Rifle’s economy, rec center sales tax highlighted at Tuesday forum
Citizen Telegram Editor
Rifle’s troubled economy, the proposed sales tax to help fund a recreation and community center and the implications of those two financial factors dominated an election forum on Tuesday, Aug. 20.
Before a crowd of around 70 in Rifle City Hall, as well as others watching on Rifle Community TV and online at riflenow.org, the seven candidates for City Council in the Sept. 10 election all expressed concerns over the city’s lagging sales tax revenues and business closures. Four council seats will be decided in the election.
“Rifle is the place for businesses to flourish,” said Steven Fuller. “We have the great location, the climate, the outdoors activities, good people. Why it’s not flourishing is tough.”
Dirk Myers, who had earlier said he planned to boycott the forum because it was scheduled before voters receive their mail-in ballots, said the natural gas industry “has been disappearing and that’s why businesses are closing. We need to see what the industry giants can do to help, along with groups that work on economic development, the city and others.”
Myers also said he thought Rifle would be a good location for a large distribution center for a major retailer.
Sarah Brainard said the city economy would be helped by more local residents spending money in the city.
Barbara Clifton said economic diversification is difficult to accomplish.
“But we can make some things easier,” she added. “We need to know what we have to do, how much space is available, have good schools and police officers, plus a workforce. We have all of those, but I think there’s more Rifle can do in that area. We don’t need to focus just on big industry.”
Hans Parkinson said he opposed public/private partnerships as an economic incentive because it would involve tax money.
Myers said the Brenden Theatre movie-plex “was not a good project” for the city because it didn’t bring in any other businesses. Noting he had worked on movie theater projects elsewhere, Myers said, “We had restaurants and business commitments before we started the project. You get that by providing incentives like three months of free rent.”
Incumbent council Randy Winkler said the city was not “in business” with the Brenden Theatre.
“We helped get them here, but they are paying a lease to the city,” he added. “I think these arrangements can work for both sides, if there’s a benefit to the citizens.”
Clifton noted her involvement with the nonprofit group that now manages the Rifle Animal Shelter as an example of a public/private partnership that has worked well.
Wilma Paddock said she thought the city “was doing a good job. They’re trying very hard and they should continue what they’re doing.”
Parkinson noted the downtown area needs to be revitalized to make it more appealing to businesses, “but that takes money.”
Winkler said he “guaranteed” the economy will turn around.
“I think if we get the people here, they will like Rifle and want to live here,” he said. “It’s just tough times right now.”
Fuller suggested diversifying the economy with something like mountain biking to get more people into the city and spending money.
Rec center sales tax differences
Four of the five candidates — Brainard, Clifton, Fuller and Paddock — said they supported the 0.74 percent sales tax (ballot question D), while Myers and Parkinson opposed it and Winkler said he would follow the direction of the voters.
“I think it can add to the economy and benefit the community,” Brainard said. “It’s kind of the last thing Rifle needs to be a complete community.”
Clifton said capital projects like a recreation center provide a multiplier effect in terms of economic impact, through construction and completion.
“We do need to look at the costs and our revenues because the worst thing we can do is build and open it and then have to close it because we don’t have the money,” she added.
Myers said a recreation center is “not a sustainable project. I lived in only one city my entire life that had a recreation center. The other day, I was at the pool at 2 p.m. and counted 11 people. I just don’t think enough people will use a recreation center.”
Paddock said as the assistant administrator for the Garfield County Public Library District, “I’ve watched with baited breath as the county’s sales tax has dropped, because that’s what we rely on. But we’ve continued to be viable and pay our bills. I think this center would be viable and sustainable.”
Parkinson said Rifle has enough taxes in place, in light of the 3/4 cent sales tax voters approved last year for the new water treatment plant.
“I’d love to have a recreation center, but I can’t support it with this tax,” he said.
Parkinson, as a board member of the Rifle Gap Land Co., the operators of the Rifle Creek Golf Course, said the clubhouse at the course had become a financial “albatross” a few years ago.
“It wasn’t generating nearly enough money to pay off the note that built it,” he said. “We managed to get things a little better, but I still worry that in seven or eight years, when the note is due, we won’t have a golf course any longer. If we do build a recreation center and the economy continues to drop, we’ll have another albatross.”
Winkler said if the center is built, it would be a great advantage for the city.
“If the voters say build it, I’ll be all for it,” he stated. “I go to the pool in Battlement Mesa year-round, because it’s inside. If our center is built, I’ll go there year-round, too.”
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