Met Rec planning for North Valley tax issue

“If we do build all the housing that’s on the docket…that’s a lot of kids playing soccer.”

[ By Katherine Nettles ]

Given the Gunnison Valley’s steady population growth and continual focus on recreation values, the Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District (Met Rec) is looking at how to keep up with increasing demand while supporting a complex regional network of partners working on several different capital projects and recreation programs. That might come in the form of a November 2022 tax increase ballot measure for North Valley residents. Met Rec board members held a public work session on November 17 to discuss what a ballot measure might look like, and the consensus among partners and public attendees was to move forward developing the idea for the next election cycle, with details of the measure still to be determined.

Met Rec’s entire district essentially covers the county and deals with over-the-air television and recreation. After it conducted a district-wide recreational needs assessment in 2019, Met Rec began dividing the valley into north and south components to study the different needs of each area. The North Valley consists of several jurisdictions including the towns of Mt. Crested Butte, Crested Butte and the CB South POA, as well as other entities operating there. It would basically encompass the same area as the Crested Butte Fire Protection District.

A ballot measure for the taxing district would be focused only on North Valley residents with the idea to help develop and maintain more ball fields, ice rink expansions, trail connectivity between Crested Butte and Crested Butte South and to give booster funding to non-profit organizations that currently provide recreational services and programming.

Based on preliminary discussions, the ballot question would aim to collect between $500,000 to $600,000 annually at an approximate rate of $7.50 per $100,000 value for residential property and three times that for commercial properties, based on 2021 property value assessments.

Met Rec district manager Hedda Peterson presented the ballot measure concept to the board last week, stating the primary reason to collect additional annual funds would be to support projects and programs already in place or in progress that lack adequate funding.

Peterson pointed out that Met Rec is granting $300,000 to recreation this year across the entire service area district, which is the most it has ever spent on rec. “The need is there. The projects are stacked up,” she said. “What we’ve started to realize is a lot of our rec needs are pretty complex.”

Met Rec has identified needs in three separate categories: capital construction of recreational amenities, operation and maintenance of those amenities and programs and stewardship of natural resources. Peterson made it clear that many of these are already being worked on. “But the funding isn’t always there at the level we need it to be,” as several small jurisdictions and other partners each struggle to bring in large enough revenues to fund projects on their own.

Fields, ice and trails
Met Rec has identified lack of field space in the North Valley as a limiting factor on recreational programming and leading to overused existing fields with “overwhelming” scheduling needs. A similar crunch is happening in the hockey community with ice rink availability.

“I probably hear from a hockey family every few months now, asking what can Met Rec do to expand the operational capacity of our ice space?” said Peterson.

Additionally, Peterson outlined that the desire for a community connector trail from CB South to Crested Butte and the need to maintain existing summer and winter trailheads while supporting environmental stewardship among visitors and residents also adds up. Several non-profits have stepped up to fulfill the growing needs, but lack sustainable funding. “That’s something we can play a role in helping to solve,” she said.

Peterson shared two case studies of similar rec districts, one in Blaine County, Idaho and one in Chaffee County.

Blaine County, near Sun Valley, is similar to Met Rec in having been established in the 1970s to support several jurisdictions. Its property mill levy now generates about $1.5 million annually and supports youth and adult programming. It has also built and now operates both an aquatic center and a 25-mile recreation path connecting communities. “I wanted to use this as an example of the power that this property tax and an initiative can have from a regional perspective,” said Peterson.

Chaffee County voters approved a .25 percent sales tax in 2018, which now generates $1.7 million annually. As a funding mechanism, it uses a citizens advisory committee to allocate funds through a grant process and has awarded over $5 million in just a few years, leveraging $22 million with in-kind and matching funds.

Met Rec board member Derrick Nehrenberg said accomplishing an additional revenue stream in a northern sub-district might be easier than the entire district.

“We feel it’s easier to probably get this funding stream through a ballot initiative up here than it would be if we were to go to the entire county,” he said, recalling that when the district debruced, the ballot measure passed mostly due to North Valley support and included some parts of Gunnison but lacked support in the more rural areas.

Other attendees suggested that past surveys indicated many residents to the south feel content with their recreational amenities that have kept pace with growth over the years.

A robust discussion among board members and partner attendees included the mill amount and how to strategize a successful ballot measure and campaign. Questions discussed were whether there are other recreational needs, whether Met Rec should consider a sunset date on the entire revenue stream or a portion of it and whether a ballot measure should be developed so it can be bonded.

The next steps are for the Met Rec to work with its partners around the exact wording, mill amount and other specifics for the proposed funding stream.

Laura Puckett Daniels also suggested that Met Rec sit at the general table for regional planning. “If we do build all the housing that’s on the docket in the next five years, that’s a lot of kids playing soccer,” she pointed out.

“That’s a great point. It’s a need we are already seeing,” said Peterson.

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