The board and staff of Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel say the park is between a rock and a hard place, financially speaking.
The 120 acre-park includes 12 soccer fields, a basketball court, two volleyball courts, two baseball fields, four tennis courts, a BMX bike track and access to the Roaring Fork River. In May, voters in the park's special tax district will be asked for more help maintaining these amenities.
On a recent visit, I spoke with a woman walking her dogs, which she does several times a week, she told me. She lives in Willits, which is in the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District, the special tax district that stretches from El Jebel to Old Snowmass and as far east as Reudi.
In April, she’ll receive a ballot in the mail, asking for higher taxes to keep Crown Mountain Park as is.
The park might look fine now, but doesn’t have enough money to repair or replace its infrastructure. As she showed me around, Rebecca Wagner, the executive director, pointed out signs of wear and tear.
“We’re getting this everywhere...the grass is kind of deteriorating,” she said, pointing to a divot in one of the soccer fields.
Wagner said there are commonly 300 to 400 people at the park on any given weekday evening during the spring and summer.
“It’s pretty incredible,” she said.
A lacrosse tournament in May brings a crowd of roughly 7,000 people; there’s a hot air balloon festival and a music festival. Why, then, can’t users pay for what the park needs?
“It’s pretty much impossible to do without pushing users out,” Wagner said.
Even with higher user fees, the park still isn’t close to footing the $1.6 million bill for a new irrigation system. This is why voters will be asked for an additional $14.40 for every $100,000 dollars of assessed property value. If your home is worth $500,000, you would pay $72 more each year.
For some, like Mark Kwiecienski of Basalt, this is not an easy sell.
“Just because I love the park is not a good reason for me to support wildly opulent spending on things that don’t need spending,” he said. “When I look at what we have, it looks like it’s in really good condition."
Kwiecienski cited the asphalt, which the new tax would help touch up, and said it looks totally fine. Rebecca Wagner, the park’s executive director, would agree.
“That’s when you want to do it. You want to do it before you start seeing the potholes and the cracks,” said Wagner.
One reason why Crown Mountain Park’s finances look bleak is the same for any tax district here that relies on property tax. Even though home values are on the rise, a smaller and smaller percentage of those values can be taxed, thanks to something called the Gallagher Amendment.
Some, but not all, of the park’s financial woes can be blamed on the amendment, said Ken Marchetti, an accountant who’s been involved in Crown Mountain Park since it began. He thinks this is another example of a previous governing boards failing to anticipate future costs.
“It’s far cheaper to think long term to take care of what you have than to allow it to deteriorate,” he said.
If the tax doesn’t pass this spring, the park isn’t going anywhere.
“We’ll try and do as well as we can and replace what we can,” said Rebecca Wagner, the executive director. There is, however, a cost to not paying up.
“The quality will go down. I can already see it happening,” she said.
It’s up to the community to decide what they want the space to be, and what it’s worth to them.