TO REC OR NOT TO REC? VOTERS TO DECIDE
By Caitlin Switzer
MONTROSE—(February 4, 2014) In April, Montrose city voters will decide whether to move forward with construction of a new Community Recreation Center. The Mirror spoke with supporters and opponents of Measure B to gain a better understanding of what is at stake.
NOW IS THE TIME
Proponents of a new Montrose Community Recreation Center, which has been approved for placement on the City’s April ballot, assert that if the measure is successful, the construction process alone will have a $50 million impact on the community. That number comes from a study prepared by RPI Consultants on behalf of the Rec District.
“As a public board asking for community support in the form of a sales tax increase, we felt it was important to have an independent expert study the economic impact a recreation center would have on the community. This will ensure we are building a center that will contribute to the community’s overall fiscal health. The report prepared by RPI shows clear economic impact over and above the projected $1.25 million per year raised by the temporary 0.3 percent sales tax,” said John Pope, vice president of the Montrose Recreation District board of directors, in a news release issued last week.
The MRD news release also states that, according to the RPI report, once the facility is built, an expected $4.6 million per year impact will be derived from operations of the facility itself, combined with the spending by visitors on goods related to the outing such as gas, food and supplies.
“Measure B will be on the City of Montrose spring ballot, and reflects a 0.3 percent temporary sales tax (3 cents per $10 purchase) to help construct The Montrose Community Recreation Center,” notes the news release. “Votes are due by 7 pm on Tuesday April 1, 2014. The center will be located at Woodgate and Ogden on a 26-acre site owned by the Rec District, and is designed for the entire community, offering more than 85 new or enhanced programs. The center will feature an eight-lane pool, warm leisure pool with a lazy river, therapy and spa pools, fitness area with weights and cardio, three-lane walking/jogging track, multipurpose gymnasium, two racquetball courts, multipurpose and active community rooms, indoor playground, family game room, climbing wall, child watch area, family changing rooms and modern locker rooms.”
According to the http://www.Montrosecrc.org web site, advantages include the potential for free use by seniors and qualifying adults. The present facility at Colorado Avenue and Rio Grande would be converted to a turf field house.
Montrose Recreation District Director Ken Sherbenou offered a number of reasons when asked, “Why now?”
“The Montrose Recreation District recently completed the Community Rec. Center (CRC) and Woodgate Master Plan,” he said. “This built off the foundation of the CRC feasibility study from 2011; this effort, which has spanned nearly four years now, produced the outcome of the MRD voting unanimously to pursue a 0.3 percent temporary sales tax increase to bridge the gap in funding to make the project happen. The project includes construction of Montrose’s first multi-purpose recreation center at the MRD-owned Woodgate and Ogden property, followed by the conversion of the current indoor pool into an indoor turf field. The ‘now’ is tied to the reality that the current indoor pool is at the end of its shelf life, and that it was built to only be a 25-year building. Even if fixing it were possible, it is still inadequate to meet the needs of the community.
“Additionally, Montrose still lacks a multi-purpose recreation center with such amenities as racquetball courts, a warm water leisure pool, an indoor track, a public gym etc.,” he added. “This leads to MRD programs for youth, adult and seniors being inefficiently spread throughout the community at school gyms, the Pavilion and Friendship Hall.”
Sherbenou also cited construction costs, which are presently low but rebounding, and said that community concerns over potentially higher fees are addressed in the new plan.
“Plan improvements found in Measure B grew directly from concerns we heard during and following the last vote,” he said. “This led to MRD becoming a SilverSneakers site, which provides free memberships for seniors with certain health plans. Additionally, it led to a drastic reduction in the proposed annual fee for both youth and seniors to the CRC, to $200. This is just $20 more per year than the current aquatic center, yet a great deal more will be provided with a multi-purpose recreation center. Some fees will go up relative to the current aquatic center, such as the adult drop-in fee and some will go down, such as the youth drop in fee. The full fee schedule is included in the CRC final presentation found at www.montroserec.com.”
Jason Ullman, who serves as Co-Chair (with Barbara Bynum) of the Friends of the Montrose Community Recreation Center, had this comment: “A lot of misinformation is being spread in the community in an attempt to fool the public into believing that our plan is not financially viable, but as a Recreation District Board member I am confident that the plan, including the 3/10 of a percent sales tax increase, is financially conservative and will insure that if Measure B passes we can build the facility promised.
