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Rec center sales tax opposition surfaces

Mike McKibbin
Citizen Telegram Editor

An opposition group has formed against a proposed sales tax hike to help build a Rifle Community and Recreation Center.

A group called “Rifle No More Taxes” plans to urge Rifle voters to turn down the proposed 0.74 percent sales tax hike to help build a recreation center in the Sept. 10 municipal election, said group leader Susan Nichols-Alvis in an interview on Monday, April 22.

“We’re concerned about our fellow citizens being burdened with another tax hike,” she stated. “Taxes hurt and we care about working folks and retirees.”

Nichols-Alvis added the local economy has not recovered from the recent recession.

“People are still losing their homes to foreclosure, and they’re moving out of state for jobs,” she said. “We’re not against a recreation center. Rifle has wanted one for about 30 years. We’re just against taxes and don’t want any new hardships for our citizens.”

Nichols-Alvis said the group is formulating a plan to urge voters to turn down the tax hike. They have a Facebook page and can be reached via email at riflenomoretaxes@yahoo.com.

At the April 17 City Council meeting, where backers received council support to place a question on the ballot seeking the sales tax hike and the issuance of a 30-year, $21 million bond issue to fund construction, some residents spoke against the measure.

Dan Alvis, Susan Nichols-Alvis’ husband, asked if a one-cent parks and recreation sales tax hike approved by voters in 2006 was to help build a recreation center.

City Councilman Alan Lambert said it was known at the time that the revenue raised from that tax hike would not be enough to build a facility, along with new recreation programs.

Fellow councilman Keith Lambert said that revenue helped build many new parks, playgrounds and other facilities and programs.

City Manager John Hier said revenue also goes towards operation of the Art Dague swimming pool and water slide, along with the Rifle Fitness Center. The fund is overseen by a citizen parks and recreation board, with final approval of where the money is spent by the city council.

Committee for a Rifle Community and Recreation Center co-chair Shelley Aibner said a recreation center was the top need in a 2009 survey of Rifle residents.

“That’s why we think it’s time to take the issue to the citizens,” Aibner said. “To see if they want to take the steps to have that amenity in our town.”

Liz Stinson of Rifle told the council “a lot has changed since 2009. I think if you do this survey again, you’d have a very different answer.”

Committee co-chair Angela Strode said the tax hike revenue from the proposed ballot measure would repay the bonds.

Strode noted the fitness center, near Walmart, was an experiment to see what response residents would have to a small-scale facility. She said the center is now at capacity in paid members and the leased facility does not have room for expansion.

“So we have a need for a large facility and we also feel a recreation center can be an economic engine for the city,” Strode added. “We could see more hotel rooms rented, more meals eaten and just more people on the street, visiting businesses.”

“I don’t want my taxes raised, no one wants their taxes raised,” Aibner said. “But I firmly believe the benefits will outweigh not having it in Rifle. I’d much rather pay for something like this, instead of higher health care costs because people don’t have a place to go to get healthy.”

City Attorney Jim Neu said the ballot measure ordinance will be presented to the city council for initial approval at their second meeting in May and first meeting in June for final approval.

In her closing comments at the end of the meeting, Councilwoman Jennifer Sanborn said she hoped residents would look at both sides of the issue.

“If you’re an adamant ‘yes’ or an adamant ‘no’ vote, I really hope you’ll look deeper at the issue,” she stated. “As a business owner in town, I know a sales tax hike sounds dastardly. But I’m a fitness center user, too.”

Mayor Jay Miller noted the committee had “beat their heads against a brick wall to try to find the best way to fund this. But maybe there is another way, I don’t know.”


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