Mountain Recreation to bring new $40 million ask to voters in May
Board unanimously votes to send the All Access Rec bond issue to the May 3 ballot
Mountain Recreation board members voted unanimously Wednesday to send the district’s revised All Access Plan tax question to voters in the May 2022 election.
The ballot question will ask voters to approve a $40 million mill levy increase to finance “the All Rec Access program by renovating and expanding recreation facilities in Edwards, Eagle and Gypsum including new or improved facilities, equipment and multi-use community spaces.”
The question continues that these changes and improvements will “improve the health and well-being of children, teens, adults, families and older adults and to provide space for behavioral health programs, local nonprofit services and social activities to improve the quality of life for our community.”
A new ask
In Nov. 2021, voters narrowly rejected Mountain Recreation’s $60 million ask — with 3,939 voting against the measure and 3,678 voting for it. Since then, the district has been finessing the proposal in an attempt to address the main concerns it heard from the public.
Based on feedback received after November, Mountain Recreation presented a new plan in February with three main changes. This includes the reduced ask (down 33% from November’s ask); a sunset provision, which will eliminate the mill levy increase in 20 years or when the debt is repaid; and discounts at its facilities for in-district residents.
According to a calculator on the Mountain Recreation website, for homeowners in the district, this new mill levy increase is estimated to cost $22.20 per year per $100,000 in home value. Under the previously proposed increase, it would’ve been an increase of $32 per year for a home of the same value.
While Mountain Recreation’s ask of voters has decreased by $20 million since November, the total cost of the projects included in the district’s plan remains $60 million. The breakdown of this $60 million cost, according to Scott Robinson, Mountain Rec’s superintendent of business services, includes:
- $40 million from the temporarily increased bond mill levy, if passed
- $13 million from newly projected revenue the district is expected to receive based on new Eagle County property assessments
- $6 million from existing pledges and donations
- $1 million from grants the rec district would be eligible for should the mill levy be passed
There were some voters who expressed, both at this and last weeks’ public meetings, that the tax increase was still too much.
To this, board member Mike McCormick expressed the organization’s desire to “ask for the very least amount of money that we have to, to do the best job that we can.”
Following the announcement of this plan, the organization hosted a town hall meeting Feb. 23 to get community feedback on the revisions. Two main changes were made — one to the ballot question itself and one to the project scope — following the meeting.
The first was a change in the type of bond issue the district is bringing to voters as a response to concerns that the mill levy ask did not take into consideration the projected increase in property values.
In November 2021, Mountain Recreation asked for a flat levy, under which any funding that came as a result of raised property taxes could be used as the Mountain Recreation board saw fit, even if the funds went beyond the debt service payments.
The new ask of voters in May 2022, however, is a “general obligation bond question,” under which the district can only take in tax revenue required to service its debt.
At last Wednesday’s town hall meeting, Janet Bartnik, Mountain Rec’s executive director, said this type of question “takes that levy based on the increase in property valuations and reduces it comparatively to keep only the debt service payments tied to what’s actually voted on in May.”
The revised ballot question sets that the district can issue debt “with a maximum principal amount of $40,000,000 and a total repayment cost over the life of the debt of $54,000,000 upon terms which net the district (after paying financing costs) not more than $40,000,000 for the project,” according to a memo from attorney Dee Wisor included in the March 2 board meeting packet.
Under this, the district can levy a property tax at a maximum of $2,685,000 annually, until the debt is paid in full or after tax collection year 2042, whichever comes first.
The other change comes not to the ballot ask, but rather to the projects included in the $60 million All Access Rec plan. At last week’s town hall, Mountain Rec heard from a large constituent of hockey families, expressing the dire need for a second sheet of ice to be included in the project scope.
Since that meeting, Mountain Rec staff found room in the All Access Rec plan and budget to include site preparation for a second sheet of ice in Eagle.
“We’re still listening, and while the hockey community’s feedback didn’t immediately fit into our timeline, we’re finding a way to accommodate it,” McCormick said. “They want to see commitment and that’s not unreasonable.”
Resident Suzy Smith expressed her concerns that this last-minute addition of the site planning for ice meant that there were places Mountain Rec could further tighten the budget.
