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Pool issue goes to voters

Posted: Thursday, Aug 6th, 2009

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issues sink

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ALAMOSA — The Alamosa City Council on Wednesday decided to put three questions to the voters this November: 1) approval of a tax increase for an aquatic center; 2) charter change to allow non-city residents to serve on city boards/committees; and 3) approval of an increase for city council and mayor compensation.

The compensation question will be decided at the next council meeting, but the council by majority vote directed staff to compose a ballot question that would increase council compensation to $1,000 a month and mayoral compensation to $1,500 a month.

A fourth item before the council this week, a measure to seek a smoking ban in public parks, failed to make it on the ballot by a 4-2 vote.

All of the ballot agenda items resulted in split votes.

The vote to place the aquatic center on the ballot passed 5-1 with Councilor Charles Griego voting against it and Councilors Greg Gillaspie, April Gonzales, Josef Lucero, Leland Romero and Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Rogers who conducted the meeting in Mayor Farris Bervig’s absence, voting for it.

The vote to place the charter change on the ballot also passed 5-1, this time with Councilor Romero dissenting and the other five approving the motion.

The vote to place a council/mayor compensation increase on the ballot passed 4-2 with Councilors Gillaspie and Gonzales dissenting and Councilors Griego, Lucero, Romero and Rogers approving the motion to direct staff to bring back a ballot question regarding council compensation.

The vote to place a smoking ban in public parks on the ballot failed 4-2 with Councilors Lucero and Gonzales voting for it and Councilors Griego, Romero, Gillaspie and Rogers voting against it.

Aquatic center

The biggest decision voters will likely face this fall, as far as city questions, will be the proposed ballot question to fund an aquatic center adjacent to the Alamosa recreation center.

The council this week reviewed several options and decided to ask voters to pass a 1-percent sales tax increase that would extend seven years; then continue at 1/4-percent after that for ongoing operational costs. This would pay for a $10.7 million leisure/recreation pool with two lap lanes for competitive swimming purposes.

Other options the council considered were: a 3/4-percent sales tax for 15 years followed by a permanent 1/4-percent sales tax for ongoing operations for the $10.7 million pool; and a 1-percent sales tax for 20 years with an ongoing 1/4-percent for operations. That third option would fund a $20-plus million pool facility encompassing both leisure and 35-meter competitive swimming areas. It would also include enhancements to the existing recreation center such as another basketball court and expansion of aerobic and weight lifting areas.

City Manager Nathan Cherpeski said when he visited with Adams State College President David Svaldi about the college participating in the cost of a new pool “he said that number is so far beyond what they can do at this point ... he did not perceive at this time being able to help.”

The $10.7 million pool cost is just for the facility. Issuance costs, required reserves, legal fees and other costs would add another $1.2-1.4 million to the cost.

Cherpeski explained that a 1/4-percent sales tax would be necessary, regardless of the option, to provide money for ongoing operations. He estimated the cost of operating the aquatic facility would run $250,000-300,000 a year. The city is already subsidizing the existing recreation center by $490,000-500,000 a year, Cherpeski said.

Rogers said when the city surveyed the community, many citizens placed a swimming pool as a priority so the city hired a pool consultant to provide cost estimates and design alternatives.

Griego, who voted against placing the measure on the ballot, said the citizens who were surveyed said they were not willing to pay for a pool with increased taxes. He said the need is there “but how would you pay for it?” Griego said he also wanted to see what was going to happen with Splashland before making a decision about a new pool.

Charter amendment

Voters will also decide whether or not to allow non-city residents to serve on city committees and board.

Councilor Lucero said the city’s current charter is arbitrary and obsolete in excluding out-of-towners from city committees because many non-city residents have much to contribute to these boards.

City Clerk Judy Egbert said when she researched this topic with other cities she only found a handful of municipalities that allowed non-city residents to serve on city boards and those usually were tied to specific conditions.

The final motion approved 5-1 was to ask voters to approve a charter amendment that would allow those who own property or businesses in the city or who work in the city and live in the county to be eligible to serve on city boards/committees.

Compensation increase

Councilor Griego asked for a ballot question to increase council/mayor compensation. He said the last time compensation increased was 15 years ago. A ballot measure in 2003 failed.

Griego said county commissioners are well compensated but city councilors make decisions that affect not only city residents but those who live in the county as well. He said although councilors are not in it for the money they put in a great deal of hours.

Romero said he and former Councilor Del Gay one time calculated how much councilors really made when all the hours were considered and it worked out that councilors were actually paying the city $1.05 per hour.

Griego proposed an increase to $1,000 a month for councilors and $1,500 a month for the mayor.

Gonzales said city councilors in Colorado Springs are only paid $6,000 a year and that city is many times the size of Alamosa.

“You think in economic hard times people are going to increase your salary by 125 percent?” she asked. “I would hope we are all up here for other reasons than money.”

Gillaspie said he believed the amounts Griego was asking for were too high especially considering the fact voters in 2003 denied a more modest increase.

Rogers said the motion would just direct staff to bring a proposed ballot question to the next city council meeting.

Smoking question

Councilman Lucero asked that the smoking ban question be placed on the ballot. The council had earlier voted down a smoking ban in public parks and other city open areas such as the ranch.

Councilman Romero said the smoking ban in parks was too much government interference in people’s lives, and Councilman Gillaspie said the council had already made a decision on this issue. Rogers said she understood the youth who asked council to approve the ban did not want to pursue a ballot measure at this time.

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