and pavement amid continuous midvalley development, the Crown Mountain Recreation District presently offers residents a respite with walking and bike paths, dog parks and space dedicated for a wide variety of sports and picnicking.
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No matter how one designs or sites the proposed rec center, at more than 63,000 square feet (larger than the current Aspen-Pitkin County Airport terminal), it will impact the landscape. Not to mention, a project of this size is likely to have cost overruns. To expect a special taxing district to be able to fund this center without further mill-levy increases or user fees is unrealistic.
There are four public recreation centers between Aspen and Glenwood Springs now, all of which rely on municipal tax funding as well as user fees. Over the years, due to increased maintenance and operation costs, the expense borne by both taxpayers and users has continued to creep up.
The midvalley is still recovering from the recession, impacting many homeowners who faced or are still facing foreclosure. Home values are down, and wages for the most part have barely kept up with inflation and the cost of living. Those on fixed incomes will face a severe tax burden, while those renting will likely see rents increase to offset their landlords' property taxes. By the district's own studies, the new rec center will increase traffic by 3,400 additional vehicle trips per day, impacting an already-stressed intersection. In terms of gyms, yoga studios and fitness centers, there are multiple facilities already providing these services within a five-mile radius
This fall, the ballot will include a statewide tax initiative to increase funding for our schools. Next year, we will likely see a statewide tax initiative to repair and enhance our roads and bridges. Our schools are underfunded, and our transportation infrastructure is in desperate need of improvement, even before the recent flood disaster. Where is the need or funds for yet another embellished gym in our valley?
This is an off-year election, which means voter turnout is typically light. The Crown Mountain Recreation District board of directors is counting on this and the fact that people won't bother to get out and vote. In fact, this year will be easier than ever to register and to vote, with same-day voter registration, early and mail-in voting, and regular poll voting on Election Day.
Please exercise your right as a citizen and take part in our democratic process. Vote!
Vote "no" on Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District ballot issues 4C and 4D.
George Newman is a Pitkin County commissioner, but his expressed views on Crown Mountain Park are as a resident of Emma.