Saturday, September 10, 2005
Steamboat Springs city officials are right to begin discussions about a new community center. However, efforts to have a plan in place before the November election are misguided.
Last week, about 50 people gathered at Centennial Hall to discuss the future of the community center, which is adjacent to Bud Werner Memorial Library. The discussions have been prompted by the library's expansion plans.
The East Routt Library District is seeking a 2.2-mill levy increase through two property taxes to expand the library and fund its operations. If approved, part of the expansion plan would include demolition of the community center.
The American Legion and the Routt County Council on Aging are the primary users of the community center, but it also is used for fundraisers, holiday dinners, health fairs and other activities that require large rooms.
City officials indicated that they wanted to have a plan in place for replacing the community center before voters are asked to support the library property tax. The next step is the creation of a steering committee of seven to 10 people who represent different user groups. The committee is expected to come up with a variety of recommendations.
We think the city's timetable is ambitious and unnecessary. The election is less than two months away. That's a rather tight window for a project whose proper scope is far from being determined. Discussions have ranged from a 7,000-square-foot facility that would serve simply as a "meet and greet" center that can host large functions to a community center that is part of a much larger -- and more expensive -- recreation center.
This City Council already has plenty on its plate. The construction of a new Haymaker Golf Course Clubhouse is under way. The council recently signed off on a new Tennis Center that will cost much more than initially estimated. Discussions have been held about expanding the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association or constructing a new recreation center. Many might argue that council members should hold off on any additional major decisions until after the election.
Each of the four City Council races is contested. In two months, the makeup of the council could be very different from what it is now. It is true that we elect council members to make the right decisions no matter how much time they have left to serve. But in this case, we think the right thing to do is not to make a premature decision that wrongly binds the future council.
Besides, we don't see the hurry. First, the need for a new community center is pressing only if the library district's mill levy is approved. That's hardly a given. In fact, with three mill levies on the ballot -- Horizons Specialized Services and the Purchase of Development Rights program also are seeking property taxes -- the library district faces an uphill battle. Throughout recent history, voters have been leery of new taxes, particularly when several groups come at them at once.
Even if the tax is approved, surely an interim solution can be found to accommodate the community center's uses.
We understand the city's desire to commit to replacing the community center if the library taxes are approved. But the specifics of that community center plan are best left to the next council.