Question 2B: Basalt Voters Mull Whether to Free Up Funds for Riverfront Park

Oct 23, 2013

Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon stands near some of the mobile homes slated for removal. Voters are deciding whether to approve a measure that would free up funds to build a park where the trailers currently sit.
Credit Marci Krivonen

This week we’ve been reporting on some of the tax measures that are on the November ballot. One question Basalt voters will see concerns the restoration of the Roaring Fork River running through town. Question 2B seeks permission from voters to issue $5 million worth of bonds. The dollars would help move along a project that began with the removal of mobile homes in danger of flooding. Opponents of the measure says it’s rife with problems. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen reports.

Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon points to a trailer near the Roaring Fork River scheduled to be hauled away. Already, five mobile homes have been removed from the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park in the center of town.

Reporter: "So, this was a foundation?"

Mike Scanlon: "Yes, and there’s another one over there. So, this would have been trailer two and trailer two had a couple of outbuildings."

Just beyond the exposed foundations, crews are salvaging and trashing pieces of insulation and leftover scraps. So far, residents of nine trailers have found new places to live.

"They’ve moved typically in the Roaring Fork Valley, so from Glenwood Springs to here (Basalt)," Scanlon says.

Question 2B comes into play after the trailers have been removed and the residents relocated. It’ll pay for what comes next: improvements to an existing park on one side of the river and a brand new park on the other side.  The bond issue would also pay for repairs to the riverbank.

"What you’re going to see is it return more to its natural state in terms of the rocks that you would see along here, and there’s various streams behind us that feed back into the Roaring Fork, and it would open up those riparian areas and streams to feed back into the river," Scanlon says.

2B asks voters permission to issue $5 million dollars worth of bonds. The debt would be paid back over ten years using dollars from the Town’s general fund and the local open space and trails sales tax. Scanlon says residents will not see a property tax increase.

"Our property taxes will remain the same. We have enough resources on hand and enough resources that we can collect over the next two or three years to pretty much ensure there won't be any tax increase," says Scanlon.

That is, if all goes as planned and the Town doesn’t come up short paying back the bonds. If there is a shortfall, measure 2B authorizes a property tax increase.

For the river to be restored in 18 months, Scanlon says Question 2B has to pass. Otherwise the work could take four years.

"The idea is to take advantage of low interest rates and the fact that we got good bids on this project and get it done as soon as we can," he says.

A group that’s formed against the measure says “not so fast.” Basalt resident Jim Paussa says the process of removing residents from the mobile home park and the ballot question hasn’t been inclusive enough.

"In a perfect world, the town government would go out and have meetings and find out what’s on the peoples’ minds, and they would know how to move forward. But, they’re very disconnected from the community and what people think," he says.

The town has held several so-called “fix the fork” meetings. But, Paussa says he thinks town officials use those meetings to sell the project.

Kathleen Cole disagrees with Paussa.  She says the town has been transparent, giving the public several opportunities to weigh in. She’s with the issue committee, Friends of the Fork, which supports the ballot measure.

"There’s been a lot of community input over the years and I can’t imagine how we could keep talking and not do something," Cole says.

Friends of the Fork has raised nearly $3000 in support of Question 2B. Cole says besides reducing flood risk and restoring the river to its natural state, the initiative would bring economic vitality to downtown.

"Creating a riverfront park will add to the cultural and economic vitality of Basalt, which seems to have lagged since the economic downturn. So, it’s mostly getting our town back and recreating a healthy environment here, economically."

Paussa is skeptical a riverfront park would boost business. And, he wonders if the river revitalization project comes at too great a cost.

"Do we want a park at the expense of getting rid of what little diversity we have left in affordable housing and displacing a whole neighborhood that’s lived there for decades. I don’t know. I think that’s the conversation to have."

Back at the clean up site in the Roaring Fork Mobile Home park, a worker tosses some wood scraps into the dumpster.

Soon, machines will replace homes here as work starts to remove rocks along the river. A handful of the 120 residents who live here have moved.

The entire project, including relocating the residents and restoring the river will cost about $7 million including the $5 million bond question. The project stems from a plan the town adopted in 2002 called the River Master Plan.