Steamboat Springs The construction, operation and maintenance of a $34 million recreation center at Ski Town Fields would cost Steamboat taxpayers up to $3.4 million in additional property taxes next year, according to ballot language passed by the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday.
City staff estimated the average residential property tax bill would increase in the neighborhood of $200.
The council voted, 6-0, to approve a resolution that will put the recreation center on the Nov. 6 ballot. Councilman Ken Brenner recused himself from the proceedings due to his affiliation with the Old Town Hot Springs recreation facility in downtown Steamboat Springs.
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 .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 $34,000,000. 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. City Manager Alan Lanning estimated the rate would be between 4 and 5 mills.
In discussion of the ordinance, concerns were 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 either have to decrease the scope of the facility or kick in some of its own funds.
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.
Ballot debate begins
During public comment regarding the recreation center, Steamboat resident Bill Jameson said he found the ballot language misleading because it did not clearly state that the operation and maintenance tax would only fund a portion of those costs, while user fees would make up the rest.
"When the ballot question goes out there, it ought to be very clear," Jameson said.
The council was unwilling to amend the resolution, however, as Tuesday's meeting was its last chance to get the proposal on the ballot, which must be finalized Friday.
Shannon Lukens, a member of the group Citizens for a Community Recreation Center, said the group's attention will now turn toward preparing for the election. Mailings, yard signs and other campaign materials are on the way, Lukens said.
Despite strong indications last week that Tuesday's resolution would pass, Lukens did not take the outcome for granted and collected almost 400 signatures in support of the recreation center.
"Of course I was worried it wouldn't pass," she said.
Jameson said he doesn't give the recreation center ballot measure much of a chance at success.
"It's a lot of money for a competitive pool for a limited number of members of the swim team," Jameson said. "I just don't think the community has the appetite to fund a $34 million rec center."
Also Tuesday night, the City Council again heard numerous public comments regarding historic preservation. The divisive and emotional issue has pitted private property owners' rights against a public interest in preserving historic structures.
The council voted, 4-2, on Aug. 21 to enact an emergency moratorium on building permits involving demolition and exterior alterations of historic structures - those older than 50 years - in Steamboat Springs. On Tuesday, the council considered the first reading of a regular ordinance that would replace the emergency moratorium and narrow its scope. The intent of the moratorium is to stall demolitions and major exterior projects on historic structures while the city's existing historic preservation ordinance is revisited.
Public comments on the issue lasted about two hours.
City Council proved just as fractured as the crowd; a motion to move the ordinance to a second reading in two weeks narrowly passed, 4-3. Council President Susan Dellinger, Councilwoman Karen Post and Councilmen Towny Anderson and Ken Brenner voted in favor of the moratorium. Councilmen Paul Strong, Steve Ivancie and Loui Antonucci voted against it.
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