Hold your horses! BoCC reins in 1A arena funds

The former board of county commissioners’ push to fund a controversial indoor riding arena and multi-use facility slowed Tuesday, following the newly-seated commissions’ vote to pull key dollars earmarked for the project back out of the funding pool.

Specifically, the board vote targeted $150,000 from 2008 Ballot Issue 1A funds allocated for parks and recreation projects that Archuleta County Commissioner Bob Moomaw and former commissioner Ronnie Zaday had earmarked for the facility.

The decision was one of their last legislative acts of 2008.

The move to use parks and recreation dollars for a project originally touted as an equestrian facility drew the ire of many citizens, particularly in light of the current economic downturn, and questions whether there weren’t other more pressing, or more widely beneficial projects the dollars could be spent on.

For example, the Regional Parks, Recreation, Open Space & Trails Master Plan — endorsed by both town and county elected officials — clearly identified a series of arguably more pressing parks and recreation projects, including a trail linking downtown Pagosa Springs to the Pagosa Lakes area.

With many in the community crying foul and charging the board with catering to special interests, Moomaw and Zaday attempted to re-cast the facility as a multi-use events center and went forward with the $150,000 earmark, leaving a future board to decide when, how, or whether to spend the dollars on said project.

On Tuesday, that future board had taken their seats, and newly-seated commissioners John Ranson and Clifford Lucero joined Moowaw, with the trio voting unanimously to put the 1A dollars back.

During discussion, the board agreed all projects seeking 1A dollars should go before the Parks Recreation Open Space and Trails task force (PROST) for review prior to receiving funding approval from the board of county commissioners (BoCC).

The BoCC formed PROST in October 2008, and tasked the group with serving as a clearing house for parks and recreation projects and, to make recommendations on how 1A dollars should be spent.

Despite the group’s formation, the riding arena/multi-use events center circumvented the PROST process. Moreover, few details, including a business plan with expenditure and revenue projections, weren’t available for PROST’s or the public’s review when the prior board approved the earmark.

Saddled with the $150,000 in the 2009 budget, Ranson and Lucero agreed, more information was necessary before they could accept such an earmark.

“It’s hard to approve something, especially when you don’t know what you’re approving,” said Ranson.

And Lucero added, “This project can go forward if it has a good business plan, if it can show that it can run on it’s own.”

Moomaw said, as plans for the arena/multi-use building coalesce, the project should go through the PROST review process — with one caveat. The project will undergo PROST review, Moomaw said, only if it taps into the 1A funding pool.

As part of Tuesday’s legislative action, the board pulled the plug on 1A money, but left $250,000 from the Conservation Trust Fund earmarked for the project.

Thus, the project remains afloat, and Zaday remains committed to seeing the project to fruition.

Addressing the board as a member of the public, Zaday said her group will soon complete their business plan, and will return to the BoCC to provide full details in the coming months.

The concept of an equestrian arena and multi-use facility began, in part, during the summer of 2008, when Four Corners Materials offered a free metal building to the county.

james@pagosasun.com