Promises made, promises not kept ... for 40 years.
That’s what happened to Mesa County voters when they approved a sales tax rate in 1981.
In the ensuing years since then, revenues raised from that tax have gone to many of the things they were intended, save one: building community halls at select locations around the county.
That did happen eventually on Grand Mesa and in Gateway, but the other promised community halls faded into the community’s collective memory.
After years of behind-the-scene work to iron out some legal issues, and because the county is seeing windfalls in other revenues, the three-member Board of County Commissioners is ready to make good on that four-decade-old promise.
“There were circumstances why the promise wasn’t met,” said Commissioner Scott McInnis, who’s been working for the past six years to see through the promise to build those halls. “The reality of it was, because of the circumstances, we weren’t able to do that mission.”
A DIRE TIME
May 2, 1982, a day known locally as Black Sunday.
That’s the day ExxonMobil announced that it was shutting down its major oil shale Colony Project, instantly leaving more than 2,000 people out of work and the county’s economy devastated for years afterwards.
A year before then, voters had high confidence in the local economy. That’s why they approved a 2% sales tax to help fund needed projects. That’s the same rate the county now has, not counting the special 0.37% public safety sales tax rated approved by voters in 2017.
The 1981 ballot question creating that new county tax was to be used for such things as water and sewer expansions, road and bridge improvements and more recreational facilities, including the community centers.
“It was surprising to me, too, to think that something that was voted by the voters 40 years ago (wasn’t done),” Commissioner Janet Rowland said. “But to be fair, that was in ’81, Black Sunday in ’82, and in ’83 they (the county commissioners) were actually borrowing money just to make payroll. Community halls were not on their minds at the time.”
That made everyone forget about that promise, but not anymore.
The current commission announced Tuesday that it plans to build four new community centers — in Clifton, De Beque, Loma/Mack and Whitewater — but quickly made clear they aren’t going to dictate what each will include.
Each are to be similar in design, and are to be modeled after the one that was built in the town of Mesa, which hosts a variety of things, from public meetings to classes of various kinds to sporting events.
That particular center also has a community garden, a health clinic, a small library, a commercial kitchen and space for such things as job fairs, hobby gatherings, performances and private weddings and celebrations, to name a few.
The new centers won’t necessarily include all that, though they could. All that depends on what residents in those four areas want, at least as long as if it aligns with budgetary restraints, the commissioners said.
A GATHERING SPOT
“It’s not a recreation center,” McInnis said. “This is a gathering spot. If you want to get a good idea of what we conceptually think it should look like, the Mesa Community Hall is a good example.”
County Administrator Pete Baier said that if those communities have something else in mind, that, too, could happen. Depending on what they want, however, would need to come with additional financing, such as grants or donations.
The costs for building each new center isn’t clear, partly because of differences in land costs or whether the county uses land it already owns. Overall, though, the entire project is expected to cost about $8 million.
That money is to come from the county’s existing resources, though some capital construction money it already has is expected to be freed up when the county gets its portion of funds — about $30 million — from the American Rescue Plan. Money from that COVID recovery plan approved by Congress last spring is very prescriptive on how it can be used, but there are specific projects already in the works that qualify for it, Baier said.
The county has already begun the process of designing and locating where the first two centers will be built, though it could be next spring before ground is broken. Those first halls are to be in Clifton and De Beque.
After that, the county plans to begin the same process for constructing the Loma/Mack and Whitewater facilities, Baier said.