TV, recreation and telecommunications opportunities
By Mark Reaman
As part of its campaign to educate voters before asking them to de-Bruce the district, board members from the Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District came to the Crested Butte Town Council Monday, March 5. The main takeaway was that under current rules, the district could provide the current level of service or even survive on its current path for just a while longer. But with de-Brucing, potential opportunities abound to maintain and improve TV, recreation and telecommunications in the valley.
De-Brucing is a way for taxing entities in Colorado to avoid some of the more harsh ramifications of the state’s TABOR (Taxpayers Bill of Rights) rules. TABOR, penned by lawmaker Douglas Bruce, was originally meant to keep rising taxes in check but in many cases it resulted in a ratcheting down of mill levy rates when revenues increased. Then, when an economic downturn occurred and property values dropped, the mill levy rate remained at the lower level and thus did not bring in as many dollars. That has been the case with Met Rec, where it now imposes about .58 mills where once it was 1 mill.
That now brings in just under $300,000 and if voters allow the district to collect the originally approve 1 mill, it would be able to collect another $235,000, of which $75,000 per year would be allocated to television infrastructure capital replacement. On a house valued at $750,000, the tax would go from about $34.50 per year to $54 annually.
Board members Ian Billick and Derrick Nehrenberg explained some history of the district to the council and gave projections of what would happen if the voters do not approve the de-Brucing measure that will be on the ballot this November.
“The community will have to make a decision on what they want from the district,” explained Billick. “The district is not viable on its current path.”
Essentially, the district does not currently have adequate funding to maintain the over-the-air television infrastructure. So the board will have to make decisions about where to cut the TV service that has been the mainstay of the district.
In the past, the district has also spent money on funding some recreation opportunities in the county, but that too will go away in the financial crunch.
As an added feature, the board is looking at how to help improve telecommunications in the county through use of its towers and other infrastructure. It is currently working with a company to install a microwave relay on its Monarch and W Mountain towers to bring redundant high-speed data service to the area.
Billick said, if approved, the de-Brucing action would allow for the television element to continue and provide some money to help support some recreation opportunities. “There are some additional nonmonetary benefits as well,” Billick explained. “In the long run this would allow a north sub-district and that could help facilitate some things like a north valley recreation center or hockey rink improvements that would be paid for by north valley residents.
“I personally don’t think this will pass just with the support of the television community,” Billick continued. “It needs the recreation and telecommunications components to get the community excited. The TV community needs to understand the situation.”
“Our surveys have shown that 389 households in the county use the Met Rec TV service,” added Nehrenberg. “There are probably more than that but it is not enough votes to secure de-Brucing. So the excitement of the recreation community is necessary. The potential north valley sub-district holds many possibilities. If I were the town, I would be excited with those opportunities.”
“Such a thing would be the only way to finance something like a Rec Center, which is very expensive to operate,” said mayor Jim Schmidt.
“Crested Butte South, us, Mt. Crested Butte have always thought we would have to do something like that together,” said Crested Butte councilman Paul Merck.
“TABOR has impacts and there are some crazy restrictions, which is why every other district in the county has de-Bruced except us,” said Billick. “If we don’t de-Bruce, we can’t replace the transmitters so we can’t keep up the same degree of service for over-the-air TV. The simplest thing in that case would be to get rid of the district.”
“We don’t want the Rec District to go away,” emphasized Nehrenberg. “We feel it can be used for outdoor recreation purposes. There is great opportunity to use this vehicle to support people who live here. People don’t move here for TV. They move here for the recreation opportunities and Met Rec can help support those opportunities.”
Billick said the board may come back to the council and ask for formal support for the de-Brucing measure.