A group of roughly 50 local residents gathered at the Plains Theater last week for a presentation regarding the upcoming ballot measure to add a 3% sales and use tax to all qualified purchases within the town’s limits. The additional revenue would be used to fund the construction of a new pool, training and pool operation.
The panel of presenters included Mayor Joe Shields; members of the town council; utilities director, Van Brown; CRP architect, Chris Mannino; GMS grant writer, Dannah Koeniger; and Lance Clark, who is the town’s attorney.
A year ago, it was announced that the current pool was deemed no longer safe for public use. A new pool had long been a goal of the town council, but the strength of public reaction on social media and phone calls to town hall spurred council members to take on the project now with council member Justin McLoud at the helm.
At this point, a site has been chosen – across the street from the courthouse – and construction costs are estimated to be around $3.5 million. That’s left funding the project as the biggest question of all.
McLoud stated that the town had originally planned on grants to fund the project, with GOCO offering the most promise. “But then 2020 happened,” he said, “and we all know what that means.” The bulk of most funding has been diverted to address COVID economic fallout, including GOCO.
But that shift in funding also emphasized a larger reality: the pool can’t be feasibly paid for without the sales tax, and the sales tax is necessary to get the grants. “In order to get a GOCO grant,” McLoud stated, “we’re going to need to pass a sales tax to show funders that there’s community buy-in.”
According to GMS Dannah Koeniger, a grant from GOCO could provide as much as $500,000 but other funders will also want proof of community participation, which passing a sales tax would provide.
According to the town’s attorney, Lance Clark, who’s advising on wording the ballot measure, the proposed 3% sales tax would kick in at the beginning of 2022 and sunset in 2052 based on current sales. Delaying the tax until 2022 decreases the likelihood that COVID will be still be consuming the bulk of funding opportunities. All revenue from the tax increase will go strictly to the pool and nothing else. Any excess revenue collected over projected amounts will also be applied to paying off the lease/purchase more quickly.
Funding will also be structured as a “lease/purchase” which allows grant money to be used as the upfront, down payment money. That structure also provides a way to avoid having multiple questions on the ballot. Multiple questions on the ballot pertaining to the same issue increase the likelihood of the ballot measure.
Mayor Shields emphasized that a sales tax was the preferred way of funding over other methods, such as a mill levy, stating that it will be partially paid by travelers, sparing residents the entire burden for funding the pool.
The tax would not be imposed on purchases like tractors because tractors will be registered for use on land not located within city limits.
A number of hypothetical questions were asked, only some of which could be answered, at this point. For example, the architect said that construction cost overrun was addressed in setting the estimate high enough to account for that. The use of local labor to build the pool would be based on who was hired as the general contractor, but it would most likely be the same company that built the school in Kit Carson, and they used local labor for much of that project.
It’s not known at this point how fees to use the pool might be impacted or what the capacity of the new pool would be since current capacity is not even known.
McLoud presented the current design of the pool that was drawn from input provided by both students from the school and members of the community. However, the design is still in process and alterations have already been made from the version presented to the audience.
The architect gave more specifics stating the pool will be 75 feet by 30 feet, which is comparable to the current pool, and will be “handicapped accessible”. There will be a separate wading pool, a lobby area, men’s and women’s toilets, showers and dressing rooms as wells 2 separate rest rooms available for use by people using the park, which will be just across the street.
At the conclusion of the forum, Shields invited people with more questions to “come [to town hall] if they want to talk one to one” or to attend the town meeting. When asked, McLoud also emphasized that, without passage of the sales tax, a pool will be out of the question.
It’s advisable that anyone with questions ask them soon as Friday, September 4 is the working deadline to get the measure on the November ballot.