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Concerns

Dear Editor:

This April, through the municipal election process, we will be asked to make a very important decision about our community’s future. Should we increase the town’s sales tax by 1 percent to fund the development and operation of an indoor recreation center? The question is not whether a recreation center would be beneficial for many residents and tourists, but whether this is the best use of tax revenue and worthy of the tax increase. Proponents respond, “Absolutely!” Opponents disagree, citing numerous community projects that deserve more attention and may well suffer if time, energy and money are dedicated to the most expensive project the town has ever pursued. It’s a complicated issue.

As voters, and the ones who will ultimately make this decision, you need to know that your elected officials in the Town Council are divided on the issue. Council Member Lattin has championed the idea and spent countless volunteer hours doing research then drawing the conclusion that this is an excellent idea that can and will help, not hurt, the community we all love. Mayor Aragon and Council Member Cotton strongly disagree and believe it is fiscally irresponsible to commit to this project at this time. The rest of us on the Council have yet to make public statements in support or opposition. I’ve said that I will not actively campaign for or against the issue because, as I listen to the ongoing debate, I agree with specific issues and concerns raised in both camps. But with all the information at my disposal, I still wrestle with the question.

So, what decision will I make as I cast my vote in April? Right now I’m not absolutely sure but, being on the fiscally conservative side of the equation; I have some significant concerns about the wisdom of committing so much of our resources to this one project. My good friend Karl Isberg expressed it well in his editorial last November 14th titled “A worthy idea, serious questions” and quite frankly, I still have some “serious questions.”

Please find out as much as possible about this issue before the April election. Make an informed decision and vote your conscience concerning what is best for Pagosa. As your representative I will accept and support the majority’s decision regardless of how I vote individually. I just pray we make the best decision.

Donald D. Volger

This story was posted on February 20, 2014.
  • Dave

    I would like to see the majority of the Town Council step up and protect the “Comprehensive Plan” by methodically executing it the way it is laid out. Town just adopted more stringent FEMA flood plain regulations that should prevent the construction of a Rec Center at sewer plant location. A lot of work went into the Comprehensive Plan. I suggest that Town Council members that don’t have it memorized take a look at it from time to time to help them develop some insight and strong opinions as to what projects need to be started, or more importantly, what projects need to completed. The South side of town looks great! Yamaguchi Park, 8 St Park, sidewalks, riverwalk, etc.. Maybe it is time to show the North side some love in the form of some sidewalks & McCabe Creek Park. The Comprehensive Plan is fair to both sides of Town, it is even fair to county residents. Nothing wrong with voting against this just because its a tax increase. Does voting for something even matter in Archuleta County if leaders can just pass ordinances against it? Does this little tid-bit apply to Rec Center locations? I believe it does.

    Comprehensive Plan Chapter 12, Goals & Policies

    Policy P-1(b) Useable Parkland

    Parks should not be built on left‐over land designated for

    detention basins or some other purpose. Any land dedicated

    for parks should be useable and accessible. Future

    neighborhood parks should be bordered by at least two local

    streets, and be centrally located in neighborhoods.

    • Brian Griffin

      Nice post, actually. There is nothing wrong with voting against a tax increase. However, the Comp. Plan also mentions pursuit of a rec center. So town council is not deviating from the plan.

      • Dave

        They got board of tired of sharing their trusty old Subaru and found a rational to accept dealer financing on two 2014 Audis. Started building a 1 story house and after getting the foundation in they away the plans to turn it into a 3 story mansion without a stairway. Its called a plan for a reason. You’ll get your Rec Center if you just stick with the plan.

      • Dave

        I should read my post before I post. Deferred Gratification/Comprehensive Plan will get us a Rec Center at some point down the road. Those Audis sure do look nice though.

  • ajpagosa

    Thank you for writing this and for your open mindedness on this issue. One of the problems people face who are still on the fence about the rec center is the information needed to make an informed decision isn’t out there, and what is out there isn’t accurate or even true. And it keeps changing. Other who have made up their minds for it may have been misled, and new information supersedes what they previously used to make up their minds. Let me offer two examples.