“For goodness sakes, it only costs 3/10 of a penny on every dollar to build such a wonderful community amenity,” Ullman said. “This amounts to approximately $21 in additional tax per year for Montrose families that spend $7,000 in a year. The opposition is also making light of the fact that the Recreation District will take on debt (Certificates of Participation) to construct the $25 million facility. This is true, and we are not hiding that fact, but it is similar to a family obtaining a mortgage to purchase a house. I doubt very many families purchased their homes without a mortgage and the associated interest that goes along with it. Another misconception I would like to dispel is that only a small percentage of the population will use the facility. This has been proven untrue in other locations such as Delta where at any given time their facility is bustling with activities for all ages, or in Fruita where a recent phone poll revealed that 80 percent of the people had used the Rec Center in the past 12 months. We would like to make sure everyone has the information they need to make an informed decision on Measure B and anyone with questions can visit our website atwww.montrosecrc.org, call Jason Ullmann at 497-9716 or email us at email@example.com.”
“WE CAN’T AFFORD THIS.”
When the City of Montrose approved Measure B for placement on the spring ballot at a council meeting in January, citizens expressed both support for and opposition to the measure, including several County residents who expressed frustration that they will not have a vote in the City election.
More specific opposition is being levied by retired Montrose CPA Curt Robinson, however.
“In 1986, we approved a bond to build a new swimming pool,” Robinson said. “We needed $1.3 million, and in order to get that, we raised the mill levy.
“We needed it badly, and I busted my butt to make that happen,” Robinson said. “I am not opposed to a new Rec Center, and I do believe we need new pools.”
Like many longtime residents, Robinson can also remember the $23 school finance package that Montrose voters approved in 2002 to fund school facility improvements, a plan which was delivered on time and under budget thanks to the leadership of former Re-1J Superintendent George Voorhis and present Property Services Supervisor Jason Arebalos. Local schools are in need of improvements again, which Robinson believes to be more of a priority for a community with a struggling economy.
“The debt service on the rec center alone would be 140 percent of what it cost to build the current pool,” Robinson said. “(MRD Director) Ken Sherbenou tells me that a new pool would cost somewhere around $10.5 million, but their total project costs $29 million.
“I am pro Rec District,” he said, “and I will stack my record against anyone who is on the current board. They have real problems, and I do favor a new pool. The one we have is crowded, and the community has outgrown it.
“What I am not in favor of is the use of a sales tax,” he said. “The City and the County of Montrose are already the only places on the Western Slope that tax groceries. And they want to provide a first-class facility for the elite of our community by hitting the poorest in our community—this takes food off tables.”
The Montrose Recreation District, despite its rural location, is among the best financed in the state, he continued.
“When the community de-Bruced the district in 1996, I helped to make that happen,” Robinson said. “The problem is that now, they have too much money, and that is driving the train.”
Robinson pointed out that Montrose County is among the lowest third in the state when it comes to per capita income, and said that he feels the MRD board is out of touch with the rest of the community.
“Our city and county leadership are hurting Montrose, and keeping us mired in a recession when other areas are in recovery,” he said.
According to Robinson, MRD assessed taxes were $1,148,767 in 2007, and $1, 605,335 in 2013, an increase of 40 percent over 2008, the year the recession began.
“They are bringing in revenues in excess of need,” he said. “They have been saving money over the past five or six years, and yet this board has no qualms about going to the people for more. What we need shouldn’t cost a fortune.”
Robinson, who raised four kids here in Montrose, believes that basketball courts to get kids out of the house are a good idea, and he expressed support for the City’s proposal to let kids play free at Black Canyon Golf Course.
We need that here, and I support that,” he said. “We should look at what we can do to get kids off their cell phones and outside. But it should not cost us an arm and a leg.”
Robinson summed up his opposition to Measure B in three statements.
“Number one, we need to fund our public schools first,” he said. “Number two, this facility is being built for the elite, but their own numbers show that they need to increase user fees to make this pay. In 2014, projected user fees are $518, 000. In 2016, if this is built, projections show user fees at $1,200,000. I believe their reasoning is flawed; they think they will more than double usage, but they are planning to increase fees.
“Number three, if we can build a pool for $10 million, it means that $18 million is being spent on the rest of the facility—it’s the fluff that is killing this project.”
Robinson also pointed out that Bill Heddles Rec Center in Delta generates $750,000 in user fees annually.
“How does Montrose come up with a $1, 200,000?” he asked.
“Once this (Measure B) fails, I would like to see them take the money they already have and do what they need to do.”