Rec center tax moves closer to ballot
Citizen Telegram Editor
Rifle City Council took a step towards asking voters if they want to approve a tax hike to help build and operate a recreation and community center at its June 5 meeting.
Council voted 4-0, with Councilman Rich Carter recusing himself due to his architectural work for the group backing the center, and councilmembers Jennifer Sanborn and Jonathan Rice absent, to initially approve an ordinance to place a measure on the Sept. 10 municipal election ballot.
If the ordinance is given final approval at council’s Monday, June 17, meeting, voters will decide whether or not to increase the city’s sales and use tax by 0.74 percent and authorize the issuance of up to $21 million in revenue bonds to finance the construction of the center. It would be built at Metro Park, where the Art Dague swimming pool and the tennis courts are now located.
If passed, a special fund would be created for the estimated $1.65 million a year in revenue from the sales tax to repay the revenue bonds and operate the center.
The tax hike would take effect on Jan. 1, 2014, continue for up to 30 years and end on Dec. 30, 2043.
Several people spoke for and against the tax measure before council’s vote on the ordinance.
“With all the taxes we already pay, I don’t want to see this put on the ballot,” said Jeff Maynard of Rifle. “I didn’t agree with seeing our water rates double [last year to help build a new water treatment plant]. And I think city leaders need to be accountable and fiscally responsible. Now is a really bad time to try to build this.”
Shelly Aibner, a co-chair of the group backing the project, the Committee for a Rifle Community and Recreation Center, said the center is needed “so Rifle has things that will make people want to stay here.”
“We need a community that isn’t just an oil and gas town, isn’t a bedroom community,” she said. “People are moving out of Rifle because there’s not enough things to do.”
Bob Rensberry of Rifle said the city was already guilty of “tax dollar mismanagement” by building bike paths “that go nowhere,” and spending $2 million to upgrade the former Rifle Creek Theater that now sits empty.
Renovation work on the building is set to begin June 17 as the city continues to work to reopen it as the New Ute Events Center.
“Even when it opens, the city will be in a hole, and it will need to be subsidized by the city,” Rensberry said. “A recreation center is going to be the same. So I don’t want to see the city spend another nickel until you fix these problems.”
Sandy Vaccaro of Rifle said he helped promote a past ballot measure to help put the Art Dague swimming pool on better financial footing in 1987.
“We had naysayers back then that didn’t think it was right,” he said. “But it passed by about a 2-1 margin. I’m a retired teacher on a fixed income and I’m all for this. I think it’s the best shot we’ve had.”
Susan Nichols, the leader of the Rifle No More TAXES group that formed to oppose the measure, recited a number of issues she felt should cause the city to keep the issue off the ballot.
“The local economy is still down, as you can see in the sales tax numbers,” Nichols said. “The city just went into debt for $25 million [the new water plant] and spent $2 million on the [events center project]. Our senior citizens on a fixed income are worried about this tax hike, and I really worry that this could bankrupt us as a city.”
Ryan Mackley of Rifle noted “there has never been a period when someone was not hurting [economically] in Rifle.”
“Nothing has ever been done when absolutely no one has struggled,” Mackley said. “I think we have a civic responsibility to do the things to bring in the jobs and help the community grow. Because we’re in a struggle right now is not a reason to not do this.”
Editor’s note: Both sides in the recreation center sales tax debate have recently said Rifle voters turned down four previous tax hikes related to such centers, which is incorrect. As reported in The Citizen Telegram in February, two recreation-related tax hikes were defeated, while two others were approved.
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Rifle and New Castle are seeing decent increases in tax revenue, according to financial administrators.