    There have been repeated calls for the details behind numbers appearing on the ballot to no effect. Prior to the ballot becoming public, the numbers looked like $18M initial cost and $28M total repayment over 20 years. Suddenly it goes to $18M, $44.9M, and 25 years.

    Well if you plug those numbers into a simple loan repayment calculator you get an interest rate of 8.9%. $1.8M/yr. payments. One of the arguments of Rec supporters is we should do this now when rates are low. Insolvent third world countries get better rates than 8.9%. The word usury comes to mind. What are the exact terms and conditions of the bond issue? Need to know that before you make up your mind. Voters need to see the fine print on the loan. If you though you were getting 3%, you’re not.

    Second, it looks like a large chunk of existing sales tax revenues beyond the 1% has been put up as collateral. So that in the event the 1% does not cover loan repayment the Town will need to use more than that to repay, taking funding away from existing programs. Where is the documentation of this, when was this agreed to, and why was this not public prior to this getting onto a ballot?

    Finally you couple the two above issues with the optimistically high user fee estimates and low operating costs, and one can easily see a total annual cost of over $3M. There is a reason why no commercial gym has met with much success here. PLPOA rec center soaks up most of the people who want to use a gym in the county. Not enough people left over to make it, not even a tiny place like Pagosa Gym. To get close to the projected users fees, the new rec center would have to effectively run PLPOA rec center out of business and steal all their clients.

    The reason many people are asking these hard questions is, up to this point, none of the financial data makes any sense and still doesn’t. Each new revelation makes even less sense.

    So I would like to see an effort by the council, since pleas from ordinary folks don’t seem to be working, to get these details fully disclosed in a manner that all Town and County residents can access, before anybody makes up their mind. People who already made up their mind for the rec center may wish to reconsider when they see more clearly what they are getting us all obligated to.

  • Chris Gerlach

    I have waited to post on this topic but need to make it clear now from my own experience as the President and founder of the Lodging Association here in Pagosa Springs for three years, and one of the main organizers of the increase in the town lodging tax to support the Town Tourism Committee that I researched the future of Pagosa very carefully and in great detail for a number of years. I looked at all models and paths for future for our town where I have resided for 18 years now. I also have experience in Town and urban planning and worked as an aide to a US Senator on that very topic working closely with HUD, FHA and other agencies to develop some of the policies that now are widely used in helping towns and cities develop. I also worked with David Brown and his Vision committee and know the town and the aspects of its community from all levels. I have continued to study and research town and community development both in the US and in Europe and Asia and from all of this real life experience have some thoughts on this proposed plan to impose a recreation and fitness center on our town and county.

    I found that the future and the possible positive economic picture for Pagosa is fragile and very dependent on wise decision making. We have a small but very viable foot print in terms of what works for us as a combination of things that bring visitors and also support local businesses and help keep our town solvent and with a viable future.

    The idea of harnessing our town and our future to a recreational centre makes no sense at all and is indeed crazy, irresponsible and without a doubt the worst scheme of many that I have seen proposed over the years that is clearly designed to serve a small group of advocated at the expense of the larger community and it would endanger our future in untold ways. It is just beyond nuts to think of harnessing our future to such a debt just so that some people could “recreate” without a care for the impact on our overall economic balance.

    Fortunately some sane and intelligent people are speaking up and sharing some of the truths behind this boondoggle and I hope and pray that sanity prevails. I believe our town council has our best interests at heart as a group but individually we are all liable to be swayed by our own desires, hopes and goals, and can at times forget that the good of all must take precedence over the desires of a few.

    Our national economy is in deep trouble from just such careless and short sighted spending to support questionable social goals that again benefit a few at the expense of many.

