Fears of losing TV translator system drive two campaigns
As the May 6 election for five director seats on the Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District board nears, one issue has the attention of all the candidates–—the television translator system.
After 30 years of use, the aging network of antennae that brings free basic television service to county residents has been under review by the current board of directors to see if parts of it can be eliminated to save money. But just the mention of doing away with parts of the service has angered some residents.
Running for reelection as four-year directors are Dave McGuire and Rogene McKiernan, who both say there was never an attempt to do away with the translator system, since maintaining the system is the mandated function of the
“We never were really talking about discontinuing any TV service—we just thought that if there were any places where people were not using the TV signal we could do that to save money for the people, but we found out that almost every place has viewers,” says McGuire.
Despite those assurances, Met Rec board candidate Mark Hildebrand wants to make sure that the directors are not going to take his television away; he has announced his intentions to campaign for a place on the board with that in mind.
“I just think we should keep the TV system going one way or another and whatever money is left over should be spent according to how the people feel about it,” says Hildebrand who is now running for a four-year director seat.
The district has three four-year seats and two two-year seats open in this election.
That is a feeling shared by candidate Kevin Hicks, who is also seeking a four-year term as a director on the platform of keeping the entire television translator system in place. He’s running “mainly to keep the district as what we voted it in for when we voted for the mil levy back in ‘73, to keep the television translator system up,” says Hicks, referring to formation of the Met Rec District and its original mission of providing free television service.
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.
Both Hildebrand and Hicks feel there was, and still is, an attempt to limit or do away with parts of the television translator system.
But McGuire and McKiernan say it was never the intention and the board only wanted to gather information on the use of the system.
“Really, that was the only way we could get any feedback. We sent letters out, surveyed and did all that stuff and so we decided, ‘Let’s give them a little scare,’ and we got feedback. We never really planned on discontinuing it since that is really what the district is all about,” says McGuire.
Beyond the concerns about the television translator system, Hicks hopes the district will take up the cause of updated and coordinated communications for emergency services throughout the county.
“Something we need to look at is whether those translator tower sites can be used to coordinate the emergency response communications throughout the county,” he says, adding that the sites might also be appropriate for transmitting a wireless Internet signal to county residents.
McGuire says he’ll continue to work on improving communication with county residents, particularly about the translator system.
“We just had an election where the people actually voted down our attempt to de-Bruce, which would have given us more money to distribute to the various parks and recreation needs throughout the county and basically the people decided that they didn’t want that; so we’re trying to figure out why,” says McGuire. “We’ll have to make a little bit better effort at educating the people on [the de-Brucing] issue.”
The term de-Bruce refers to the author of the TABOR amendment and allows the local government to use more of the money it collects through taxes, and other means of generating revenue, that would have otherwise been limited.
Beyond the issues facing the television translator system, McGuire hopes that in this term the board will set aside some leftover funds for larger projects in the future.
“We were really hoping to be able to earmark more money that can help offset the operating costs of some of these big facilities, such as pools, recreation centers and ice rinks,” says McGuire.
“The writing is on the wall if you go to some of these other places where they’ve been built. Initially things work pretty well, then memberships drop and use declines and then it becomes very hard to keep them open and maintained the way they planned them to,” he says.
For McKiernan, the goal for the upcoming term, should she be reelected, is a balance between the needs of people in the different areas throughout the county.
“I think the voters are looking for accountability for the taxes we collect. For the people living on the mountain there is more of a concern for arts and recreation and people living in outlying areas are concerned for the continuation of their television service,” says McKiernan.
As for the television translator system, McKiernan says the decision on what to do needs to be made and action should be taken. Beyond that, “if I were to slant one way I’d slant toward recreation and culture as being a priority,” she says.
“We need to upgrade [the system that is being used] and cease to operate those towers that aren’t serving anyone or only one or two. So far we’ve identified three that we can decommission. Others, we will turn off and wait for the response, since we haven’t gotten a response from everyone,” she says.
Bob Beda, who is running unopposed for a two-year term, is set to complete his first four-year term at the end of this election cycle. As part of the decision making process to update the television translator system, he feels that making the necessary changes will make it easier for other worthy projects to make it into the budget.
“I think we have a good vision of what we want and where we want to go. We are looking at stopping service to some of the underutilized translator sites and upgrading the usable ones to other parts of the county that have seen population growth, like Crested Butte South,” says Beda.
“We need to look at [budget proposals] on a needs basis,” he says, noting that they need to consider upcoming projects in Gunnison and Crested Butte.
Also running unopposed for a two-year term is Paul Wayne Foreman, who served on the board between 1994 and 2003.
“I don’t think there needs to be any changes to the current mission of the board, since it is a full-service recreation board,” says Foreman. “I’m just getting in there to twist the focus knob on it. We need to figure out how the taxpayer’s money can be spent most effectively. I don’t believe the board should be a line item on anybody’s budget.”
Money that is not spoken for in the board’s budget, Foreman says, should go where the electorate decides. However, he says, spending it on “capital improvements, brick and mortar buildings that will be here for years to come, is always a good investment.”
Polling places for the district election will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Gunnison County multi-purpose building at 275 S. Spruce Street in Gunnison, and at the Crested Butte Town Hall, 507 Maroon Avenue in Crested Butte on May 6.
Applications for mail-in voter ballots may be obtained from the designated election official, Lori Patin, or from the website, www.gcmetrec.com. For more information call the district office at (970) 641-8725.