Rec center issue dominates ballot

Questions ask voters to fund construction and operation of facility

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— For more than a year, proponents of a new recreation center in Steamboat Springs fought simply to get the facility onto the ballot.

Their wait is finally over.

A unanimous City Council voted in September to put the recreation center on the ballot, and the past two months have seen a contentious campaign marked by heated public debate and extensive advertising both for and against the proposed recreation center.

Now it's up to Steamboat voters, who will have the final say in Tuesday's election.

The construction, operation and maintenance of the proposed facility at Ski Town Fields would cost Steamboat taxpayers as much as $3.4 million in additional property taxes next year, not including users' fees.

That increase would mean an additional $33 a year, per $100,000 of estimated market value for residential taxpayers, and an additional $121 a year per $100,000 of estimated market value for commercial taxpayers, according to calculations by Bob Litzau, the city's interim finance director.

City Manager Alan Lanning said the recreation center, if approved, would be the "highlight of the budget" for 2008. The $34 million facility would constitute about 40 percent of the city's total spending next year.

The ballot issue includes two questions. The first asks for approval of an operation and maintenance tax for the center, which would be funded by an increase in property taxes of up to $455,500 annually - for collection in 2008 - and by additional amounts annually in later years. The property tax would be imposed at a rate of up to 0.7 mills.

The second question concerns the actual construction of the recreation center and asks that the city be allowed to increase its debt up to $34 million. The repayment of that debt would be funded by a property tax increase of up to $2,965,000. The property tax would be imposed with an annual mill levy increase without limitation. Lanning estimated the rate would be between 4 and 5 mills.

As proposed, the recreation center would include youth and teen facilities, a double gymnasium, an elevated walking and running track, locker rooms, a six-lane indoor lap pool with a diving well, a warm leisure pool, artificial turf fields, an indoor playground and a fitness center.

There have been passionate arguments made for and against the recreation center. Few argue the quality of the facility, but many take issue with its cost and necessity.

Some concerns have been raised about how the city would deal with potential cost overruns. The ballot issue is based on consultant estimates of cost, but no engineering or bidding of the project would occur unless voters approve it. City Attorney Tony Lettunich said that if major cost overruns occurred, the city would have to decrease the scope of the facility or kick in some of its own funds.

Steamboat mother Michelle Diehl said there is a need in Steamboat for a safe place for kids to have fun.

"Just knowing local kids, there's a huge need for a place for kids to hang out," Diehl said.

Comments

another_local 6 years, 8 months ago

I guess by this point everyone has made up their minds but I am grateful that the paper has presented the costs again. This is an irresponsible amount of money for our community to pay. It adds to the cost of living for folks that can not afford it by increasing the property taxes on homes. It will add to cost of living through price increases at retail and restaurants too.

This measure needs to be defeated like the highschool plan was several years ago. Perhaps then the supporters of the idea will come back with something scaled to our community. About half the price and put on the county ballot rather than the city so the costs can be shared by all who "benefit" would have a far better chance of passing.

As it stands right now a city resident will be paying hundreds of dollars a year whether they use the place or not plus fees if they do use it while folks who live in the county (think Strawberry Park, Dakota Ridge, Storm Mountain Ranch, Marabu, etc etc get by with a slightly increased user fee. It is not right.

Proponents have advertised that the tax will hit the second home owner. This is true but not to the extent the ads would have you believe. It is the local business owner that is really being creamed. Business pays 55% of the tax in total. By comparison, second home owners will be paying about 18%.

If a business rents space with a triple net lease, the landlord passes the tax right to the small business. Don't be fooled into thinking that the developer/owners of Wildhorse pay the tax, it is the owner of the Ben & Jerry's shop that pay it. It is not Central park Plaza that pays it, is the bagel shop owner. It is not Sundance Plaza that pays, it is Vino and Annies. The expense is not just included in the rent, it is paid as an extra and when the rate changes the bill goes straight to the small business.

At a rate of $121 per 100K value, most small local business owners will be paying $1000 or more per year. These people do not earn any more than tradesmen in the construction business, but they carry a disproportionate share of the tax burden.

Please Vote NO on the rec center!

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elkeye 6 years, 8 months ago

Rather than a proposed property tax on the property owners of the city of Steamboat Springs, the members of the City Council (sitting as the Steamboat Springs Redevelopment Authority) should have expanded the boundry of the Urban Renewal Authority to include the Ski Town Fields.

If within the Urban Renewal Boundry, the construction of a recreation center could be considered for funding with URA funds contributed by a larger tax base including "new" school and county property taxes and "new" sales taxes collected from tourists and others within the Urban Renewal Boundry.

User fees should be sufficient to preclude any operation deficit, however if users fees are not sufficient to prevent an operation deficit other revenue sources (e.g. a lift ticket tax) should be established before construction of any recreation center with URA funds.

After the construction of $25-50 million in base area improvements (including the promenade and infastructure), the Steamboat Springs Redevelopment Authority could consider a recreation center within the boundry of the Urban Renewal Authority.

Before a performing arts center funded by URA funds, why not a recreation center?

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honestythebestpolicy 6 years, 8 months ago

Great concept Elkeye.

The financial resources are available in this town to fulfill or at least partially fulfill this wish list privately. "BoulderGrad" even boasts that "Private funds have been raised, in over six figures, but none of the Letters of Intent are from Intrawest." Why aren't these monies mentioned in the initiative? And/or why isn't this fundraising at the forefront of your campaign? Partnering should be in place with Interwest as well as many other community members and businesses. As was stated, it would be great PR for them.

It is simply a huge missed opportunity not to even try to pursue these and then come to the table with some dollars $$$ and financial backing that solidifies the need/want before asking the taxpayers.

This rec center will be realized by other financial means if this ballot initiative fails that will include private funding as it should and needs to even to 100%.

Nothing will be lost by voting NO now, but do get to the polls because the yes's will certainly be doing that in mass so they don't have to do any more work (like us regular stiffs?) and can just get to the "fun" on everyone elses dime. VOTE NOW AND VOTE NO!

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