    I urge any thoughtful people to vote resoundingly against this foolish plan. I will work myself to support wise fiscal policy and support those who also do so. We have a bright future here if we stay sane and careful. We have a doubtful and troubled debt laden future if we chase after wild plans that may seem beneficial in the short run but which have no chance of viablitly. There is now way I can see any such center being able to sustain and cover its costs, and the chances of liability and great expense to us all are just about assured. I know from personal work experience the challenges of a public service facility and the many demands that are placed on it that only increase with the aging of infrastructure and the expense of staff and maintenance.

    There is no way such a plan can benefit us and many ways it can harm us. What is much more reasonable and hopeful is an activity center such as that which catapaulted Moab Utah to long term prosperity, a year round facility that is based on known activity draw similar to the recently formed effort to develop a skate rink and associated Facility.

    After all of my own research which took years, I found that such a center would offer the most hope to Pagosa for positive economic development that would support both tourism and the local needs, and would offer plenty of enhancement for recreation as well.

    I am not fooled by the pie in the sky efforts to cloud the issue here and to push this plan for the priviledged few at the expense of the county and the larger community who CANNOT vote on the issue but who would be essentially “taxed” for it in just the same way the insane national health scam has been temporarily forced upon the American public. I trust wisdom and common sense will prevail here in our fine town, if not on the larger scene.

    Chris Gerlach M.A. C.F.A. Oxon
    Former President and founder
    Pagosa Springs Lodging Association
    Former Marketing and Sales Director
    Pagosa Lodge

    • Billy Skipper

      Maybe Mr. Gerlach cares to weigh in on why the word FORMER appears with so may of his job titles.

    • Billy Skipper

      If rec centers can’t work in southwest Colorado, can Mr. Gerlach explain this excerpt from a recent article concerning Montrose’s proposed center?
      “A similar sales tax increase passed by a slim margin in Durango in 1999. The citizens voted for a .5 percent sales tax increase that concludes in 2019.
      Kelli Jaycox, the recreation manger for the city of Durango, said it’s now hard to imagine the city without a recreation center, which averages about 1,000 people through its doors each day.
      “It brings people here,” she said. “It’s a huge positive impact for the community.”
      Three other cities on the Western Slope – Delta, Gunnison and Fruita – each used a 1 percent sales tax increase to build a recreation center.
      Jaycox said it’s become clear that more people are learning about the recreation center. It’s now part of travel destination questions for visitors.
      “Instead of going home, they stay another night because they can come here,” Jaycox said.
      The Montrose Recreation District does note that the local economic impact of the construction does not include the total estimated $50 million. Bynum said some of the facilities in the proposed rec center, like the pool, would need help from outside of the community.
      But the goal is to complete the majority of the construction by hiring local businesses and local workers.
      “The rec district has a very good track record of hiring local workers on projects in the past 30 years,” Bynum said. “The board is committed to hiring as much local work as we can.”
      Jaycox said she can’t speak for all the voters, but “Now people see what an impact it has.”
      “If this rec center was to go up for a vote again, it would pass by a ton because of the benefit it’s had for the community,” she said.
      Bynum used the anecdote of a family traveling to Montrose together, and while one parent may be shopping, the other may take the children to the recreation center.

      “If we can keep them in our town a little bit longer by providing activities, that’s a huge economic advantage,” she said.

      • ajpagosa

        I can’t speak for Mr. Gerlach but the Durango comparison has been thoroughly discredited, mainly since they have ten times the population and ten times the city budget, in addition to a monster of an underlying economy.

        The other cities have nothing like a Pagosa Lakes Rec Center or Wyndham, between those groups the market for an additional rec center is tapped out. Their local taxpayers all got to vote. Majority being fleeced for this rec center here won’t get to, not to mention they already bought and paid for their own rec center. The other cities are also not unilaterally abrogating a revenue sharing agreement with their County government. Plus I assume, but do not know, their county commissioners approved of it, ours do not.

        Please these are ancient arguments that are demonstrably invalid. It is going to be a very long March if we have to keep shooting them down over and over. But we will.

        Rec Center is not a bad idea, but this one sure is. Far too costly loan shark financing at the expense of other more pressing needs, and not in character with the Town or County.

