Citizen Telegram editorial: Question D: It’s all about timing for Rifle rec center tax

Mike McKibbin

There’s two sides to every story; there are always alternatives.

Two sayings I’ve always found to have the most truth. But in the case of question D on Rifle’s election ballot, I don’t think it’s ever been harder to decide what side of the story to believe or which alternative is best for Rifle’s future.

I also can’t think of any issue that’s been as divisive and led to personal attacks. The timing of the 0.74 percent sales tax to help pay for a $21 million recreation and community center has a lot to do with that.

The local economy really stinks, just ask any of the owners and employees of Rifle businesses who cut back hours or closed down in the last few years. There are a lot of them. Way too many. And we just approved a 3/4 cent sales tax for a new $25 million water treatment plant.

So can a recreation center help turn things around? Maybe, but it won’t be a cure-all.

The backers of the tax point to the a) Fruita and b) Gypsum centers as examples of revenue generators. They a) have a larger population base than Rifle, and b) are in a resort county with a strong tourism promotion effort and reputation. Rifle has many things going for it, but I’m not sure we would see similar outcomes.

Granted, regional sporting events would bring families to Rifle, where they would stay in our hotels, eat at our local restaurants and shop local businesses. If you can hold enough of those types of events, the dollars could add up.

Anti-taxers constantly point to their claim that only 15 percent of Glenwood Springs residents pay for annual passes at that community center. That doesn’t count daily drop-ins, monthly or 10-day passes, etc. But the overall claim, that such centers appeal to a limited number of people, makes sense.

And I don’t think Rifle wants to be known as having one of the highest sales tax rates in Colorado. Which would be the case, if we approve question D.

Would that deter new businesses from opening or relocating in Rifle? Maybe. There are likely other bottom line items that would be more important. After all, won’t all businesses just raise their prices if the tax goes up?

But that’s the downside, anti-taxers are quick to point out. If we, as consumers, don’t want to pay higher prices at a Rifle business, who suffers? We either go without or find someplace outside the city to buy what we want at a lower price. The Rifle business is the one that suffers.

So if we vote the tax down, does that mean Rifle never gets a recreation center? Again, maybe. The plan for this center has a lot of very attractive amenities. And backers correctly point out that if we wait, construction costs are likely to go up. So we’ll get less for our money. Strong argument there, too.

Our country’s population is way too big, heavy and obese. Recreation centers can help people do what they can to help turn that around. Won’t that help keep health care costs down, if only a little? I think so.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column bemoaning the image left by four vacant buildings at the Third Street and Railroad Avenue intersection and asked if that might be a rallying point to do all we can to start to turn things around. I’ve since learned that The Sports Corner plans to reopen in the near future, so that’s a positive. But it just brings us back to where we were.

What can be done to move us forward? Right now, a recreation center has been proposed, so should we bite the bullet and gamble that the higher sales tax won’t hurt business too much, and that more businesses open? Or do we say no, not at this time, things are just too bad and we don’t want to make them worse?

I can’t make up my mind. Every day, every letter I read, I go back and forth. Our tax rate would be too high. But if we don’t do this now, we may not have another chance any time soon. And the anti-taxers’ counter proposal of holding community fundraisers to eventually build a rec center sounds like something that could run out of steam in a month.

A white elephant in the room is impending tax hikes at the state and local levels. We will be asked next year to approve a multi-billion dollar income tax hike for education at the state level, and I’d bet local fire districts and maybe school districts will come forward with mill levy hikes, seeking more property tax revenue, due to the drop in assessed valuation in the county.

This is a big gamble for everyone in Rifle. Do we roll the dice and risk the livelihoods of maybe ourselves, friends, family and neighbors who have their own businesses, not to mention our jobs, in exchange for a long overdue – and needed – possible boost in the local economy, healthier residents and maybe a feeling of accomplishment?

OK, crunch time. I’m making a decision and sticking with it. Coming full circle to the timing issue, what’s best for Rifle is – very, very reluctantly – to vote no on ballot question D.

Mike McKibbin is the editor of The Citizen Telegram.

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