There are always at least two sides to every story.
In the case of Pagosa Springs, we often have the "Official Government Version"... and then, on the other side, the "Honest Truth".
Over the past couple of years, a small group of government appointees from the Town Tourism Committee (TTC) have been developing a financially implausible $4.5 million plan to construct a small amusement park atop a small hill known as Reservoir Hill. The hill is currently a wilderness park... a popular hiking spot for locals and visitors... and serves as the location for three popular FolkWest "music & camping" events during the summer months... and as the location for a well-treed disc golf course during the rest of the year.
The Town's "Official Government Version" of this process would have us believe that the community overwhelmingly supports this amusement park project, and additionally asserts that money is very likely available for the project without any need for the Town government to go $4.5 million in debt, though no one will say exactly who will be providing the money. The "Official Version" also argues that the proposed amusement park will have very little impact on the current uses of the hill — hiking, biking, disc golf and large music festivals.
Meanwhile, another small group of "nominally disenfranchised" citizens — folks without any official reason to be involved in the decision-making process — have decided to challenge the "Official Government Version" of this story. The citizen group, which has no official name, has received approval to begin collecting signatures for a possible Home Rule Charter amendment, to be placed before the Town voters at a possible March 2013 special election.
On November 12, the petition process was introduced to the Friends of Reservoir Hill — a new non-profit that hopes to convince our Town leaders that there are better ways to develop Reservoir Hill than the plan being pushed by the TTC. The Friends of Reservoir Hill are not sponsoring the Home Rule Charter petition, but Friends chair Christine Funk wanted her group to be aware of the petition effort.
So Ms. Funk introduced local activist Matt Roane.
"I think the next thing," Ms. Funk began, "the most important thing... is our guest speaker, Matt Roane. He's a lawyer here in town, and he's been very gracious to help us with certain things. And what he's here to talk about is an amendment sponsored by five citizens of the community — it's not sponsored by the Friends of Reservoir Hill; it's sponsored by some citizens in the community."
Mr. Roane explained:
"I am an attorney here in town, and five folks approached me and proposed an idea that we've been working on. There is obviously a joint interest between what the Friends of Reservoir Hill are doing and what these five friends are trying to do. A common goal.
"What we're trying to do is amend the Town's Home Rule Charter, to require the Town Council — before they build any amusement rides up there on Reservoir Hill... and that's what the state of Colorado calls these sorts of rides: amusement rides; it's an amusement park — before they do that, they've got to get voter approval. So the decision to put amusement rides up there doesn't lie in the hands of seven people on the Town Council; it lies in the majority of voters who live in the town. And we do that by amending the Home Rule Charter, and requiring this pre-approval. It doesn't prohibit anything... it's just giving you folks who live in town the decision about how you want to treat your hill, and not leaving it up to seven people."
As Mr. Roane noted, the common complaint is that the seven members of the Town Council are not listening to what the majority of town voters want.
The current plans to build an amusement park did not originate with the Town Council, however, but rather with an appointed board of volunteers known as the Town Tourism Committee (TTC). The TTC was originally formed to oversee the expenditure of a new Town tax passed by the town voters in 2006 — a 4.9 percent tax on hotel and motel stays. For the past 6 years, the TTC has been focused on using those tax revenues, totaling about $350,000 per year, to market Pagosa Springs as a tourist destination, and to assist local event producers with their own marketing efforts.
But somewhere along the way, a small subcommittee of the TTC decided that the TTC ought to be doing more than merely spending $350,000 a year in taxpayer revenues: namely, promoting the development of a modest multi-million-dollar amusement park atop Reservoir Hill. The proposal has been spearheaded by TTC chair Bob Hart — a local contractor who wins a surprising number of construction contracts from the Town government — with active support from TTC executive director Jennie Green and Town manager David Mitchem. Last August, Mr. Mitchem and the TTC successfully won a vague approval for their amusement park from the Town Council, but the approval came without any specific commitment from Town financing. The Town's 2013 budget, however, includes an expenditure item of about $4.5 million for the TTC amusement park — just in case $4.5 million happens to somehow fall into the Town's lap?
Mr. Roane explained the amendment process as specified in the existing Town Charter.
"We've got to get ten percent of the registered voters in town to sign the petition, which will put this issue on the special election ballot in March. Then the voters, as a whole, will get to decide whether to amend the Charter and require this pre-approval."
Although Reservoir Hill is a popular hiking and recreation site for many of Archuleta County's 12,000 citizens, only the 1,000 or so registered voters living within the Town limits are eligible to sign the petition. And only the voters living within the Town boundaries can vote in the March election.
"This is not a dramatic change for the Town Charter," Mr. Roane continued. "There are several actions that require the Council to get voter pre-approval. Obtaining a loan on behalf of the Town is one of them.
"We just want to add to that list. Because what's being considered right now is a dramatic departure from the way Reservoir Hill has been used. And that's fine, if the Town voters want to make that dramatic a change, they certainly can do it. We just want to make sure that's what the Town [citizens] want to do, and not just what the Council wants to do."
Read Part Two...