TV and recreation grants both in jeopardy
by Mark Reaman
The Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation (Met Rec) District is approaching a financial cliff that could impact over-the-air television in the county, along with any future recreation grants or projects.
The district board held the first of several meetings on Tuesday, October 24 in Crested Butte to solicit input from the public on what to do about the situation. The prevailing attitude appeared to be to go to the voters in 2018 to “de-Bruce” the district so it would not be under the confines of the state’s TABOR (Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights) property tax regulations and thus could have access to the one mill voters originally approved in 1978.
A meeting in Gunnison to solicit public comment is scheduled for Monday, November 13 at the Fred Field Center. The public session will begin at 6 p.m.
Under TABOR’s complicated formula, the district mill levy has decreased over the years to .97 mills and the amount of money it is bringing in will not cover television translator replacement costs.
If a de-Brucing measure, named after the author of the legislation, Douglas Bruce, is approved by the entire district, the dozen citizens in attendance at the public meeting appeared to want to have the district move toward having voters in the Crested Butte sub-district consider a property tax to fund a recreation center/swimming pool for the north end of the valley. The sub-district basically encompasses the property in the valley from Round Mountain north.
Met Rec chairman Dave Clayton used a PowerPoint presentation to explain the state of the district. “We’re at a fork in the road where basically we either increase funding, reduce the mission or cease operations,” Clayton said.
Approximately 400 households use the district’s over-the-air television service. About 60 percent of the users are in the Gunnison area. The district has in the past awarded grants for community recreation projects like the ice rinks at both ends of the valley. But Clayton said those days are numbered.
Tax revenue in 2017 is expected to be about $379,944 and expenditures are budgeted at $384,590. The fund balance is shrinking as the deficits get larger and equipment replacement costs are needed and expensive. In fact, Clayton said, the staff estimates that $728,000 in equipment replacement will be needed over the next ten years with $362,000 budgeted just for 2020.
Clayton said there would come a time in the near future when the translator equipment fails and it cannot be replaced, so television service will cease from that translator. “We can replace about half of the capital equipment before expending reserves,” he explained. “Once reserves are gone, TABOR makes it virtually impossible to rebuild reserves for the future.”
By de-Brucing, the district could increase the mill levy up to one mill and that would bring in enough money to maintain a sustainable translator system and have about $160,000 available for recreation grants each year. The cost to the owner of a home valued at $750,000 would go from $34.50 per year to $54. Commercial properties would take a bigger hit under state tax laws.
“The board has not made the determination on whether to pursue the de-Brucing,” said Clayton. “That is why we are having these public meetings. We want to hear from the constituents.”
Mt. Crested Butte resident and ardent recreation center proponent Moss Wagner said the Mt. Crested Butte Downtown Development Authority had “passed the buck” when asked to help with rec center funding and told him and others to go to the Met Rec district. He was at the public meeting and he asked for their help.
“If we de-Bruce, it opens up a tool in this end of the valley because there is the Crested Butte sub-district,” explained board member Ian Billick. “After de-Brucing, the sub-district could vote on a mill levy increase for a rec center.”
“It is a two-step process,” added board member Derrick Nehrenberg. “The first step is to de-Bruce and then at a later date the sub-district could vote to help with something like a rec center.”
Cassia Cadenhead, another passionate proponent of a north valley rec center, said her research indicated a rec center the size of Moab’s facility, about 26,000 square feet that holds three pools and cost about $7 million to construct, would be a good size for the community. “If it costs $1 million to operate it appears that about 60 percent of that could be covered with fees,” she said. “So there would be an annual $400,000 operating deficit.”
“The district hasn’t considered where something like this would be located or what it would cost to build,” said Clayton. “If you want to try to use some Mt. Crested Butte DDA money it has to be located in Mt. Crested Butte. No matter where you build it, it will be an expensive endeavor.”
Kier Work said she was heartened to see the board was open to the idea of helping to facilitate funding for a rec center. “Something like a rec center is important to the community,” she said. “It benefits a range of people. I have an eight-year-old and sometimes I don’t feel like driving the 30 miles to the Gunnison Rec Center.”
“To de-Bruce, Gunnison voters need to be onboard,” noted former Met Rec board member Dave McGuire. “It’s been tried before and failed. Gunnison voters need to see benefit.”
“De-Brucing provides sustainable television service and some recreation spending,” summed up Clayton. “Reasonably, it is the first step forward to get what you are asking for. It unlocks the opportunity for a sub-district vote that would not impact Gunnison.”
Noah White of CBTV said he would help get the word out over his airwaves about the Met Rec situation.
Crested Butte Parks and Recreation director Janna Hansen said the town has valued the partnership with the Met Rec district and said with a number of projects in the Crested Butte Parks and Rec future, a continued partnership is important.
Crested Butte Mountain Biking Association executive director Dave Ochs suggested that if the district is de-Bruced, some recreation money could be spent on trails in the county. He said trailhead infrastructure such as signs and toilets were needs; trail connectivity for routes between places like Crested Butte and Crested Butte South, and backcountry stewardship efforts were all worthy causes for recreation funds. The district board appeared to agree with his suggestions.
“If we don’t de-Bruce, we have no path to do the fun things in life,” concluded Clayton. “We are taking it one step at a time. We want to do what the constituents want but de-Brucing is not an insurmountable task.”
“It is a slow process and there are a lot of things happening in the north end of the valley right now,” added Billick. “Only so many issues can be absorbed at once. Right now we have to focus on the de-Brucing.”