If Rifle residents want a recreation center, they'll have to vote for a sales tax hike and bond issue in the Sept. 10 municipal election.
That's what Rifle City Council was told at a Feb. 13 workshop to review the results of several studies done in the last year to determine the feasibility, support and financing methods of what now looks to be a $19 million, three-story, 63,000-square-foot center.
"I really feel the community feels this is a necessity," said Shelley Aibner of Rifle, who serves on a citizens committee that will work to pass the tax question. "The people are just dying for this, and I think they're willing to pay for it. We've seen so many people come out of the cracks and say, 'Let's do this.' I'm very optimistic."
Center plan changes, size and cost reduced
Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp. President Michael Langhorne said a $1 million donation from the Clough Foundation paid for the studies.
The original plan called for a three-story, 107,000-square-foot recreation center at the site of what is now the Brenden Theaters. That $30 million project was deemed too expensive, and the proposed site was shifted to Metro Park, Langhorne said.
The latest construction cost estimate from Adolph Peterson Construction, which built the Basalt recreation center and others, was $23 million for an 83,000-square-foot facility, Langhorne said. That works out to $209 a square foot, he added.
"We had some recent bad news for us, but good news for the construction industry," Langhorne said. "Things are apparently picking up a little, so we've been told to expect a 15 percent increase in construction costs next year."
That would add about $3.5 million to the construction cost, or a $26 million project, Langhorne added. A sales tax of 0.85 percent would be needed for a bond issue of that size.
"That would hard to recommend, so we went back and reduced the size by another 20,000 square feet," he said.
That brought the estimated cost down to $19 million, which would require a sales tax hike of between 0.62 percent and 0.75 percent.
The reduction in size also meant instead of two swimming pools there would be only one larger pool, along with other changes, Langhorne said.
Subsidies needed from sales tax hike
"Given all that's changed, we still feel the citizens of Rifle should have a chance to vote on this," Langhorne said. "We understand it's a large project, but you also need to remember that the [Rifle] Fitness Center has 300 members and there's no room for any more. And we have 210 kids in the gymnastics program, so we know we have the demand."
The city now subsidizes the fitness center by $50,000 a year, or more than $8,000 a month, for an 11,000-square-foot facility, Langhorne pointed out.
The Glenwood Springs Community Center, which offers many recreational amenities, gets about half it's operating revenue from the city of Glenwood Springs, Langhorne said.
The latest proposed size of a recreation center would need a subsidy of more than $274,000 a year to help cover estimated operating costs of $1.3 million a year, Langhorne added. The center is estimated to generate $794,000 in revenue through fees and other charges.
A fundraising feasibility study said a Rifle recreation center could expect to receive $1 million in private funds, plus grants for construction and other grants for programming costs, Langhorne noted.
"The financial analysis focused on a sales tax instead of a property tax increase because a property tax would not likely raise enough revenue," Langhorne said, unless a special property tax was assessed in an area larger than the city boundaries.
"We need to have one and half times the amount we need to cover the annual debt," Langhorne said, in order to receive the highest bond rating and lowest interest rates. "And if the city sales tax drops, you're still obligated to repay the bonds."
Bond issue interest rates are at their lowest levels in 47 years, Langhorne said, and are unlikely to change in the next year. That makes the timing positive for a bond issue and sales tax hike, he added.
Mayor Jay Miller noted the city would have an obligation "to fund something" with a recreation center.
"And I am concerned about that," he added.
Miller warned that if city sales tax does not generate enough revenue to cover the debt payments, "we might have to cut other city services."
Rifle resident Gil Frontella said if city voters approve a sales tax hike "for a Taj Mahal, then you build it. If they're willing to vote to accept the responsibility, they're the ones who will pay, either through a sales tax or another remedy."
"I'm all for it," said Councilman Randy Winkler. "We need it and it's been talked about for a long time."
City Clerk Lisa Cain said city council would likely decide to officially put the question on the ballot this summer.
"A recreation center would be a magnet to bring people in to shop and live," said former city councilman Sandy Vaccaro, who served on the project management team. "You have a unique small town quality in Rifle now, and this just compliments all those amenities."
"I know there were other votes on a recreation center in the 1980s and 90s" that did not pass, Vaccaro continued. "I think people nowadays want their government to make the right decisions and this project is in their best interests. It's time, it's past due."
"We know this will be an uphill battle," Langhorne stated.