BoCC earmarks $400,000 for indoor arena
Boondoggle, or a valuable project with the county’s long-term needs in mind?

Time will tell on a commissioner move Tuesday to earmark $400,000 for an indoor riding arena and multiuse facility slated for construction in 2009 on a parcel adjacent to the current Archuleta County Fairgrounds property.

Archuleta County Commissioner Ronnie Zaday said the project is an “absolute necessity,” and moved to allocate $250,000 from the Conservation Trust Fund and $150,000 from 2008 Ballot Issue 1A parks and recreation fund for the project. “If we don’t set the money aside and say we’re going to do it, we’re going to let the community down again,” Zaday said.

Conservation trust fund dollars can be used for acquisition, development and maintenance of new conservation sites or for capital improvements or maintenance for recreational purposes on any public site. Ballot Issue 1A dollars are more flexible: ballot language allowed 1A dollars to be spent on virtually anything the commissioners deem necessary. However, the commissioners signed a letter of commitment in September 2006 breaking spending possibilities into four categories — roads, county facilities, technology and training, and parks and recreation.

For 2009 spending purposes, the board allocated 60 percent of 1A funds for roads, 15 percent each for parks and recreation and facilities, and 10 percent for technology and training. The spending pool for 2009 is $1.18 million. In addition, the board made the 2009 allocation to parks and recreation with one caveat — PROST members would help the board and county staff prioritize projects and identify expenditures based on the town and county adopted Parks Recreation Open Space and Trails Master Plan.

The award-winning plan identifies a trail linking downtown Pagosa Springs to Pagosa Lakes as a top priority, but does not mention an indoor riding area.

In addition, fairgrounds improvements were not listed as a priority in three surveys: the town’s 2006 parks and recreation survey, the town’s 2004 community survey, or the 2007 Greenways survey which was part of the parks and trails master plan process.

Commissioner Bob Moomaw said the project should not be looked at as just a riding arena, but as a multiuse facility. “This is not just a commitment to the equestrian community. This is a benefit to everyone.”

PROST member Michael Whiting said, “I think it’s a bad idea to spend a half a million dollars on a project like this when the county is broke. If the 1A money is not going to be spent on a well-vetted parks and recreation project, we should spend it better and put it to county roads,” Whiting said.

Sheila Berger, former project manager for the parks and recreation master plan project said, “It is fascinating that the BoCC would appoint a PROST committee to act as an advising body on decisions regarding parks and rec expenditures, and then a mere three weeks after its establishment, the board circumvents their own process, and do so also outside of the budget process and without agendizing that such a decision would be considered.”

james@pagosasun.com