Steamboat Springs Progress on the city’s potential purchase of an Emerald Mountain parcel remained in limbo Monday as city officials awaited a formal response to contract changes requested last week by the Steamboat Springs City Council.
City Council gave initial support Oct. 5 for the purchase of 586 acres owned by Lyman Orton on the north side of Emerald Mountain. If council approves the purchase on a second reading later this month, and if a Great Outdoors Colorado grant moves forward in a Dec. 8 hearing, the city would spend $700,000 from its capital projects fund for the land, plus $16,000 in closing costs.
The city’s capital projects fund is facing significant revenue shortfalls in coming years.
On Monday, the city laid off seven full-time employees as part of an effort to cut more than $700,000 in personnel funding from its general fund.
City Council’s vote last week authorized $5,000 for an environmental impact study required by Great Outdoors Colorado in preparation for the Dec. 8 hearing but with a condition. The city will spend the $5,000 only if Orton agrees to revise the purchase contract and remove the city’s obligation to contribute as much as $150,000 annually for the next five years to help implement recreational and community-oriented visions for the land.
Those contributions would match funds raised by the Howelsen Emerald Mountain Park group, known as HEMP.
Orton addressed the City Council action in a letter published in Sunday’s Steamboat Pilot & Today.
“If you remove the matching provision from the agreement, it sends a negative signal to the community and significantly reduces the incentive for the community to give,” Orton wrote. “The community and I need to see that you are sufficiently motivated to fully participate to make the deal happen.”
Orton also stated in the letter that the matching funds provision is not legally binding and, rather, is a moral commitment. City attorney Tony Lettunich told City Council last week that details of the matching funds “need to be fleshed out.”
Lettunich and Orton did not return phone messages Monday.
City Manager Jon Roberts agreed with Orton’s interpretation Monday but said City Council members made it clear that they did not want to commit to the matching funds obligation, be it legal or moral.
“They wanted to be very up front about that,” Roberts said.
The City Council revision would remove Section 25c from the purchase contract.
That section states that upon closing on the land purchase, the city will have entered into a contract with HEMP “requiring the city to match each calendar year for a period of five years … on a dollar for dollar basis, the charitable donations obtained by HEMP for the purposes described.
“The city match shall not exceed $150,000 in any single year, but in any year where the HEMP contribution exceeds $150,000 the difference shall carry over into future years until paid,” the contract continues. “The city match shall be subject to annual appropriation in the sole discretion of the City Council, shall not bear interest and shall not exceed the cumulative amount of $750,000.”
The section also stipulates that HEMP would contract with the city to manage the land. Finally, the section states: “If the HEMP agreement is not executed by the parties … this contract shall be null and void and of no further effect.”
Winnie DelliQuadri, the city’s government programs manager, said Great Outdoors Colorado requires numerous “due diligence” information, including the environmental impact study, by Nov. 11.
But moving forward with that study is contingent on Orton’s agreement with the contract revision. Roberts said he had expected an official response from Orton on Monday but did not receive one during business hours.
“As of right now, I don’t have anything,” Roberts said at 5:30 p.m.
The city has received a flood of e-mails in support of the purchase, citing the land’s recreational opportunities, beauty and fulfillment of community desires for open space.
The city also has received letters that — though far fewer in number — raise questions about a lack of financial projections and potential future costs of the vision for the land, among other concerns.
Those points may be moot, at least for the immediate future, if contract questions linger.
“At some point, we’re going to run out of time,” Roberts said. “We need to move forward with the due diligence, but we’re on hold until this issue is resolved.”