ERIE — How many residents want to swim, rock climb and play racquetball in downtown Erie?
More importantly, how many are willing to pay higher property taxes for a place to do those things?
That’s what Erie officials will find out April 4, after counting the ballots that ask residents for an additional $60 a year for every $100,000 of valuation. The owner of a $300,000 house, for example, would pay an additional $180 each year if voters approve the ballot measure to finance the $16.8 million construction of a 60,000- square-foot recreation center at East County Line Road and Leon Wurl Parkway. The cost per taxpayer would decrease as the town grows.
“The more houses there are to pay for it, the less everyone has to pay,” said Erie Mayor Andrew Moore.
Although there is no organized opposition to the recreation center, a few residents are speaking out against the plan.
“I think it’s a poor use of my money,” said Mike Gugeler, who has lived in Erie for six years. “I just don’t think I should pay for recreation I’ll never use.”
But Moore believes the recreation center will attract commercial development to the area because it will draw people there.
In Lafayette, for example, people stop by King Soopers after visiting the recreation center or library, both of which are nearby.
“They play off each other, and the grocery stores know this,” Moore said. Regency Centers, a national developer of grocery-based shopping centers, is selling pad sites on the northwest corner of the intersection, west of the recreation center’s planned site.
Gugeler discounts Moore’s argument that the recreation center will attract commercial development to the center of town, and he also believes the government should not be in the rec-center business.
If there is a market for a recreation center, Gugeler said, a private business should develop one, because “private enterprise can build and operate facilities much more efficiently than government can.”
Although the exact cost of user fees hasn’t been set, Moore said they will be comparable to those in other towns — but Erie residents no longer will have to pay nonresident fees.
At the Longmont Recreation Center, an adult resident pays $325 for an annual pass; a nonresident pays $406. An annual pass for an adult at the Carbon Valley Recreation Center costs $336 for a resident and $368 for a nonresident.
Lafayette residents pay $350 for an adult annual pass; nonresidents pay $420 for an annual pass to the town’s recreation center. And in Broomfield, an adult resident pays $350 for an annual pass to the Paul Derda Recreation Center, while a nonresident adult must pony up $440.
While the property-tax increase would cover construction costs, operation expenses are likely to be about $1.55 million a year when the center opens in 2008.
User fees are expected to generate about $874,000 in 2008, while impact and landfill fees will contribute another $400,000, Erie finance director Molly Kostelecky has estimated. She expects the town would have to subsidize operations with $274,300 from the town’s general fund that first year.
Rick McBreen, who has lived in Erie for two years, fears the town will be dependent on a growing economy that he expects to slow down.
“It’s like buying a new car when you don’t really need one,” McBreen said. “It seems they’re relying a lot on future growth.”
Steve Schwarting is not completely opposed to the idea, but he does not think Erie is ready for a recreation center.
“I don’t think it’s a bad idea, I just think it’s ill-timed,” Schwarting said. “A grocery store should help pay for a rec center, not the other way around.”
He might support the rec center for half the price, he said. “It’s a property-tax hike for an amenity we don’t necessarily need at this time.”
The rec center will make Erie more competitive with nearby towns, Moore said. “For me, the big reason for this is to level the playing field across communities.”
It also will provide a much-needed gathering space, especially for the town’s senior citizens, the mayor said.
“It gives us an amenity that really will bolster Erie,” Moore said.
Despite Schwarting’s opposition, he believes the measure is likely to pass, so his vision of Erie in two years includes the recreation center: “I’ll have a place I swim and rock climb, but still no place I can buy my groceries.”
On the ballot
Erie voters will be asked to approve a property tax hike to finance a new 60,000-square-foot recreation center at East County Line Road and Leon Wurl Parkway. If the increase is approved, each homeowner will pay an additional $60 a year for every $100,000 of home valuation for up to 20 years.
Cost: Building the recreation center will cost $16.8 million. Operating expenses are expected to be $1.55 million in 2008, the first year of operation. The town will subsidize about $274,300 of that from the general fund.
Information: Visit www.ci.erie.co.us
Victoria Camron can be reached at 303-684-5226, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.