Proponents tout rec center plans in info meetings

Barbara Bynum talks about the ins and outs of Measure B during a informational session hosted by Friends of the Montrose Community Recreation Center.

Recreation center backers are taking their pitch directly to the community this week, in a series of public informational sessions that kicked off Wednesday night.

“It takes people to make things like this happen,” said presenter Barbara Bynum, a member of the Montrose Recreation District’s board and also a member of Friends of the Montrose Community Recreation Center.

She went over facility and funding specifics with a handful of interested parties that included Montrose Mayor Judy Ann Files and a rec district employee.

The proposed rec center will cost $25.5 million to construct, including site development, soft costs, and renovating the Aquatic Center into a field house. 

On April 1, city residents will vote on Measure B, a 0.3 percent city sales tax to fund the center. Proponents say a center would be a good investment for Montrose and an economic driver, as well as a sensible way to replace the current public swimming pool, which has been deemed too small for current needs and is failing mechanically because of its age.

Opponents say the center will cost far more than the quoted price because of principal and interest, and that the economic climate isn’t right for a new tax. They have also said the MRD can build a new pool without raising taxes.

Bynum on Wednesday said the benefits are twofold: a recreation center is an economic driver that could contribute $4.6 million a year to the local economy, and would increase property values. There are also personal health and recre

ational benefits.

“It’s a balance” between taxes and user fees when it comes to funding, Bynum said. Without the tax, user fees would be sky high. Without user fees, the tax would be higher, she explained.

Based on current sales tax collections, the recreation center would collect more than $1.2 million a year, she added. The certificate of payment is $1.87 million a year; MRD would make up the difference.

An attendee, who did not provide his name, asked why the ballot called for a 25-year tax, instead of for the tax to sunset once the center is paid off. Bynum said the rec district board could opt to pay the debt off early, if possible, but that she was unable to say what a future board might do.

The annual subsidy for the rec center will chart out to less than the subsidy for the current pool and aquatic center, Bynum said. The aquatic center is budgeted to generate about $252,000 for 2014, leaving a gap of more than $200,000 for the MRD to fill in. The projected subsidy for the proposed recreation center once its revenues are factored in, is estimated at $161,655 a year and affords more amenities than does the aquatic center.

Bynum also touted the sales tax as a better option than a property tax and said community input indicated a preference for the first kind of tax over the latter. Raising property taxes would hurt businesses, because they are taxed at a higher rate than residential properties, she said.

Since Measure B asks for a city sales tax, city residents are the ones to vote on it, Bynum explained.

“‘Taxation without representation’ is very emotional and yet it is without relationship to anything you learned in civics,” Bynum said, referring to the proposed city sales tax and who can vote on it.

Currently, construction costs are low, she added. “It won’t get any better. We’re not going to save our way to a recreation center.” While MRD could fix the pool, as some have suggested, that “won’t fix the problem,” Bynum said.

The man then asked Bynum to explain a reference the ballot language makes to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, a provision in the Colorado constitution that caps the amount of revenue governments can keep, and requires voter approval for new tax rate increases. 

The ballot measure does not specifically say TABOR, but instead cites the pertinent part of the state constitution. The resident speaking said the average person isn’t aware that the language refers to TABOR. 

Bynum said that though she didn’t immediately realize what the citation was, she understands TABOR and believes the average person does, as well.

The man likened her explanation to U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s statements about the Affordable Care Act and said people would have to pass Measure B to find out what’s in it.

Bynum said she wasn’t there to debate the merits of Obamacare. Proponents are asking city voters to raise their sales tax, she said.

Bynum acknowledged high unemployment and business closures in response to proponent Randy White’s questions about where the dissent was coming from.

“A small sales tax that invests in the community is the solution,” she said. “We’re all seeing the same reality. Times are tough. We need to decide if we’re going to sit on our hands or do something that is a game-changer.”

The proposed facility is expensive, she acknowledged, but it constitutes public infrastructure. “We haven’t built anything in town like this for over a decade. It’s not a Taj Mahal. This is a public recreation facility,” said Bynum.

“If we’re going to spend $25 million on this, it better be a big deal,” White said.

Ballots are to be mailed out starting next week. People can still register to vote, but should do so electronically, Bynum said.

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