VIDEO: Facts and Fantasies About the Bridge to Nowhere, Part Three
Most of the Town Council’s public meeting on March 17 focused on “why” the Town government would choose to use its limited sales tax revenues to build a $7 million bridge and connecting road from South 5th Street to Hot Springs Boulevard — serving a proposed development, on 27 acres, south of the Springs Resort. Various reasons were delineated by five of the six Town Council members in attendance, and by Town Manager Greg Schulte.
The “how” of the financing was also part of the Town’s presentation. Mr. Schulte’s Powerpoint slide show had begun with this slide:
We learned that the Town has already spent many thousands of dollars on legal fees and engineering costs, despite the fact that the Council has never voted to build any such bridge. Normally, such costs are borne by the developers, but we heard no indication that the Springs Partners LLC — Bill Dawson, Matt Mees and Jack Searle — were paying for the Town’s significant expenses.
Here is the second short video segment assembled from two hours of video tape shot at the March 17 public meeting. It’s about 5 minutes long.
Town Manager Greg Schulte:
“When I look at this [proposal] — because I think, okay how can we afford this, and can we afford this? — what I recall here is, the most expensive case scenario is, if we — and I’m going to say, “capital “I” and capital “F” — if we do the bridge and the connection road, and 8th Street, that cost could range anywhere from $8.7 million to $9.5 million dollars.”
Any Daily Post readers who didn’t attend the meeting may be scratching their heads about now, and wondering how “8th Street” found its way into Mr. Schulte’s complicated grammar… considering that 8th Street is a quarter mile west of the proposed Springs Partners development.
The answer to that question is not immediately clear, as is the case with many of the details surrounding this controversial bridge proposal. (See Cynda Green’s discussion of one such detail in today’s Daily Post.)
The Town has been budgeting for the re-paving of South 8th Street for several years now, working with an estimate of about $1 million for the four-block stretch. The Town has more than $1 million in its savings accounts. But over the past year, the projected cost has ballooned to over $2 million, as the project morphed from “re-paving” to “total re-construction and enhancement.”
Once again, the Town probably has the $2 million in its savings accounts. Alternately, the Town could do the project over a two-year period and easily pay for the whole thing with cash, thus avoiding the sizable interest payments that come from borrowing money from a bank.
But as we can see in the video, Town Manager Greg Schulte — with the apparent blessing of someone on the Town Council? — has conceptually rolled the South 8th Street into a bundle with the proposed $7 million South 5th Street Bridge.
Despite the fact that the two projects are totally separate, physically speaking.
Why is this being done? Good question. Some of the taxpayers I’ve been talking to over the past few weeks believe that the Town government is bundling the South 8th Street project with the South 5th Street Bridge because they plan to place the combined debt on the ballot, hoping to get approval for the entire package.
Surely, the voters of the town will be more likely to approve a bundled debt that includes South 8th Street — when they might reject a debt aimed solely at an unnecessary vehicle bridge that serves only one vacant parcel?
Mr. Schulte, as you hear in the video, priced the combined debt at maybe $9.5 million.
We might think about recent Town projects and their initial price estimates. The Town to Vista sewer pipeline, when we heard the first engineering estimates, was going to cost about $4.5 million. The final cost is now closer to $8 million, and the project is not yet complete.
South 8th Street was going to cost — according to the engineers — less than $1 million. Now that we are close to starting the project, the cost estimate is closer to $2.5 million.
With those historical events in mind, we might want to take Mr. Schulte’s estimate with a grain of salt, when he states that the Town can easily afford to spend $655,000 a year — for the next 25 years — paying for a bridge at South 5th Street — bundled with South 8th Street reconstruction. As audience member Mark Weiler points out in the video, $655,000 is nearly one-third of the Town’s General Fund tax revenue, spent on one single expenditure.
What would we give up, in the way of other community needs, to spend perhaps one-third of our Town’s revenues on this new debt burden — for the next 25 years?
We did not hear any answer to that question on March 17.
Some people seem to view the Pagosa Springs as a wound-up spring that needs only a few million dollars of generous taxpayer investment to explode into endless prosperity and become Colorado’s next Aspen or Telluride.
As if Aspen and Telluride were places we would want to live?
Some others — including many who attended the March 17 meeting at the Ross Aragon Community Center — seem to view Pagosa’s municipal government as a slightly insane father who is constantly ready to put the family deeper in debt to buy the latest luxury car, while the children walk to school in bare feet. In the snow.
At the end of the video clip, a woman (whom I didn’t recognize) begins arguing that the additional sales tax collections from the Springs Partner’s proposed development will easily pay for the added debt service incurred by a new bridge at South 5th Street. As you can hear, she is interrupted by another audience member — Julie Church — who explains that, according to documents obtained by the local media through Colorado Open Records Act requests, the Springs Partners want their development to be exempt from sales tax payments for the first ten years.
(A similar scheme that was used last year to bring HomeTown Food Markets into downtown. In that case, the taxpayers — via the Town Council — granted HomeTown a subsidy worth about $500,000. All the other grocery stores in Pagosa collect and pay the legally-required 6.9 percent sales tax.)
Ms. Church was cut off by Mayor Don Volger, who didn’t want the meeting to turn into an actual debate of the issues.