What’s next for Mountain Rec after voters overwhelmingly reject tax increase?
Proposal seeking $40 million to fund facility upgrades is defeated by nearly 3-1 margin
Mountain Recreation voters Tuesday resoundingly rejected the district’s revised proposal for a property tax increase to fund around $40 million in facility upgrades.
According to unofficial results released just before 11 p.m. Tuesday, district voters defeated the measure by a count of 2,795 to 986.
“We’re disappointed that it didn’t pass but given the state of our economy, the things going on, it’s not shocking quite honestly,” said Liz Jones, the Mountain Rec board president, in a phone call Wednesday morning. “The voters have spoken, and that’s that.”
However, Jones remained optimistic about the district’s future.
“We’re still very, very positive about the future of Mountain Rec and the services that are provided for everyone. We still believe that the recreation services are really key to a healthy community and that Mountain Recreation is a big asset to the community,” she said. “Even though this didn’t pass, we’re still very proud of the services we do provide and the facilities will continue and will be there and will be a hub for anyone that wants them.”
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The measure — which has been referred to as the All Access Rec plan — would’ve funded improvements to Mountain Recreation’s three facilities in Gypsum, Eagle and Edwards, including new or improved facilities and equipment as well as making the facilities into more multi-use community spaces.
In February, Jones told the Vail Daily that the list of improvements in the All Access Plan were “not a wish list; these are facility improvements that need to happen in order to reach all of the citizens within the district,” especially amid the growing population and needs in the district.
The rec district — which serves the portions of Eagle County between Edwards and Gypsum — first brought the ask to voters in the November 2021 election. The November ballot issue was a $60 million ask and was narrowly voted down by around 261 votes.
With a narrow loss in November, Mountain Rec took to the drawing board and presented a revised plan in February. The revised plan addressed three of the main concerns the district had heard from voters: it reduced the overall ask by 33% to district taxpayers, offered discounts at its facilities for in-district residents and added a 20-year sunset provision on the increased mill levy.
After further community input, the board also changed the type of bond question from a “flat levy” to a “general obligation bond question.” This question only would have allowed the district to take in the tax revenue it required to service its debt, nothing more.
And in March, the board unanimously voted to bring the updated ask to voters in the May election. However, the changes didn’t prove enough to entice voters into approving the ask the second time around.
Leading into the May 3 election date, district residents expressed concerns with the overall cost to taxpayers, the scope of the projects included in the plan, and the district’s push to get it on another ballot so soon.
“During this time of skyrocketing inflation, it seems unreal that anyone would vote to raise property taxes,” wrote Edwards resident Jeanne Nelson in a letter to the Vail Daily.
“Mountain Rec needs to step back and evaluate what the district needs and the best methods to achieve it. This rushed vote is not the answer,” wrote Edwards resident Kris Miller in another letter.
While there was some support for the community center vision of Mountain Rec at its town halls around the ask, these concerns won out, leaving many questions to how the district will proceed.
With the failure of both the November and May elections, it is unlikely voters will see another mill levy increase from the district in the near future.
“I can’t speak for the whole board, I can only speak for me. I think that the voters saying no twice is significant, and so we have no plans and there’s been no discussion to try this again,” Jones said on Wednesday. “I think our path forward will be to work with what we have.”
However, as a special district, Mountain Rec is legally limited in the types on funding options it has, Jones added.
“The way to raise the most funds would be through property tax for this district, but other, smaller ways are available that we’ll explore,” she said.
Janet Bartnik, the executive director of Mountain Recreation, said that one possible lever the district has is the Mountain Rec Foundation.
“We founded the Mountain Rec Foundation a couple years ago, specifically to be able to accept philanthropic donations and to be able to seek out grants that might not be available to us otherwise,” Bartnik said. “And so, the hope is that we could begin to apply for grants and get in some contributions to help do some of the work that the community had suggested to do.”
Bartik also added that there is sufficient funding within the district’s existing mill levy to “maintain facilities, as they are.”
As for the list of projects included in the district’s All Access Rec plan, only time will tell. While voters didn’t pass the mill levy increase, there is still community value in the projects, Bartnik said.
“I know that the work that we did in 2019 showed us that there is interest in having those projects and I know that the voters voted down the ballot, they voted down the tax increase,” Bartnik said. “The only way I can marry those two in my brain is to consider that the projects were desired, just voters weren’t willing to pay for them.”
Jones said that the district still felt the projects in the list were important.
“We do feel strongly that an All Access Plan is important, but we don’t know how quickly that can happen now,” Jones said. “We have to regroup and we have to do some planning towards maintenance projects and prioritizing the maintenance things that we have in front of us going forward. We’re still on a very, very good path to serve the public as we are tasked to do.”
Part of moving forward will undoubtedly be looking at finances, but also continuing to work with the district’s partners and community members to find the best path ahead.
“I think it’s going to take some time to look at the funding that we’ve got coming in 2024, and to be able to decide how best to use that, be in communication with our partners and our community,” Bartnik said. “We’re going to keep asking questions and surveying the community to see what kinds of facilities and programs they want and need. And then we’re going to continue to chase that down.”
However, above all, as the district regroups, reprioritizes and looks to the future, it intends to continue providing its services and programming to the people it serves.
“It’s our mission to ensure that everyone deserves to be healthy and happy. And we’ll continue to focus on service delivery, and that includes ensuring that we have spaces and programs that serve the fabric of the community and improve social connections,” Bartnik said.
Mountain Rec board election results
Voters in the Mountain Rec district were also asked to select two board members on their ballot in Tuesday’s special district election. Incumbent Mike McCormack as well as Jason Cowles and Tracy Erickson ran for the two open seats.
Erickson, a critic of the All Access Rec proposal and a former board member for the district, was the top vote getter Tuesday with 1,843 votes. Cowles also earned a seat with 1,754 votes, while McCormack finished third with 1,629 votes.
Results remain unofficial.