Endorsement: Too many questions with rec center | AspenTimes.com

Endorsement: Too many questions with rec center

No issue in the midvalley has stirred as much controversy in recent years as the proposed 63,000-square-foot indoor recreation center at Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel.

People on both sides of the issue have made impassioned arguments on why voters should go their way. Proponents contend the facility provides a much-needed community gathering space for more than recreation. Seniors would be able to meet in more spacious accommodations. Meeting rooms can be reserved for groups of all stripes. Parents could reserve space for kids' birthday parties.

Many parents are currently driving their kids to gymnastics lessons in Carbondale or swimming lessons in Aspen. They understandably would like to reduce their miles on Highway 82 with the midvalley's own recreation center.

Opponents also make good points — primarily about the cost. The recreation center requires two property tax hikes. The first hike, of 5 mills, would raise revenue to pay back $25 million in bonds the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District wants to issue for construction. The bonds would be paid off in 20 years, and the tax would expire. The total payback price is estimated at $50.85 million.

The district also wants to levy a property tax of 2.5 mills to raise about $735,000 annually for operations. That tax would remain as long as the center is in operation.

The cumulative total would be a tax increase of about 9.6 percent for residents of Basalt and 11 percent for residents elsewhere in the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District — which stretches from Old Snowmass to the Blue Lake area and from Emma to the Fryingpan Valley.

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Foes contend the district is counting on reaping too much revenue from membership dues and room rentals. The district says it can raise about 66 percent of the money needed for operations and maintenance through fees and dues. The property tax would be needed to cover 33 percent.

It's a close call for us, but we advise a "no" vote on the property tax increases. The organizers have worked hard and sincerely believe they have a well-thought-out project. Our overriding concern is about the operations. We see a scenario where Crown Mountain has to return to voters a few years after opening for another property tax increase. "We've got this beautiful facility," the pitch would go, "but we don't have a way to properly operate it."

The district would have to maintain affordable rates for members; otherwise they would feel betrayed, and worse, they would stop coming and paying the membership dues. That would leave the district no option but to go back to taxpayers for a greater subsidy.

So we're not convinced that the proposed facility is in the right place. It's in a convenient place because the land is already leased from Eagle County for a park, so land costs are eliminated. However, the proposed site isn't a model of transit-oriented development that eliminates the need to get in a car and travel.

If the recreation district is built in the park, it will choke the midvalley with traffic. It needs to be closer to the schools, ideally where children from the elementary and middle schools can walk to it after school.

We would like to see the town of Basalt and Crown Mountain look into a joint venture where the existing Basalt pool is covered to allow year-round use and possibly expanded. The school district has yearned for years to relocate its bus-storage facility away from the elementary school. We urge the town of Basalt to help the school district find alternative land for bus parking. In return, the school district could make the current bus-parking area by the middle school available for a scaled-back, community-friendly community center in Basalt.

Vote "no" on Questions 4C and 4D.