        • Billy Skipper

          I used to live in the Forest Groves neighborhood north of Durango and I can promise you that when the vote went out for the rec center, county residents did not get to vote. Just saying.

          • Chris Gerlach

            I am sorry to say that these arguments to not apply to our fine town. Nor are they valid as a general response to visitor inquiries which I monitored for years on this very sort of issue. There are facilities in town for lodging that offer the amenities mentioned and more. It is an issue moreover of affordablity and timing. The towns mentioned do not have our amazing resources of natural beauty and which also provide the “recreation” both summer and winter that visitors come for. This is a mis guided plan we are not ready for yet. Don Volger who I have known and admired greatly for years has given an earnest and sincere warning to us and I responded here for the first time because he showed me that some of our council members at least have the big picture and the long view in mind. I am so glad to see that. I hope our town voters of whom I AM one will vote wisely. I plan to and I plan to vote against this with all of my heart and pray for this to happen at some future time.

          • Billy Skipper

            You’re kidding, right? Durango does not have amazing outdoor resources? You’re going to pray this happens in the future? How are you sure someone hasn’t prayed for this to happen now?

          • ajpagosa

            Well, investment bankers are praying this will happen now, that’s for sure, and that we’re such fools we’ll give them 8.9% for 25 years.

            Comparison to Durango is invalid for economic reasons I stated above. Comparison to other small towns is not valid for the reasons Mr Gerlach just pointed out AND for voter demographic reasons I pointed out above.

            You guys need a better argument than “Billy did it so we should do it”. If Billy became a meth kingpin, should we become a meth kingpin too? (watching too much Breaking Bad again).

          • Chris Gerlach

            I believe Don has spoken very well to the issues at hand, and I feel my original comment covers my thoughts on the matter and I can only reiterate that I support Don’s concerns and those of Ross Aragon our fine mayor expressed in HIS letter, this is not the time nor the manner in which it will benefit our town to engage in a very costly project funded in such an extreme and over burdensome way especially as it places a unfair burden on county residents who have no say in the matter.

          • Chris Gerlach

            Good question. I believe if we can enhance the town economy with some targeted development there will be enough surplus to afford a luxury like an additional Rec centre, I certainly think this is possible. The main problem of this current proposal is the huge negative financial risk and impact on our current economy. Many small towns in Colorado that I have studied and known have gone thru major swings up and down, sometimes due to something as simple as a string of poor winters for a ski economy town such as Crested Butte, water shortages, a fire (Vallectio), loss of a significant industry (Pagosa Springs the lumber mill, Moab the mines, Durango the mines and smelter and RR link, Chama the RR link, Antonito ditto, Pueblo, the steel mills, )…. we have been thru three swings since I have lived here and are in one now…. until we have a more broadly based economy that is not just hung on the shoulder seasons (winter-Christmas) and summer peaks, we will not be in a position to afford an expensive center reasonably.

            With good planning and wise moves, and there is sound research for this already, we can certainly hope for a center in the future.

          • pgsgal

            “I believe if we can enhance the town economy with some targeted
            development there will be enough surplus to afford a luxury like an additional Rec centre, I certainly think this is possible.”

            This is an excellent point. With a good share of Pagosans having to
            either shop via internet or drive to Durango for their shopping needs, who actually will be paying for the Rec Center? It appears to me that at the current time a majority of the sales tax
            dollars paying for the Rec Center would come from visitors and tourists. Pagosa will begin making some headway as far as sales tax leakage to Durango goes with the Tractor Supply store coming to town and hopefully we will soon see a groundbreaking for the Wal Mart. However, we still need more “targeted
            development” as you mentioned to move the town forward in order to become a progressive, viable area for families and businesses to remain. The scenery and great outdoors just aren’t enough.

            My kids are grown and have since moved away. It would be great for them to be able to return to live and work here but at this time Pagosa doesn’t offer much in that regard. Whether we get the Rec Center now or in the near future, it is a much needed asset in my opinion, and a small price to pay towards making Pagosa a progressive, family friendly community instead of a retirement home for the oldsters.

