Guest column: Rifle recreation center sales tax not a viable solution
The emotion-laden proposal for the construction of a recreation center in Rifle has not fallen on deaf ears. We understand the desire for a community center, and we appreciate the efforts to build such. There are, however, some real financial obstacles, which cannot be ignored. We are in the midst of a financial crunch, which must be recognized by all concerned citizens.
According to City Finance Director Charles Kelty, the city has nearly $28 million in current debt. We feel adding another $21 million is clearly irresponsible for the following reasons:
1. Sales tax revenue is down by an average of 6 percent from last year and down by 10 percent, when compared to budget projections, according to Kelty.
2. Oil and gas property taxes are down by 53 percent, and the good paying jobs have declined, too.
3. Residential property taxes are also down, as are property values, and we could reasonably expect to see mill levy increases as a result.
4. Kelty said city reserves have shown a downward trend since a 2009 balance of $7 million. An average decline of $1 million per year has been realized, and can reasonably be projected to be under $4 million by the end of 2013. What happens if we have an emergency?
5. Due to a balanced budget requirement, the general fund will absorb any losses incurred by other funds, if cost-cutting measures are not taken. The general fund is what funds the police department, among other essential services.
These facts are why a sales tax is not a viable solution for funding the construction of a recreation center. You can clearly see why we cannot afford to take on another multi-million dollar debt. The cost of the center will be a substantial strain on the city as local businesses continue to close, taking the possibility of generating much-needed sales tax revenue with them. The money is just not there, because the revenue generators are going under in this economy.
The emotional side of this issue is well understood by the no-tax group. We do not deny nor discount that Rifle citizens could reap health benefits from having a recreation center; that our senior citizens might like a place to enjoy community time and activities; that our kids may enjoy swimming in February.
We only ask that the Committee for the Rifle Community and Recreation Center and our fellow citizens acknowledge the current financial constraints of the city and consider different revenue streams. Why hasn’t the committee solicited fundraising activities that residents could participate in together, just as other area cities have done to help fund their recreation centers? That would build alliances in the community.
None of this has been proposed by the committee, because they have determined that a tax is the “only” way to fund this endeavor, according to their Facebook page. We say that is just not true. The residents of Gypsum held fundraisers and their senior citizens recycled materials to help pay for their community center, and the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District kicked in $3 million, according to recmanagement.com. Why can’t Rifle do the same thing? We can.
If our citizens truly want a recreation center, they will come together to raise the funds to offset its construction costs. Gypsum successfully did just that and their construction bond was around $8 million, compared to our $21 million bond. See the difference?
Ballots will be mailed out this week and are due back by Sept. 10. Vote no on D!
This guest column was authored and submitted by members of Rifle No More TAXES, a registered political issues group.
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