MONTROSE – “We’re closer than we’ve ever been to having a rec center in Montrose,” said Ken Sherbenou last Wednesday night (Nov. 16) at the final presentation of a feasibility study to the public.
Then again, fully funding a $21.5 million facility to rival those in Durango and Delta would require either a sales tax increase, or an increase in the property tax mill levy. Quite a few Montrose citizens, some of whom showed up to hear the report at the Montrose High School cafeteria, are in no mood to vote themselves new taxes.
Sherbenou, the executive director of the Montrose Recreation District, was upbeat that the process, begun in April with the formation of a citizen task force and continuing through the summer and fall with “fruitful and dynamic” focus groups and planning sessions, was in its “final chapter.”
He introduced study authors John Barnholt of GreenPlay LLC, the operational planning consultants, and Chuck Musgrave of the Denver architecture firm Barker Rinker Seacat. The two have worked together on the new community rec center (CRC) in Gypsum, Colo., and separately on rec centers in Cortez, Durango, Delta, Fruita, and others across the Front Range and around the country.
Musgrave ran through a PowerPoint slideshow of the proposed two-story, 72,000 square foot project, complete with leisure and competition pools, a therapy pool, a water slide, a multi-purpose gymnasium, fitness room, climbing wall, indoor walk/jog track, racquetball courts, a dance studio, craft/party rooms, a child-watch facility, and family dressing rooms.
Approximately $1 million of the total project cost is planned for acquisition of the site, Barnholt said. “We’re looking at three or four sites” along the Uncompahgre River, he said, the smallest of which was about eight acres. “But we’re not revealing them at this time.”
Another $900,000 is allocated to repurpose the current MRD aquatic center at Colorado Avenue and South Rio Grande. The idea, according to Musgrave, would be to convert the 25-year-old pool building into a “field house,” with an income-generating indoor soccer field and space for a possible laser tag area, batting practice cages, or a climbing wall. The existing outdoor pool at the old site would remain.
How to pay for all this? The answer, according to Sherbenou, is tantalizingly close. GreenPlay’s estimated annual costs for the CRC come to about $2.65 million. About $1.5 million of that would go for debt service on the bond, or “certificate of participation,” issued to cover project costs. And about $1 million would be for annual operating costs.
According to GreenPlay’s study, existing resources would cover about $1.9 million of the $2.65 million total. Those resources include Colorado Lottery money, capital reserves, admission fees and passes, and the MRD’s dedicated portion of county property tax revenues. Altogether, they add up to about 71 percent of the annual cost. The shortfall comes to $779,000 a year.
That’s where the new taxes come in. Sherbenou said the shortfall could be taken care of by either a sales tax increase, in partnership with the City of Montrose, or an increase in the mill levy. In its final recommendation, the CRC task force said its preferred funding source would be the sales tax hike, with the property tax increase as a backup.
A 0.2 percent increase in the sales tax would mean the current 7.65 percent tax would be upped to 7.85 percent. The mill levy would need to go up by 2.5 mills over 2012 numbers to cover the CRC annual shortfall. That would result in a jump of $19.80 per $100,000 assessed valuation, for residential property.
Audience members offered numerous positive comments about the particulars of the plan, and about the possibility of local contractors and suppliers participating in the project. But there were also doubtful questions about a potential tax burden on businesses, about a sunset for the proposed increased taxes, and so on.
How to balance the benefits and the cost? In an interview this week, Sherbenou listed the CRC’s “great strengths. The fact that we have the majority of the costs paid for. This is unprecedented among the surrounding communities that have built rec centers. We have been fiscally very responsible. Our capital reserve represents an increasing percentage of our budget the last few years.” (It stands at $668,272 for budget year 2012.)
“We have readily identified the gap in service,” he said. “There is a need. We have an opportunity for a three-fold increase in user days from what we can offer now.
“And there are the community benefits: improved youth crime rates, the health-cost benefits, and the contributions to a stronger economy – businesses and individuals who will come here because of the rec enter and the quality of life it contributes to. All of this is in addition to the personal benefits to the people who use the facility.”
County commissioner candidate Jim Haugsness of Montrose asked if there are any studies out there “proving the benefits of community recreation centers. Do you see less youth crime in these communities? Do you see a healthier population?”
It was a great question, Musgrave said. But no, he wasn’t aware of any definitive studies. “You’d have to do scientific studies before and after to get an accurate comparison.” But there were a huge number of anecdotal stories, he said, on both the health and crime fronts.
Haugsness told The Watch in an interview following the meeting that he was informed youth crime in Delta “took a nosedive” after the opening of the Bill Heddles Rec Center there in 1993. He also commented that the proposed sales tax increase would be “pretty insignificant – two cents on a $10 purchase,” but that he, like a lot of people in the current economy, have their “radar up anytime government wants more money.
“I had some real concerns going into the meeting,” he said, “about whether they had done their homework or were just coming to the public with their hands out. I thought it was a pretty responsible program. . . The last mill levy increase, for the existing aquatic center, was in 1985, and they expected a 25-year life cycle. Well, it’s been 25 years. This is like replacing the tires on a car after 50,000 miles. The message is: does the community want to continue to support this?”
Sherbenou has announced on the MRD website – montroserec.com, where you can also see the feasibility study – the dates of three more district board meetings to discuss the final project plan and the task force’s recommendations. The meeting dates are Dec. 1, 8, and 15. He anticipates a decision by the board on how to proceed at the Dec. 15 meeting. For more information, call the rec district at 970/249-7705.