GYPSUM — The town of Gypsum paid off its recreation center early, saving taxpayers millions of dollars, and as promised rolled back the sales tax increase voters approved to pay for it.
“We told the public that’s what we’d do when the rec center was paid off,” said Steve Carver, Gypsum mayor.
Carver said some credit for the early payoff can be attributed to Costco, the big box retailer that has become a regional retail hub.
Because of Costco and the Eagle County Regional Airport, as well as other retailers, Gypsum was able to pay off its 20-year bond in about half that time.
Last week, the Town Council made good on its promise to cut taxes when the rec center was paid off.
The Town Council voted unanimously in last week’s meeting to pay off the bonds and roll back the sales tax rate.
“We’ve been getting a lot of calls from the public congratulating us on doing this. A lot of people couldn’t believe we did it because people no longer believe governments are going to do what they say they’ll do,” Carver said. “People are ecstatic because we did exactly what we said we’d do.”
They fully understand that, under Colorado’s TABOR Amendment, they’ll need to go back to the voters if they want to raise that sales tax to build or buy something else.
“We were glad to be able to lower that,” Carver said.
The Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District, which includes Gypsum, Eagle and Edwards, contributed $3 million to the project.
Gypsum and WECMRD split the operating costs.
When Gypsum voters approved it, the sales tax increase was expected to generate $460,000 a year, which was earmarked to pay off the rec center debt. Part of the deal with voters was that the town would roll back the sales tax increase when that debt was paid.
Last week, they did it.
DEMAND FOR REC CENTER
The rec center idea had been on the town’s radar screen since 2000 when a WECMRD survey showed a majority of Gypsum residents wanted a recreational facility.
Gypsum voters overwhelmingly approved the 1-cent sales tax increase, from 3 cents to 4 cents, to pay for the $10.5 million recreation center. The final payout could have been $17 million, including interest, but it wasn’t.
Construction started almost immediately on the 57,000-square-foot facility. It includes an indoor lap pool, indoor running track, a weight room, gymnastics area, basketball court and other recreation amenities. It was built on land the town already owned.
Gypsum bought its Gypsum Creek Golf Course a few years ago, but it had enough money on hand to do it. The town did not need to go into debt for the $2.5 million purchase.
When Gypsum voters approved the plan, Costco did not exist. The town had, however, annexed the Eagle County Regional Airport and was seeing an increase of sales taxes through rental cars and fuel sales. The town had estimated that 42 percent of the cost of building the rec center would be paid by visitors.
Before Gypsum voters approved the tax increase, local business owners Peter Struve (Mac’s Liquors) and Howard Tuthill (Columbine Market, now Bella’s Market) came out in public support of the plan.
Gypsum residents said they’d use their rec center, and they do in huge numbers.
By 2008, just a couple years after it opened, the Gypsum rec center’s cardio equipment users, as a combined group, had clocked the equivalent of 40 round trips from Los Angeles to New York. That’s more than 195,720 miles logged on the 20 pieces of cardio equipment there at that time.
Sundays were the slowest day at the rec center during the first two years. Tuesday was the busiest day in 2007 and Monday in 2008.
The Gypsum Recreation Center is recognized by Life Fitness Magazine as a showcase facility and by Aquatics International as Best of Aquatics.
In 2011, Gypsum was named a Playful City USA community. The rec center, golf course, shooting sports park, championship horseshoe park, Gypsum town ponds, skate park, bike and pedestrian path, and other recreation facilities earned Gypsum the designation.
The 151 Playful Cities honorees are found in 38 states and one territory and range in size from five-time honorees such as Atlanta and San Francisco to Gypsum, population 4,000. A primary goal of Playful City USA is to encourage cities and towns to share creative ideas, concepts and programs in an effort to increase play opportunities for children.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vail daily.com.
“We’ve been getting a lot of calls from the public congratulating us on doing this. A lot of people couldn’t believe we did it because people no longer believe governments are going to do what they say they’ll do.”