Town Board Work Session: July 9, 20187 min read
TL;DR: Lots of debate over the proposed Community / Recreation Center at Town Center, which could go before voters on the ballot this fall. While sentiments seemed to run more negative than positive, the Board decided to continue revising the proposal over the next month in hopes that it can become more appealing to put on the ballot.
Before this Monday’s Town Board meeting, there was a Work Session to discuss the Community / Recreation Center proposal for the Superior Town Center. Since this was a hot topic at First Fridays last week, and I’ve heard great feedback from several people about the blog post I wrote summarizing July’s First Friday, I thought I’d recap the Work Session as well.
The Work Session this Monday kicked off with discussion of costs and funding – which I was thrilled about, given how much of the talk so far has focused on the amenities rather than the cost. The proposed financial model (item 2-4) includes $682K in annual revenue from the Rough Riders, who want to lease the space for baseball, soccer, and swimming classes (the latter would be a new sport for them). Trustee Rita Dozal pointed out that the Rough Riders want to lease the space 40 weeks out of the year, and that the hours it would be leased had not yet been decided. The Town Staff said that residents should get the priority hours (early morning, lunchtime, and evenings), and that it had been discussed with the Rough Riders as such, but the hours were not yet final.
Trustee Mark Lacis asked about the terms of the agreement with the Rough Riders, and the Town Staff said it would be an annual lease. This has both pros and cons. On the one hand, we could stop leasing to the Rough Riders if we find that our demand from residents exceeds the time we have allotted for the facilities. But on the flip side, that’s a lot of revenue to lose, and we’re counting on it to make this a viable solution – so we likely wouldn’t be able to just end the lease unless our memberships were far surpassing expectations. This also means the Rough Riders have the ability to drop us at any time, and that the revenue isn’t guaranteed.
With this point in mind, Trustee Sandie Hammerly wants to decrease the reliance on Rough Riders for revenue, and instead, increase the mill levy so that the citizens have more skin in the game. (It was discussed at the beginning of the meeting that the Board has the ability to levy up to 12 mills, but in the last few years, has voluntarily chosen to reduce the levy by 4 mills; this temporary relief on property taxes could be stopped at any time without requiring the voters to weigh in.) Furthermore, Trustee Hammerly doesn’t support an increase in sales taxes as a source of funding, because that would make Superior’s sales tax rate higher than all neighboring towns on the I-36 corridor except Boulder. Trustee Hammerly mentioned that Louisville has been at risk of losing several businesses because of Louisville’s relatively high sales tax, and rightly pointed out that we don’t want to risk that ourselves, given that we already have a less robust sales tax base in Superior.
The conversation then turned to membership fees, and Trustee Lacis stated that he wants us to develop a more equitable split of fees between residents and non-residents. The current plan calls for only a small discount on memberships for residents, which doesn’t seem fair given that the residents will be funding the development through their increased property taxes.
It was also noted that fitness classes at the facility would cost extra and would not be included in membership – something that concerns me, given that the proposed membership fees are already at a premium. For comparison, Lifetime charges extra for a few premium classes, but most are included with membership.
Speaking of memberships: Trustee Dozal emphasized that there is no proposed membership plan that grants access to the Community Center only (without the gym / pool / turf / ice). This launched a discussion of whether / how residents could use the Community Center facilities without having a membership, which was interesting. There are different models we could use, but as Trustee Sandy Pennington pointed out throughout the night, we need to decide what we are trying to get for residents through this partnership, given that the Town is funding a large portion of it. If we want to give residents a Community Center, it needs to be accessible to everyone in the town… even if we are funding the third floor community center through a public private partnership to sell memberships to the sports facilities on the first and second floors.
While Trustee Kevin Ryan is in favor of moving forward with the ballot initiative, he noted that the facility would only be used by 20-25% of households. Again, this raises the question of who we are building this facility for. (However, I will add my own commentary that from attending the joint Louisville-Superior town meeting last week, I learned that Superior residents make up only 19% of Louisville library cardholders. I am still glad we contribute toward that amenity, even if not all of our residents take advantage of the library’s resources, and think it illustrates the point that sometimes I do believe in pursuing amenities that not everyone will use.) Trustee Ryan believes the Rough Riders Community Center partnership is an amazing opportunity, and points out that without doing this as a partnership, our town simply isn’t big enough to afford a $30-40 million facility like the proposal, which we can get for only $20 million investment on the part of the Town. However, Trustee Hammerly countered toward the end of the night that she doesn’t feel comfortable being so dependent on an outside entity like we are with the Rough Riders.
Finally, Trustee Dozal wanted to know why we are looking at this as a binary decision (there is only one option, take it or leave it) – especially for financing. Trustee Hammerly echoed this concern, noting that residents have said that they want to see multiple scenarios so they can choose between an inexpensive but minimal facility or a pricey but state-of-the-art option. I wholeheartedly agree with this – as I wrote last week, it’s hard to pick what we truly want when we don’t see options for amenities and their costs. I thought we did a much better job of offering choices with the Northwest Sub-Area Planning Survey that went out a few weeks ago, and I wish we could have done something of that nature for this Community Center proposal.
Despite a lot of focus on the shortcomings of the plan, all of the Trustees emphasized that they are appreciative of the work our Town Staff has done in putting this together. While Trustees Dozal, Hammerly, and Pennington believe that the ballot initiative should be pushed to 2019 to allow more time for better options, Mayor Folsom and Trustees Lacis, Ryan, and Hanson voted yes in a straw poll to continue working toward a better plan and decide later in August whether to send this to the voters. I agree with this decision to keep working on the proposal and seeing if we can make it more palatable; only once we have tried to overcome the problems can we decide whether it’s appropriate to put it on the ballot this year.
As part of the regular Board meeting that followed, several residents spoke during Public Comment, all of whom stated that they were not in favor of moving forward with this proposal. Jack Chang, who has discussed presenting another private-public partnership to put a charter school and Community Center on the Town 15, spoke up that if the Board goes forward with the ballot initiative, they really ought to put both the Rough Riders proposal as well as his proposal on the ballot, since his proposal would cost the town $10-12M rather than the $20M for the Rough Riders option. This is an interesting point, and echos what Trustee Ryan said in the meeting – the only way we’re going to get a truly excellent facility is by partnering with another entity.
I’ve said before that I think a partnership is the right path for a town of our size to get a Community Center (and potentially a Rec Center) that we can all enjoy. But I think the big question the Board needs to answer is: are the Rough Riders / Sports Stable / Impact Sports the right partners for us?