Making lemonade out of lemons

The Surveyor Our Voice

It has been one of the more divisive issues to come through the town of Berthoud in the last decade – whether or not to build a recreation center and, more specifically, how to go about financing it. 

It would be hard to find anyone who cannot see the tremendous benefit to the town and its residents a recreation center located right here in Berthoud would provide. From giving our young people opportunity to participate in after-school activities that promote a healthy lifestyle to affording adults a place to exercise, hold meetings, and spend quality time with their friends and family.

A rec center would also help raise property values, and such an amenity would make Berthoud a more attractive place for businesses to set up shop. Interest rates are near historic lows at this time, and waiting even a year could drive up the costs of borrowing money to fund the project.

Furthermore, building a rec center right now is the most cost-effective approach, as construction costs rise an average of 0.5% per month, meaning beginning construction in December 2019 would keep costs 6% lower than starting in December 2020.   

Last Tuesday, Town Administrator Chris Kirk presented the Berthoud Board of Trustees a report that outlined the schematic design plans with associated cost estimates for completing Waggener Farm Park Phase I, which included a recreation center, regional trails, multi-purpose fields for soccer and flag-football, outdoor sports courts for basketball, tennis and pickleball, outdoor gathering spaces and a playground. The total projected costs came in at $32 million and the town currently has $8.55 million to spend, from various buckets, leaving $23.45 million more needed.

Kirk presented the board with four options of escalating aggressiveness, from doing nothing (option one) to finalizing the plans, hiring a contractor who would provide a guaranteed maximum price and proceeding with construction (option four). Kirk and his staff recommended option four and the board voted in favor by a 4-3 margin with Mayor William Karspeck and Trustees Pete Tomassi and Tim Hardy casting votes against. 

While there is really no debate regarding the benefits – both direct and ancillary – of building a rec center, there is a great deal of debate about whether it is wise for the town to take on nearly $24 million in debt to move forward.

Last November Berthoud voters approved a 1% sales-tax hike for parks-and-rec funding, in addition to the already-in-place since 1998 1% sales tax for the same purpose. It is clear voters want more recreational amenities in town. However, in the same election last November the majority voted against having the town take on additional debt (through the sale of bonds) for rec center and associated facilities.

Now, with four of the seven trustees voting in favor of option four outlined above, the almost-assured source of funding will be with the use of Certificates of Participation (COPs), essentially a lease-to-own mechanism where the town puts up hard assets – like the rec center itself – to fund its construction.

The problem is, voters said no to taking on debt; they specifically said no to bond debt, but debt is debt, right? 

Regardless of where one stands on this issue, it is obvious the four who voted in favor of moving forward are ignoring the will of the majority of Berthoud voters. Mayor Pro-Tem Jeff Hindman and Trustees Paul Alaback, Maureen Dower and Brian Laak – the four who voted yes last week – are giving the proverbial middle finger to their constituents; “you said no, but we’re doing it anyway,” is the message they are sending.

Furthermore, a petition circulated by Mayor Karspeck that would require the board to get a 6-1 majority in order to spend more than $2 million on any given project received the required number of signatures to appear on the ballot with a special election scheduled for this September is now completely inconsequential. The voters would have had an opportunity to make their voice heard, once again, but the board said, “No thank you.” Now the town will spend money running a special election for a completely moot point.

This flies in the face of the very foundations upon which representative democracy is built. That should bother every single voter no matter where they stand on this specific issue. What the board did was create a precedent where a simple majority can circumvent the will of the voters and do as they please. Is that what we want? Say you support using the COPs to fund the rec center and thus stand with the four trustees. What happens next time, on the next big issue, when you are on the other side of the vote?

Yet, what is done is done. The plans for Waggener Farm Park Phase I are immaculate. The rec center will be a jewel of Berthoud, to borrow one elected official’s words. An indoor pool, though not one that can be used by the Berthoud High or Turner swim teams, a climbing wall, a large exercise room, aerobics center, and everything else will be of great benefit for all of us. We’ve been paying an extra sales tax rate for 20 years and approved another one last fall. It will be nice to see something big come out of it.

So, our voice is that even though we don’t like the way the board went about it, at least we are going to get something nice out of it. So, let’s all just make lemonade out of the lemons.

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