          • ajpagosa

            “It appears to me that at the current time a majority of the sales taxdollars paying for the Rec Center would come from visitors and tourists.”

            This is demonstrably false as are most of your other points.

          • ajpagosa

            “It appears to me that at the current time a majority of the sales taxdollars paying for the Rec Center would come from visitors and tourists.”

            This is not true at all.

          • Chris Gerlach

            I am very much in support of development to widen the range of resources for all ages for the town. Unfortunately the sales taxes are not just something supported by visi8tors but essentially the very heart of our local economy, our daily transactions and include largely our local resources not just visitors.

            For that reason the sales taxes are dependent on our economy and that goes up and down over the years and will until we can widen our economic base and have more than JUST tourism to rely on. Both tourism and our local economy are currently vulnerable to variables as are all small Colorado towns. A couple of winters with no snow, a big fire or other natural events and or national trends can all affect us. For these reasons, a luxury such as a rec centre cannot be for now a main focus, and should wait for future surplus. The language of the bond issue as drafted currently makes this project a liability instead of an asset for families or anyone else living here for now.

          • Billy Skipper

            Well I’ve seen arguments for why and how we shouldn’t build it. Anyone care to take a stab at when and how we would? Let’s assume praying for it won’t work, in this case.

          • ajpagosa

            Praying the town won’t go bankrupt under this current plan won’t work either, neither will hippie-nomics or incoherent emotional arguments, flawed “me too” comparisons to other towns etc.

            Basically come up with something that can run at a profit or at least break even under stress testing our fragile local economy, with a much cheaper initial construction cost funded without taxes. Sustainable economically.

            It can be done, look at the Skate Pavilion, look at the library even.

            I haven’t hear a single argument for that wasn’t so flawed financially or economically it made me laugh out loud. our small town just can’t afford a luxury facility this costly that will run at huge operating loss indefinitely, even if someone GAVE it to us for free. Gilpin County has an almost identical cost & size center which they literally paid cash for out of gambling revenue. They are trying to find ways to shut its doors they cannot afford operating costs any longer.

            So at a bare minimum you need to ditch the pool, and cost out something modest that can be funded by a type of public private partnership and realistic user fees. That would be a nice addition to the town, unpretentious and affordable.

            The community center took nearly 7 years to plan out and fund, far lower cost. What is the hurry to dive into raising taxes on the whole county, floating massive debt at absurd rates, all with little or no disclosure?

            You know the land for this isn’t even in the cost proposal? On and on, rushing this to a vote but not ready for prime time at all. Yet every time you try to get solid answers you get insulted in addition to the loan shark double talk and worn out justifications.

          • Billy Skipper

            You’re a little late on the ballot language. It’s finalized. Also, I heard Mike Branch, the town auditor, tell the town council last week that the town is in the best financial shape ever. Interest rates are still near record lows. Wal-Mart is on the way, which will only bolster sales tax collections. Please explain why now is not a good time to pursue this project.

          • ajpagosa

            In order for the Durango comparison to Pagosa to be valid on just this one extremely narrow point, La Plata county would need to have 170,000 residents (Durango has 17,000) and Durango would have to have nearly all the retail of the entire county. Then a majority of county residents outside of Durango would have to have their own rec center, paid for. And all non city residents not allowed to vote.

            Not even close. Not only does this proposal disenfranchise 90% of our county residents, it makes Pagosa Lakes and Wyndham folks pay twice for a facility to duplicate one they already built and paid for, using zero tax money.

            If Pagsoa Springs wants its own rec center, that is a great idea. And a much smaller more appropriate one could be built for 1/10th or less the cost of this, especially if you get rid of the swimming pool. You’re getting to costs that could easily be covered by an effort similar to the Skate Pavilion with no public debt or tax increases. Why it might even run at a profit, unlike the proposed rec center which will run at a huge operating loss indefintely.

            But someone somewhere is going to make a great deal off of Archuleta County taxpayers for something we don’t need and can’t afford, wonder who that is?

