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While the task force for the proposed Pagosa Springs community recreation center had no new information to report at Tuesday night’s town council meeting, several members of the public asked for a chance to speak on the topic.
“Mayor and town council,” Kathie Lattin began after leaving her seat up on the council bench and taking a spot down at the presentation table, “at this time I know that you’ve gotten the sales tax percentage from the state that was given to us yesterday afternoon. We were hoping to have other numbers available, but at this time we don’t, so we are going to ask you to come March twentieth to the community center. We’re having a public hearing to discuss any questions and answers at that time.”
Lattin clarified the meeting will be held from 6-8 p.m.
Town manager David Mitchem then mentioned that several members of the audience had signed up for public comment on this issue, starting with Bill Hudson, who thanked Councilor David Schanzenbaker for answering a list of questions he had previously e-mailed.
The next member of the public to speak was Albert Jenab, who referred to a recent letter to the editor sent to The SUN by council member Don Volger.
When Jenab asked if Volger was still “on the fence” concerning the rec center, Volger replied, “As I stated publicly, I will not actively campaign for or against the recreation center, and I will not. One of the things I said in my letter is I didn’t know how I would vote personally. Obviously, my vote is a private matter, but not to be thought of as campaigning aggressively against it, my opinion is that I will vote ‘No’ on this, and there are a number of reasons for that, but I will just leave it at that instead of trying to explain why.”
Jenab thanked Volger for his honesty, and then asked if it would be appropriate to now discuss the new percentage number that had been released earlier that day. While he did mention 78 percent, he did not elaborate at that time on the meaning of the number.
“I would suggest it is premature to have that discussion,” Mitchem responded, “and if council so directs, we would have bond counsel take this new information and reassess their evaluation of the project in light of the new information.”
For Jenab’s final point he said, “I’ve got a numbers background, and I have more years than I care to count reviewing public proposals and submitting them myself to government agencies, and as a citizen trying to make sense of this, it has been extremely difficult to get answers or documentation of where these numbers came from and what they imply and who’s doing what with them.
“I just felt that it is kind of odd that there’s a citizen’s group advocating for this, with a very tight relationship with the bank that is supposed to be issuing the bonds. Maybe I’m misinformed, but it doesn’t appear as if there is somebody objectively sitting here and distributing all of this information.
“For example, if I’m on the committee advocating for the rec center, I get to talk to G. K. Baum and run a thousand scenarios, and cherry-pick the one that looks the best, but if I’m a citizen who’s skeptical, I don’t get anything. I can’t find any documentation of anything.
“So I’m just wondering at what point it makes sense for the contact between G. K. Baum and the people who are actually going to have to pay this bill if this passes, for there to be no firewall in between them. In other words, for the city to deal directly with Baum, to get all the questions asked and to get all the information out there to the people who need to vote on it.”
“I think everybody ought to have the same access,” council member Darrel Cotton agreed.
“And I don’t feel like that is going on now,” Jenab interjected. “I have been trying for weeks to find out how the number on the ballot came into existence … but I don’t have that kind of access and I don’t know if anybody does outside of the group that is advocating for this.”
“I think if anybody has questions,” Cotton said, “and I’m just guessing, but I would think Mr. Mitchem could get a response from George K. Baum.”
“Well, I called Don Diones’ office directly,” Jenab explained, “and I’ve been trying to get in contact with him for a couple of days.”
“It seems to me this council ought to have access to the guy who’s producing the numbers,” Cotton asserted. “I would rather see it go through you,” Cotton turned to Mitchem, “than any of us. I think it’s a reasonable request to know where the numbers come from.”
Jenab then went on to describe an older version of the projections, which was based on the assumption that 95 percent of sales tax collections in Archuleta County come from within the town’s boundaries, while only 5 percent come from the rest of the county. However, he said the most recent information, released earlier that day, indicated the true number should have been 78 percent, and he said he would like to see a new projection where the only thing that has changed is the 95 percent getting replaced by 78.
Jenab said he would like to know George K. Baum’s opinion of that scenario, “without anybody spinning it one way or the other, just the raw numbers.”
Cotton agreed that there is currently one group who has unlimited access to George K. Baum and one group that has almost no access, and because of the magnitude of the effect this issue will have on the community, both sides should have access to all of the relevant information.
“Just so you know,” Lattin responded, “because we got the number late, it is being figured out just like you want. Town council’s next meeting is on the twentieth, and we have already had our public meeting scheduled for the twentieth, but I’d be more than happy to sit down with anybody who has questions, once we have the numbers like you’re asking for.
“That’s my question, too. Where are we sitting? Preliminary numbers: we’re still fine, but I want something I can sit down with, believe, and know where the numbers are coming from.”
Glenn Walsh was the next member of the public to comment, and started off by complimenting Jim Miller and Tom Carosello, as well as the entire parks department, on the exceptional job they do taking care the town’s parks and trails system with the budget they currently have.
But then Walsh asked, “How can we, in good conscience, make a decision, maybe the biggest decision we are ever going to make, which could involve not only eighteen million dollars but potentially twenty-seven million dollars in interest, and we don’t even have the numbers to support it until two weeks before an election?”
Walsh went on to advocate for continuing with the sales tax increase, for both the town and the county, but then using the extra revenue to finish projects the town has either already started or is in dire need of starting, such as the Riverwalk or other sidewalks and trails.
The next citizen to step up to the microphone was Mark Weiler. However, even though he is a member of the rec center task force, he did not speak out in defense of the rec center proposal itself or offer more information on the finances. Instead, he took issue with an accusation he believed Jenab had made against him personally.
“I only want to talk about one topic,” Weiler clarified. “I believe that one of the folks that addressed this, questioned as to whether or not one of the members on the rec center task force, if that bank is somehow going to have some interest in this.”
At this point, Weiler’s voice rose several notches in volume as he firmly stated, “Let me be absolutely clear, one hundred percent, for the record: First Southwest Bank — I am a director of that bank and I am a shareholder — First Southwest Bank will have no financial interest in this bond offering at any level whatsoever. If anybody would like to talk to me about that, I am happy to listen to them. I also own shares in another bank, and that bank will not have anything to do with this bond issue.”
The final person to speak was Cappy White, who sits on the town’s planning commission and owns a business downtown.
“This rec center,” White argued, “is a good idea. I also think the one penny sales tax increase is a good idea, but I don’t think the timing on the rec center is right. I would like to offer an alternative. Let’s go ahead with the sales tax issue, forget the rec center, exclude groceries from that sales tax, take the money into downtown redevelopment where it will in turn make us money and increase sales tax revenue, and then down the line, as those revenues build, we can take time to look at this rec center again.”
White went on to testify how the investments he has made in his own business have paid off over time and promised that if the town as a whole made similar investments in the downtown area, it would also see similar returns.
“I agree with Glenn,” White concluded. “It’s way too big of an issue to ask the voters to decide in this short amount of time with the numbers fluctuating the way they are.”
As a side note, in a meeting with SUN staff earlier this week Cotton, Mitchem and Mayor Ross Aragon discussed whether or not some clarification needed to be made concerning last week’s rec center article, especially in terms of which numbers were being discussed by the people quoted in that article.
In the end, it was agreed by all parties involved that it would be difficult to make a clarification until after the new numbers were run by George K. Baum based on the 78 percent figure Lattin referred to above. Only then will the matter be made clear enough to be able to print a clarification.
Check future issues of The SUN for more information.