Council swings away

by Greg MassE
Post Independent Staff

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – City Council is headed straight down the fairway toward a new 18-hole golf course after approving a $12 million loan in a 5-2 vote Thursday.

But some city residents want council to take another swing and putt the loan approval to voters. Critics said the city shouldn’t indebt the city without voter approval.

Although the funding method was approved in principle, the golf course must first be designed and win a special use permit from the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission before any money would actually be borrowed.

Hanlon said it will likely be September or October before the money is in city hands.

The money would be used to fund an $8 million golf course at the former Wulfsohn Ranch just south of the Glenwood Meadows project site.

Council also approved a $235,000 contract with Phelps Golf Course Design of Evergreen to plan the course.

Around 25 people commented on council’s plan to borrow the money using certificates of participation, or COPs, which are a way to borrow money without having a public election.

Some spoke in favor of the plan, but most argued against it and suggested letting the public decide whether to borrow the money.

Copp’s COPs

City manager Mike Copp said COPs would be the most prudent way to borrow money because they are appropriated each year, so the revenue source used to pay off the loan could be changed.

This, he argued, is the best plan, because once the golf course begins to pay for itself, the landfill revenues that city officials plan to use to pay off the loan during the first several years can then be used for other things.

If another type of loan were used – such as a revenue bond – the landfill’s revenue stream would be tied up for the life of the loan, 20 years.

“So even if the golf course does really well, landfill money would still be tied up,” Copp said.

Also, he said if the golf course is a failure, the city could walk away from the loan and the course would fall into the hands of the COPs investors. At a previous meeting, Copp noted that such a move would damage the city’s credit rating.

It’s urgent to take out the loan and start the project because interest rates are at historic lows, city officials say. If the city had to wait a year, interest rates could increase, possibly raising the repayment costs by millions of dollars.

And to illustrate the legitimacy of COPs, Copp said more than $1 billion has been borrowed by Colorado governments using that mechanism since 2000.

Both sides now

Opponents said council shouldn’t approve such a big loan without voter approval. They pointed to a plentiful supply of golf courses in the area, and high water use and environmental damage associated with the courses. They called on council to heed a 1991 vote defeating a golf course proposal on the irrigated meadows of Wulfsohn Ranch – the area now slated for commercial and residential development as Glenwood Meadows.

Supporters argued that in order for Glenwood Springs to be a real tourist town, an 18-hole golf course is necessary. A golf course is a needed amenity, a revenue generator, a key to luring a conference center to town and an investment in the community, they said.

“I believe this is an investment,” said Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association director Marianne Virgili. “We really feel these amenities are important.”

“I think a golf course would be a beautiful entrance to Glenwood Springs,” said Kehn Ogden of Glenwood Springs. “I don’t think we’re spending money, I think we’re investing.”

“Don’t be afraid of a vote”

But the majority of people who spoke to council Thursday were against the project.

Kenny Smith said the 1991 vote shows citizens don’t want a golf course.

“I think that to go ahead with this is a slap in the face to the electorate of Glenwood Springs,” he said.

Jeanne Golay, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said too much water would be used to irrigate the course. Noting that golf course supporters viewed it as a launchpad for a convention center, Golay said the city would also have to subsidize flights into the Eagle County Airport to draw conventioneers to Glenwood Springs.

“People want to have some input into this very, very big decision,” she said. “Don’t be afraid of a vote. A yes vote could affirm your leadership.”

Glenwood Springs resident Rolly Fischer called for an election to approve the loan.

“I would urge City Council to go to a vote,” he said. “The taxpayers who would be funding the project should have a say.”

“They should be used for need-to-have items, not want-to-have items,” said Joe O’Donnell.

He also asked council why private investors wouldn’t be interested in a golf course if it’s predicted to generate $1 million a year.

Former mayor Sam Skramstad said he wouldn’t argue either way, but encouraged City Council to decide the matter without putting it to a public vote.

Other ways to spend the money

Jim Olp said he was disappointed to see that millions could be spent on recreational amenities in town, but South Canyon’s primitive city park remains neglected and ignored.

“Time after time I’ve been told we don’t have the money or the manpower to fund it,” he said of South Canyon. “It seems we can afford $1 million for these types of recreation, but not $100,000 for South Canyon.”

Glenwood Springs resident Sheila Markowitz said council’s use of COPs to avoid TABOR restrictions is “arrogant and unwise.”

Larry Beckwith, also of Glenwood Springs, accused council of a “violation of the spirit of the law” by not seeking voter approval for such a large loan. He called the the action “unethical and immoral.”

“Personally I think we should get away from this borrow-and-build mentality,” he said.

Glenwood Springs resident Linda Hollowell said she feels council members often come into meetings with their minds already made up on issues.

“Listening to the bloody citizens is just another annoying exercise in doing your job,” she said.

Council members explain their vote

After the public had its say, council members shared their thoughts.

Councilman Rick Davis said although he’s not a golfer, he supports borrowing the money to build a course.

“I haven’t heard anything to convince me that it’s not a good investment,” he said.

Councilman Larry Emery discounted the 1991 vote against the golf course, describing that election as a vote against development.

And Councilwoman Jean Martensen said the city elected council members to make these kinds of decisions on their behalf, and the matter needn’t go to a public vote.

Councilman Don Gillespie warned of an impending downturn in the economy and said the golf course would be just one way to combat that downturn.

Dave Merritt and Dan Richardson were the only two members of council to vote against borrowing the money using COPs.

“I think this is something that takes a lot more community involvement,” Merritt said. “We will be committed to chasing sales tax if we do this.”

Richardson said since the city usually asks for voter approval when borrowing this much money, the same process should happen in this case.

“I just think the negatives outweigh the positives on this,” he said.

Richardson asked how the city could give up the golf course in the case of a default, since voters must approve the sale of city land.

City attorney Karl Hanlon said the city wasn’t scheduled to get title to the land until Glenwood Meadows completes its first subdivision. If the golf course is used as collateral for the COPs, the land would be handed directly from Meadows developer Robert Macgregor to a trustee who would hold the title until the loan is paid off.

So, if the city defaulted on the loan, the land could be given up without a vote because it would never have been owned by the city, Hanlon said.

Mayor Don Vanderhoof said the 19 people who spoke against borrowing the money and proceeding with the project are just 19 of the city’s 8,000 residents.

“We’re not raising taxes, we’re using funds we already have,” he said.

Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511

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