“As a taxpayer, you’re showing me that you guys have some tightening of the budget to do and I don’t feel comfortable giving you guys a $40 million blank check, cause that’s effectively, in the way that this resolution is written, what you’re asking us to do,” Smith said.
In response, board member Tom Pohl noted that while there needed to be some flexibility in the plan, he emphasized that much of the money was budgeted for specific projects.
“We can’t have every single penny accounted for at the time we pass the resolution, because you know what, things are going to change and you have to have a little flexibility,” Pohl said. “I don’t think it’s a blank check. It is very clear what this money has been budgeted for and would be earmarked for if this passes.”
In an email after the meeting, Eddie Campos, Mountain Rec’s marketing and communications manager, said that the district was able to reduce some of the contingency line items to find $450,000 that could be allocated for a feasibility study, design and site prep for a potential second sheet of ice in Eagle.
At this week’s meeting, the board considered including the intent for this site preparation and development in the May ballot ask as a show of commitment to the hockey community, and as reassurance it would still happen even as the board changes members in the future.
However, the board ultimately decided to just add it to the project scope following public comments. Several members of the public remarked that it only made sense to have every specific project listed in the ballot language or to have no specifics at all.
“It looks like to me like you’re putting something in the ballot, solely to make it pass for a group of users and that’s great, but there’s a lot of other users,” said resident Tracy Erikson.
In the end, the board agreed to not include any specifics in the language.
“I think there are other ways to show commitment without creating such specificity in the ballot language,” said board member Mikayla Curtis.
The time is now
At Wednesday’s board meeting, several residents spoke, requesting that the board postpone the matter further to November’s election.
“You aren’t ready for May,” Smith said on Wednesday, adding that the district has not sold her that the plans will meet her needs as a voter.
Erikson also spoke to this point, stating that the district should take the extra time to “find out exactly what everyone wants.”
“Let’s try and see if you can get the community buy-in that you should get for this sort of ask, it’s a huge ask,” he added.
While board members acknowledged that many voters did not feel ready, board members expressed that they have also heard from many community members that are ready as well.
“There’s not going to be a time that this plan is so perfect that everyone in this district is going to vote yes. That won’t happen,” said Liz Jones, the board preseident. “What we’re trying to do is find the best time to come together and serve everyone’s needs. For the most part, we feel that time is now.”
Pohl reiterated this, stating that in going to a May ballot, there was a heightened awareness from November’s ask around what the district was asking.
“People know what we’re looking for right now,” he said, adding that waiting until November also meant risking increased costs for the necessary projects and for construction.
“I think it’s too important for timing that we get stuff out there and get this approved so we can start getting shovels in the ground and fix the things that need to be fixed, expand the programs so we can accommodate the community now,” Pohl later added.
Board member Chris Pryor highlighted that the district hasn’t increased its mill levy in “over 20-some years.”
“That’s because it was run so stringently against not doing anything to meet above and beyond community needs,” he said. “We’re now faced in a position where we have to make changes and we need to make these increases.”
The board also responded to concerns that the projects were unfairly balanced across the district.
Specific mention was made to Tom Edwards’ concerns, which were summarized last week in the Vail Daily’s Valley Voices column, co-authored by Chris Estes. In the column, Edwards and Estes wrote that “a bond measure supported by the three communities should see funds equally distributed to each hub,” writing that the current ask “penalizes Gypsum.”
“There’s a little bit of a battle cry for using the funds equally across the district,” Jones said. “To that, I would respond that the need is not equal. The district is almost as wide as our entire county and the need is just not equal in every part. So, to say that we should spend an equal amount in one side versus the other is just not practical. This plan addresses the immediate needs in the areas that need it.”
While board members did vote unanimously to ask voters to approve the mill levy increase in May, Pohl emphasized that the district will continue to solicit feedback from the community on its plans.
“We’ve been very open. We’ve really been inviting that feedback and that’s not going to change after today,” he said, adding that he encourages everyone to “Stay involved, get involved because that feedback is so critical for every body. This is a board and a group that values that and we ask for that.”
Board member election
In addition to the All Access Rec plan on the May 3 ballot, district voters will also be asked to vote on two board seats for three-year terms. The deadline for self-nomination for these seats was last Friday and the district received three nominations.
In May, three candidates — incumbent Mike McCormack as well as Jason Cowles and Tracy Erikson — will be running for the two available seats.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at email@example.com.