Rifle recreation center sales tax soundly defeated by voters
Citizen Telegram Editor
By an overwhelming margin, Rifle voters decided they do not want a recreation and community center enough to pay more sales tax each time they go to the store, soundly defeating a ballot question to increase the city sales tax and build such a center.
Unofficial final results in the Tuesday, Sept. 10, municipal election showed just 685 votes in favor of ballot question D and 1,063 opposed.
Voters also chose incumbent Randy Winkler and candidates Dirk Myers, Hans Parkinson and Barbara Clifton to serve on Rifle City Council for the next four years.
The recreation center measure would have raised city sales taxes by 0.74 percent and generated up to $1.65 million a year to help repay a $21 million bond issue the city would have used to build the Rifle Recreation and Community Center at Metro Park.
The Rifle No More TAXES group led the opposition and pointed out the city would have one of the highest sales tax rates in Colorado, if the measure was approved. They also pointed out the city had taken out a $25 million loan and received voter approval last year on a 3/4 cent sales tax for a new water treatment plant. Adding another $21 million in debt, at a time when the Rifle economy is down, the group said, would mean a $46 million debt for future residents.
Group organizer Susan Nichols-Alvis said she felt the state of the Rifle economy was the major reason voters turned down the issue.
“We had the tax hike last year and most people are just tapped out with their budgets,” she said.
The Committee for the Rifle Recreation and Community Center had touted the economic benefits of such a center, such as regional sporting events that would bring families to Rifle, where they could stay in hotels, eat at local restaurants and shop local businesses.
Committee Co-chair Angela Strode said the voting results were “quite the whipping” for supporters. Although she said she was not surprised at the outcome, the margin of the defeat was a surprise.
“When we first started this, we didn’t know what we were getting into,” Strode said. “We learned along the way, but we never thought we would have an easy win.”
While backers had a $1 million donation from the Clough Family Foundation to fund its campaign, Nichols-Alvis said her group spent less than $250 in their latest spending report.
“We asked people to recycle everything,” she said. “We used the back of old signs to make ours and passed the hat for help.”
Nichols-Alvis estimated thousands of people helped the group in some way, and received a text message of support from a resident of Paris, France.
Strode also said she wasn’t sure if the down economy was a bad time to ask for a sales tax hike for such a project.
“Something like this failed at least two times in the past,” she noted. “So I don’t know if it was bad timing or people around here are just against something like a recreation center.”
The overriding objection Strode said her group heard was “not another tax.”
“We didn’t want another tax either,” she added. “But we felt it was the best way to do something like this.”
Among the planned amenities in the center were a leisure pool with a kids play area, a lap pool, fitness area with weights, gymnastic studio, community rooms, indoor track, two full-size gymnasiums, a climbing wall, racquetball courts, outside tennis courts, an outside patio area near the pool and a yoga and dance area.
While Strode said she did not plan to give up on the dream of a recreation center in Rifle, the decision on any next step would be made by the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp., which received the $1 million donation and guided the process until it was presented to voters.
“I want all our volunteers to know that just because the outcome was no, their time was still valuable,” Strode added. “I wouldn’t change a thing” about the campaign.
To the backers of the recreation center, Nichols-Alvis said the anti-tax group looked forward to working with them “on a fair and equitable process” aimed at providing desirable amenities like a recreation center.
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Garfield County is seeking to qualify its four west-end communities for Colorado’s Rural Jump Start program, providing tax breaks for new businesses.