Center push to continue

Council approves city-funded survey to gauge voters

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— The proposal to place a taxpayer-funded recreation center on the ballot is still alive.

But for Steamboat Springs citizens to decide on the $18 million center this year, a lot of work has to be done in very little time.

With a 4-1 vote Tuesday night, the Steamboat Springs City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance presented by several community groups in support of a recreation center. The ordinance includes a ballot question asking voters whether to approve $18.5 million in bonds, funded by property tax increases, to construct and maintain a recreation center on a 37-acre site between Anglers Drive and Hilltop Parkway. The proposed center includes an indoor pool and numerous recreational amenities.

Council President Pro-tem Susan Dellinger cast the lone vote against first-reading approval, which is not a final decision but allows the community groups to continue efforts to place the recreation center on the Nov. 7 ballot. Council member Paul Strong was absent, and council President Ken Brenner did not vote or participate in discussions because he leases business space at the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Center on Lincoln Avenue.

A final decision could come after a second reading of the ordinance at a council meeting Aug. 29. Before then, ordinance supporters hope to conduct a survey to gauge community support for a recreation center. The council decided Tuesday to provide city funding for the survey, which could cost more than $15,000.

City Manager Alan Lanning said 20 days likely is not enough time to conduct an effective, thorough survey of Steamboat residents, in addition to analyzing the data for council use at the second reading.

"Having done a number of these in my lifetime, I would hazard a guess that 20 days is not enough time to get this done," Lanning said.

Dellinger also cited time concerns and said the work done by the community groups so far is "perfect for placing this on the ballot next year."

"I am very concerned that we have been making huge decisions on the fly for the past five months," Dellinger said. "We haven't gone through any public process about location (of the center). I would rather go through public process and make this a win-win situation."

Council member Towny Anderson said that although the work of the community groups should be "encouraged and supported," there is "certainly less than a 50 percent chance" that a recreation center will be on the ballot this year.

Council members said whether the center is on the ballot this year or next, the survey would provide valuable information about local support - and needs - for a recreation center.

Supporters of placing a recreation center on the ballot this year said they are confident the survey and the spread of public information about the proposal will be done thoroughly and in ample time.

"We have a very dedicated group of individuals," Michelle Caragol, member of Citizens for a Community Recreation Center, said. "There's no better time than now."

The council also:

- Rejected an ordinance to place an issue on the ballot asking voters to approve $2 million in city spending for solar energy systems at three city facilities. Council members cited unclear plan details and asked for a different way to fund the project.

- Extended the city's contract with Triple Crown Sports for one year, through summer 2008.

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