TV signal versus arts and recreation funding
Where the Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation (Met Rec) District will spend public money in the future was the subject of debate during the district’s board meeting in Crested Butte on Monday, November 19.
The board discussed funding priorities for its 2008 budget in light of a failed ballot initiative that’s left the district under the tightening effects of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR).
This fall, the Met Rec District asked voters to release it from the ratcheting effects of TABOR, which creates a ceiling on the amount of money a district can collect each year through property taxes. The measure failed by 59 votes.
Met Rec District board president Joel Vosburg says he feels the public sent a message on November 6. “What the election said is that a lot of people are feeling like the moneys we’re using now aren’t being used wisely,” Vosburg says.
However, Met Rec board members are divided over where they feel the public’s priorities lie.
The Met Rec District, created in 1978, is funded through property taxes as a means to bring free television to the Gunnison Valley.
The service area includes nearly all of Gunnison County and a small section of Saguache County. In 2000 the district expanded its mission to include promoting arts and recreation in the county and started providing grants to area non-profit organizations.
Vosburg says he feels the district should start shifting its focus from maintaining the district’s translator system, which provides free television signal, to aggressively funding arts and recreation efforts. He says the district needs to consider if it’s practical to maintain the expensive translator system if it’s underused by residents.
Vosburg says he has heard from people in Crested Butte who would like to see the district fund more recreation efforts, rather than spending money on the translator system. “Times have changed,” Vosburg says. The district has $112,000 earmarked for maintenance and personnel costs for the translator system in 2008, out of $324,000 in total expenditures.
The district has set aside close to $200,000 for arts and recreation grants in 2008–approximately $150,000 will got to Gunnison’s efforts to build an ice rink and swimming pool. Some of the funds are coming out of the district’s reserves.
However, board member Steve Bathje says the district should remain true to its original mission and continue to maintain the translator system. He points out that the district conducted a survey of users a few years ago that found the system is still used—particularly in more rural parts of Gunnison County. He also points out that there may be more users—such as seasonal residents—who didn’t respond to the survey.
Bathje says the Met Rec District has an obligation to provide the service for people who may not be able to afford satellite television service like Time Warner cable, Dish Network or DirecTV. “Government takes care of the little people and big business takes care of the rest,” he says, pointing out that for many people, watching television is a form of recreation.
During the meeting on Monday night, board member Bob Beda pointed out that many citizens don’t see the benefit of the Met Rec District funding things like the arts centers or facilities that are used by visitors to Gunnison County. “They feel they don’t get any benefit from it,” Beda commented.
Vosburg says there are citizens who still rely on the free television signal. “There are users,” he says. “It’s debatable as to whether it’s substantial.”
During the meeting on Monday night, Met Rec District business manager Lori Patin reported that she had attended a town meeting in Pitkin where residents were very concerned that the district might consider changing its mission or altering their television signal. She said the meeting represented the flip-side of the some parts of the district not prioritizing television service. “They are television users and they want signal,” she said. In fact, Pitkin residents signed a petition to that effect.
Vosburg says the petition is a step in the right direction. He is advocating that members of the public come forward and tell the district where they want its money spent—on television service or arts and recreation. In addition, he says the district should start alerting the public that it’s considering shutting down and abandoning certain unused or underused parts of the translator system in an effort to save money.
Bathje and Vosburg agree that it would be possible to shut down certain underused sections of the system, while maintaining other sections of the county.
However, Bathje believes that as long as there are users, the district should maintain the signal. “I won’t let a system be shut down unless we can prove that not one person is using it,” Bathje says.
The Met Rec District board will consider adoption of its budget during its regular meeting on Monday, December 9 in Gunnison. For more information on the district, visit www.gcmetrec.com.