Mike McKibbin

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February 20, 2013
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Rec center history shows issue faces a bumpy ride

Take a trip starting in Parachute and Battlement Mesa and drive east on I-70 all the way to Gypsum and maybe further east. You may not know it, but every city and town on that route has at least a fitness center, if not a full-fledged recreation center.

Rifle has a fitness center, too, but no recreation center. I'd venture to say it may be the only city of a suitable size on that route that doesn't have someplace to go to swim, play basketball, racquetball, jog or do any of the other things you can find in such a center.

Good grief, even Silt has a fitness center with weights and such for a good workout.

As you read in today's Telegram, Rifle voters will once again be asked to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to a recreation center. This fall, it's almost certain there will be a ballot question asking for a sales tax hike so the city can issue bonds and build what is now a proposed $19 million recreation center at Metro Park.

It's not the first time Rifle voters have faced similar election issues. I went over to City Hall and checked the certification of elections in the city clerk's office and found four elections where voters were asked to approve funding for a recreation center. There were two other sales tax questions, in 1979 and 1987, that were approved but it didn't say exactly what the revenue was going to fund. Presumably not a recreation center, since we don't have one right now.

Interestingly, there was one election in 1984 that sought to create the Western Garfield County Park and Recreation District, apparently including the towns of Rifle and Silt as a base. There were even five district seats created, and they all had several candidates running to serve the new board. It failed, though, by a 811-728 count. At least in Rifle. I didn't have time to check with Silt. But again, we don't have that district on today's tax rolls. Nor a recreation center in either town.

In 1997, a half-cent sales tax hike for a recreation center was voted down, 217-160.

But in 2005, Rifle voters said yes to a one cent sales tax hike for parks and recreation use, open space and trails. That tally was 878-370. A year later, Rifle voters continued that tax indefinitely by a 1,564-356 final count.

But that doesn't raise enough money to build a recreation center, obviously. We don't have one.

So, here we are. Everything seems to be in place to go to voters once again and that's how it should be. If voters approve the tax hike in the Sept. 10 municipal election, backers think they can get something going on the ground within a year or so.

Of course, it will be a hard sell, with the economy struggling and the fact Rifle voters just last fall approved a 3/4 cent sales and use tax hike to help build a new $25 million water treatment plant. We did get slightly lower water rates in return. At least on my bill; maybe yours dropped more than $4.

So are Rifle residents ready to see the prices of most of what they buy in the city go up even further? Is it worth it to have a place to go to practice rock climbing, enjoy dance and yoga studios, a gymnastics center, a learning kitchen, a game room, etc.? Those were all among the planned amenities, but further cost cutting before the election will likely change the list.

Then there's the stalled, but potentially restarted, remodeling and renovation of the New Ute Events Center. The City Council has budgeted money to finish that project this year, but hasn't authorized spending it. Could a vote on a recreation center delay that project even further? I'm not sure. Both would be very welcome and attractive additions to Rifle. Do voters agree?

All I can say is stay tuned. This journey looks to continue to be one of twists and turns, questions and answers.

Mike McKibbin is the editor of The Citizen Telegram.

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The Post Independent Updated Feb 20, 2013 05:45PM Published Feb 20, 2013 05:44PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.