Gypsum group floats recreation sales tax election idea
The Gypsum Recreation Committee — the citizen group that worked with the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District to bring the community’s recreation center online more than a decade ago — has identified $15 million worth of new projects for the community.
No funding source
While the lengthy list of ideas has been compiled, there isn’t a funding source to make them happen. Or rather, there isn’t a funding source yet.
During a Gypsum Town Council meeting last week, recreation committee representatives John Hill and Pam Schultz floated the idea of bringing a sales tax increase question to the voters this November. The pair noted there are many questions that have to be answered before the town proceeds with an election and proposed inviting a representative from the Trust for Public Land to begin that discussion.
The Trust for Public Land is a California-based nonprofit group established in 1972. The organization’s mission is “to create parks and protect land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come.” The Trust for Public Land provides consulting services to communities working on park projects and was recently involved in the successful sales tax election for the Eagle River Park.
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Hill noted that the Trust boasts an 81 percent success rate with park referendum projects and urged the board to invite a representative from the organization to Gypsum as a first step toward launching the election process. The council agreed and will extend the invitation.
There are five primary areas the Gypsum Recreation Committee identified for recreation projects:
• IK Bar Ranch near Red Hill Elementary and Gypsum Creek Middle schools ($6 million).
• Buckhorn Valley Wildlife Preserve ($6 million).
• Gypsum Recreation Center improvements ($2.5 million).
• Gypsum Creek Golf clubhouse improvements ($500,00).
• Eagle Riverfront ($500,000).
By working with the Trust for Public Lands, Hill said the town can hone in on actual costs and define the town’s specific recreation projects. Furthermore, the town can pursue grant opportunities and partnerships, said Hill.
“The wildlife preserve has far greater potential for public and private partnership than some of the other projects,” said Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll.
Hill agreed, noting Gypsum has approached both Walking Mountains Science Center and the Aspen Center to discuss an educational center at the wildlife preserve site, south and east of the Buckhorn Valley residential neighborhood. Other plans for the 160 acres include a stocked fishing lake, a lakeside pavilion, trails and other infrastructure.
The IK Bar site is planned as an active recreation area with playing fields, horseshoe pits, pickleball courts, a pavilion and other amenities. Originally a competition-size baseball field was planned at the site, but the town saved millions by reaching an agreement to spend $100,000 to improve the baseball field at Eagle Valley High School instead.
The Gypsum Rec Center improvements include an expansion project with a new gymnastics center and playing courts built at the current gymnastics area. Additionally, the exercise and physical therapy spaces would be expanded.
At the Gypsum Creek Golf Course clubhouse, the plan is to remodel the pool area and other existing facilities while the Eagle Riverfront plans involve passive recreation and fishing options.
“We need to nail down the details before we go to the voters,” Shroll said. “The numbers, to go to the voters, have to be so tight.”
“I think there is a lot of work to be done on all of this in that regard,” Hill agreed. “That is precisely what the service from the Trust for Public Land is.”
Hill said the scope of services the Trust for Public Lands provides includes feasibility research, public opinion surveys, program recommendations and assistance in crafting the language for a ballot question.
Sales tax options
While Gypsum defines its recreation project priorities, it also has to find a way to pay for them. That’s another area where the Trust for Public Land can help. Initial work by the recreation committee indicates that a one percent sales tax increase could generate $18 million for projects, based on a 30-year bond issue at a 4.5 percent interest rate.
Hill noted that if Gypsum voters approved the increase, the town’s rate would still compare favorably to sales tax rates in nearby municipalities. Gypsum’s sales tax would climb from its current 7.4 percent to 8.4 percent, the current total amount charged in Vail and Avon. In neighboring Eagle, the total sales tax amount is 8.9 percent.
As it contemplates sending a sales tax question to its voters, does Gypsum have a strong public relations message? The last time the town asked for a sales tax issue was prior to building the recreation center. Between the time the question passed and the time the center opened, Costco opened in Gypsum and the town was able to pay off its 20-year bond issue in fewer than nine years. When the bonds were paid, the sales tax dropped back to its previous level.