Council: 'No' to rec

$18 million facility will not appear on ballot this year

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— A proposed $18 million recreation center will not be on the ballot for Steamboat Springs voters this year.

The Steamboat Springs City Council unanimously voted against an ordinance that would have placed the center measure on the Nov. 7 ballot, deciding Tuesday night that there are too many unanswered questions about the center's design, location, facilities and costs to make a viable ballot initiative.

"I don't see how I can support having this on the ballot this year," council member Paul Strong said, addressing representatives of several community groups behind the recreation center proposal. "But I think we need to work hard to get it on the ballot next year."

City 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. Council member Kevin Kaminski was absent.

The discussion began with a presentation by Steve Jeffers of the Denver investment banking firm Stifel, Nicolaus. City officials asked the firm to conduct a survey assessing local support for a recreation center. The survey questioned 300 likely Steamboat voters, in telephone interviews conducted from Aug. 20 to 22.

The margin of error for the survey is 5.6 percent.

Giving the first public presentation of survey results, Jeffers said several results pointed to likely success of a recreation center ballot issue. Sixty-five percent of those surveyed supported, "in general," the idea of a new recreation center, and 26 percent opposed the idea. Ninety-two percent of those surveyed were aware of the recreation center proposal, which Jeffers said indicates a high level of public involvement in the discussion.

"People get the concept," Jeffers said. "You could put this on a ballot in November and only have to educate people about the details."

There was also strong public sentiment for funding a recreation center through a citywide sales tax increase, as opposed to the property tax increase originally proposed. Judy Zetzman, a member of Citizens for a Recreation Center, said funding the project with a sales tax would prevent property owners from bearing a disproportionate amount of the cost and would create a sense of community ownership.

But reading further into the survey results, council member Steve Ivancie said, revealed two "knockout punches" against placing the recreation center on the ballot this year.

Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said they would support an $18 million proposal funded through a sales tax, with 40 percent opposed. But forty-three percent of those surveyed said they would be less likely to vote for a recreation center if the Steamboat Springs School District placed a property tax bond issue on the ballot this year.

District officials decided Monday night to ask voters for nearly $30 million to fund elementary school improvements in Steamboat.

The other "knockout punch," Ivancie and Strong said, is that 43 percent of those surveyed said their vote would be "impacted" if the recreation center would charge a daily usage fee.

"When you put those two things together, it isn't even a toss-up," Ivancie said. "To me, the timing isn't right."

Council members agreed that the timing likely would be exactly right in November 2007. The council directed the community group to continue gathering information and public input about the recreation center proposal.

"No one is losing here. We're just going to buy enough time to make this a winner," Council President Pro-tem Susan Dellinger told community members. "This is a great opportunity, but we've got a lot of work to do - you guys are not done."

Center supporters said they recognized the council's concerns and the job that lies ahead.

"We are not discouraged by any stretch of the imagination," Michelle Caragol said. "We're all prepared to keep moving forward."

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