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Met Rec will ask voters to lift tax

If measure fails, a chance over-the-air TV disappears

By Mark Reaman

The Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation (Met Rec) District board recently voted unanimously to ask voters to “de-Bruce” the district next November and lift some restrictions on the mill levy. Under Colorado’s TABOR (Taxpayers Bill of Rights) regulations the district mill levy has decreased over the years to 0.57 mills and the amount of money it is bringing in will not cover television translator replacement costs, thus putting the over-the-air television service in danger of going away.

Met Rec board chairman Dave Clayton explained that the district has only enough in reserves to fund one-third to one-half of the capital replacement of equipment over the next ten years. Once the reserves are depleted they would be extremely difficult to be replenished under TABOR restrictions.

“We felt that the voters should have the say in whether they felt the mission of the district is valid today and if the district should continue on its current path,” said Clayton. “If the board decided to not go for the ballot question, we would be deciding the future without voter input. We want the effort to succeed but feel the voters should decide.”

Clayton said the board feels there are three types of people who will vote on the measure. There are the approximate 400 households who use the over-the-air television service provided by the district. “TV users believe that the first priority of the district is and should be the operation of the television translator system and that recreation should not be a priority or only after television is fully funded,” he explained. “Recreation proponents want more of the district funds used for non-television recreational efforts. Maybe the largest group is the ‘neither group’ that will be voting based on whether the de-Bruce effort is a restoration of a previously approved tax rate or a new tax increase.”

About 60 percent of the television users are in the Gunnison area. The district has had times when it would award grants for community recreation projects like the ice rinks at both ends of the valley. But Clayton said those days are numbered if the de-Brucing is not successful.

By de-Brucing, the district could increase the property tax up to 1 mill and that would bring in enough money to maintain a sustainable translator system and have about $160,000 available for recreation grants or other improvements to the TV system each year. The estimated 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 district staff will begin preparing for the election by notifying the county elections office it wants an item on the November 2018 ballot. They will develop and submit ballot language for the election. A citizens committee will need to be formed to advocate for the issue. The district has budgeted $30,000 for 2018 election efforts that also include a May director’s election.

Clayton said an educational campaign would need to be organized to let voters know the status of the district and the benefits that could come with de-Brucing. “If the ballot issue passes, the board has the authority to levy the originally approved 1 mill to fund the district,” he said. “That provides money to maintain and improve TV translation while having funds that can be put toward recreation funding. If it doesn’t pass, the district would have some very tough discussions and decisions to make. We would not have funding to sustain television and would have to determine how to reduce and ultimately shutdown the translator system. The board would have to look at where it goes from there and if the district should even continue to exist at all.”

Clayton said the board would begin developing a timeline and assigning responsibilities for developing and communicating the messaging to the public at the January board meeting.

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