City to discuss ice rink's fate tonight

Whether to let tax payers vote to pick up tab for improvements a point of contention

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— The approximately 1,200 residents who enrolled in programs at the Howelsen Ice Arena this year can expect big changes come the winter of 2001-2002, though those changes will be coming out of about 10,000 pockets, not including tourists.

The ice arena, which, according to the members of the Ice Arena Advisory Committee, was due for a major upgrade anyway, will get a $3.7-million overhaul, including new locker rooms and a new ice-making system.

After giving city staff the go ahead on March 13. to bring back final numbers, the City Council will evaluate the financial feasibility of the proposal tonight.

The proposed 20-year debt will eventually cost the city about $5.8 million, though the rink advisory committee received pledges of $500,000 in donations and $200,000 in in-kind services toward the construction.

The city will enter into what is known as a "certificate of participation," which, like a lease purchase agreement, does not need to go to the voters for approval.

The construction of the ice rink was initially financed through a lease purchase agreement (somewhat like a mortgage).

City Council bypassed city staff's proposal to put the rink improvements to a vote in November and attempt to finance the rink improvements through property taxes.

Council was swayed by the fact that the rink advisory committee had been able to find $700,000 in donations from the community.

"We are very lucky to live in a town where local residents anbd businesses are willing to donate time, expertise and money to support public causes in which they believe," noted George Bennett of the rink advisory committee.

With the committee's proposal, the city and the taxpayers will actually be spending less on the rink than if the city had waited to do the improvements, Bennett said. Bennett also stressed that the ice-making system has reached the end of its useful life.

Some people, however, don't feel the public should be paying for things like the ice arena with sales tax dollars.

"I don't think the general public should have to pay for the ice arena," said John Whittum, a local critic of the heavy use of sales tax to finance the city budget.

One City Councilman also said the city may be bypassing the voters when it wants to make capital improvements too often.

"Many people from the community have said we should have elections to decide these things," said Councilman Paul Strong.

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