  • Dave

    Its seems this Rec Center ballot issue/argument/controversy is beginning to merge with the Liberty Zone petition advocates argument & desire to return to the concept of a bottom up “inclusive” American style democratic government. Taxation without representation is, or should be, illegal, Home Rule or not. Am I the only one that starting to acknowledge that Rec Center & Liberty Zone issues are connected. I am just assuming that Liberty Zone advocates would not want the Rec Center Ballot to succeed simply because the key element to this “SCAM” being successful is Home Rule, otherwise known as “Legal Taxation without Representation”.

    • ajpagosa

      Except plenty of people who are against the Rec Center have no interest in the Liberty Zone things, I’d never even heard of it until recently. But the rec center proponents will gleefully try to try to paint all opposing it as “right wing kooks” “libertarians” “child haters” etc. Which is not true at all. “By any means necessary” seems to be the ethical mantra. No argument left behind, no accounting fantasy projection untried, no matter how untrue, irrelevant, discredited, or even contradictory to previous arguments.

      • Dave

        I don’t understand the liberty zone home rule thing enough to comment on it. But I commented on it none the less. It would be good to hear from someone that knows about it, I probably got it backwards. I think Archuleta County doesn’t have it and not having Home Rule prevents County residents from being able on the Rec Center Ballot? As a county resident it seems unfair not to be able to vote on it. Right Wing/ Left Wing- its $200 to $400 per resident per year depending on how much you spend locally. But you already know that. Thanks for making math relevant to the issue.

        • Billy Skipper

          Better check your math, unless you have expendable income to the tune of $20,000 to $40,000 per year. Note I said expendable, not total income.

    • Billy Skipper

      The problem I have with the “taxation without representation” argument is – where does that end? If you go to Durango, you pay a higher sales tax. But nobody here is crying over that? Why?

      • ajpagosa

        It ends at the county border, within which the Town and County have had a cooperative revenue sharing agreement of 2% each. The Rec Center folks want to unilaterally abrogate that, against the BOCC’s express wishes, in part due to the disenfranchising of 90% of the county’s residents. The AC residents can chose to go to Durango or Tahiti but for example cannot buy food or gasoline in AC without getting taxed without their consent. But they live here not in Durango or Tahiti. This tax violates the spirit of basic fairness, democracy, and even TABOR, you can pretend to weasel out of understanding that if you want but it is disingenuous to do so.

        The other part is it makes any future necessary cooperation on town-county taxes unlikely or impossible, and begins a tax war.

        I would ask back at you if this is all OK where do the taxes stop? When we have a 20% sales tax? That is a more realistic question than what you’re asking.

        • Chris Gerlach

          I concur completely with ajpagosa on this. Well said.

      • Chris Gerlach

        We are concerned over county residents being impacted by a significant issue that they cannot vote on, it is that simple. For this and for other very clear reasons, I feel that the rec centre idea needs to wait for some future time, with all respect to the organizers. I also question the nature of the financing instrument, which has some serious issues as well.

        • Billy Skipper

          What serious issues? I understand it is a revenue bond? Those are common.

          • ajpagosa

            Not at 8.9% for 25 years, not collateralized by an additional 50% of current Town tax revenues, not taht involve disenfranchising 90% of tax base, (I can go on forever)…

          • Chris Gerlach

            The issue arise from both the untimely nature of this proposal, for we cannot currently afford a major project of this type AND over the nature of the bond structure. It would have severe negative impacts on our community’s ability to respond to shifts and changes in our local economy which is prone to go thru cycles of boom and bust. Now is not the time for this kind of risky venture.

    • Chris Gerlach

      I am sorry Dave but this issue has nothing to do with the Liberty Zone it is just good common sense and careful governance and needs no social movement to be clearly a matter of curbing excessive risk over a venture that should wait for a more prosperous time. I don’t mean to be excessively negative but I am very wary of the modern media which often tries to brand issues with easy labels and slogans to sell air time. I am concerned for our town as it is not as it is visioned in some social agenda. thanks for sharing tho.