Rejected but not defeated, Craig’s proposed recreation district advocates regroup to seek ballot next fall
When the Moffat County Commissioners shut down the would-be Northwest Colorado Recreation District’s bid to go to voters on November’s ballot, they gave the proposal failing marks on all four necessary criteria.
But the district’s advocates believe that a retooled and better-explained service plan could make it through the same process ahead of next fall’s coordinated election, giving the potential rec center-building district a chance to go to voters for approval in November 2022.
“We will reboot the process to create the recreation district,” said Elise Sullivan, a principal member of the foundation working to get the district approved. “That process entails creating a service plan, going in front of City Council — we already got a resolution of support from City Council — and then two out of three members of the Board of County Commissioners have to vote yes.”
Sullivan, who is also a member of the Moffat County School District Board, said the foundation was confused by the commissioners’ decision to both approve all 398 property owners’ requests to be excluded from the district and then also use that decision as justification to reject the service plan.
“A thing that was frustrating was they voted to allow the exclusions and then denied our service plan because they said the exclusions would impact our financial viability,” Sullivan said. “They didn’t calculate the property values. We did some calculations, and it was about $120,000 in revenue we’d have lost out on. We would have gotten grants or partnerships to make that up — we would’ve proceeded forward.”
According to Sullivan, a consulting organization that works with similar efforts across the country said the decision was “pretty atypical.”
“That doesn’t happen often,” Sullivan said she was told by Greenplay, the organization helping the foundation put together the plan.
Not much will change between now and the next time the district hopes to go before the county commissioners, but Sullivan said there are adjustments to be made on both the content and the education sides.
“We’ll be putting out a new public survey,” she said. “We’ll engage with the public to make sure we have the pulse on the needs of the community.”
A public meeting is in the works for September, Sullivan said.
Then, the plan is to be back in front of the county early next year — January or February — to ask for review of another service plan.
“We don’t know yet,” Sullivan said of what will be new in the next iteration of the service plan. “We’ll count on public input.”
Among the particular pieces of input the district is seeking is definitive data from surrounding towns like Maybell and Lay, which were included in the district’s taxing boundaries but which commissioners noted may or may not benefit from the existence of a recreation center.
“We figured Maybell might drive into Craig, but we’ll survey those towns and see if they want to be included or not,” Sullivan said.
Additionally, Sullivan said the district hoped to better enumerate the comprehensive services it believed it was providing to the community — services currently unavailable nearby.
“We want that comprehensive range to keep cost recovery high,” she said. “Our goal is to keep it to 50% (taxpayer funded), which Greenplay says is reasonable. Durango has a staggered plan, where they didn’t want a comprehensive range of services, but their cost recovery is only 28%, so 72% is taxpayer funded.”
If approved, the center, Sullivan said, would have gymnasium space for basketball, pickleball and other similar activities, an indoor walking track, dollar-an-hour drop-in childcare for gym-goers, a teen center, space for senior fitness, and, of course, the indoor pool.
“Our swimming team drives to Meeker to practice,” Sullivan said. “But Meeker can’t hold sanctioned meets because it’s a four-lane pool. If we build a six-lane pool, we can have meets, bring people to our hotels and help the economy. We can do basketball tournaments, too.”
An aquatic center, Sullivan said, would include both the six-lane lap pool as well as a recreational pool, splash pad and lazy river.
“Those aquatics center can bring in money,” she said.
The service plan called for 9.96 mills added to property taxes. Sullivan said they factored in decreased value with the power plant shutting down, too.
“People say why not privately fund it?” Sullivan said. “An example of a privately funded rec center is in Aurora — Lifelong Fitness. They charge $169 dollars a month for an individual membership. About $260 a month for two parents and two kids. I’ve worked in this community long enough, I want our lower-income families to be included. I want families to have better access.”
Sullivan pointed out that, of the 6,500 letters sent to property owners offering the chance to petition for exclusion from the district, only about 400 responded asking for the exclusion.
“Most people don’t exclude themselves,” she said. “I know it’s easy to go to a public hearing and say I don’t want more taxes, and I respect the values of fiscally responsible government. But this is a model that will provide services our community has been asking for.”
It’s potentially an existential question, she said, for the community.
“I know people leaving because we don’t have a pool,” Sullivan said. “It’s the new standard of living to have access to indoor recreation. If we’re not going to provide that, our community will change to reflect it.”
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