Read Part One
Matt Roane's research, last spring, into the history of the Pagosa Springs Community Facilities Coalition ("the Coalition"), and its relationship with the Town of Pagosa Springs, brings up some intriguing questions about that relationship, which we will discuss later on.
Some of those questions concern the hundreds of thousands of dollars in rental fees collected by the Ross Aragon Community Center, and distributed to the Coalition since 2002. Mr. Roane was not able to discover how that money was spent — in part, because the Town of Pagosa Springs has apparently maintained no record of the revenues collected by the Community Center.
When I sat down with Mr. Roane the other day, to have coffee and discuss his Community Center research, he aloud wondered why the Town and Coalition had structured their joint ownership in the peculiar manner evidenced by the "Agreement for Construction and Use of a Community Center" document signed in May 2001 by Coalition chair Ross Aragon and Town Council member Bill Whitbred.
I was able to share a bit of my own historical perspective. As best I can remember the events.
When I arrived in Pagosa Springs with my family in 1993, the community was going through some growing pains. The county population in 1970 had been about 2,700 people, with most of those people living within the Town limits. By the time I arrived in 1993, the population had more than doubled — to about 6,120 — and the majority now lived outside the Town limits, largely in the rapidly growing Fairfield area (now known as Pagosa Lakes.)
Arriving in the 1990s, I had missed one of the bigger political battles in Pagosa's recent history — a campaign by a group of citizens and politicians to create a large publicly-owned hot springs pool in Town Park, similar to public facilities in nearby mountain towns such as Ouray and Glennwood Springs. The promoters of the project promised a big tourism boost; the opponents were afraid of resort development and rising housing costs driving out old time families.
Some old timers petitioned to put the question before the voters... and the project was rejected handily by the Town residents.
This was a big lesson for the folks who believed in "growth and development" as a sure cure for Pagosa's economic ills (notably, perhaps, Mayor Ross Aragon and the Town Council.) The lesson was: 'Don't allow the people to vote. They will try to keep things from changing.'
Around 1995 I joined the board of the Pagosa Springs Arts Council, a volunteer group with a vague mission of promoting the arts — mainly, the visual arts. This was around the time my friend Addi Greer and I were developing a "family theater" group called the Pagosa Pretenders. Our productions were mildly successful and great fun, even though Pagosa didn't really have a suitable theater space; we performed our shows in the relatively tiny Pagosa Springs Elementary School gymnasium.
As a member of the Arts Council board, I was contacted by a young government consultant who was helping Ross Aragon and group of Pagosans design a new multi-purpose facility: a "community center" that might include meeting rooms, a teen center, art studios, gymnasium, senior center, and theater space. The center was going to include as many facets as Pagosa Springs could possibly afford, and many local non-profit groups were going to operate programs in the new facility.
I advised the young man to forget about the "theater," if his idea of a theater was a 10 ft x 20 ft stage cut into one wall of the gymnasium. I suggested such an amenity would be useless for real theater productions. (Indeed, the resulting plan included no theater space.)
At some point during this planning process, however, an older and wiser gentleman (I can't remember who, exactly) pulled me aside and explained what was going on.
Pagosa already has a small community center, he told me, over on South Eighth Street. But that existing community center had been commandeered by the local seniors, and by the Headstart program, and now the two groups were bumping heads.
Ross Aragon and his team of volunteers hoped to resolve this somewhat unpleasant situation by building a new community center — large enough to accommodate the seniors, plus many other groups. And they wanted to do it without going to the voters. Thus, the creation of the Pagosa Springs Community Facilities Coalition: a non-profit corporation that could raise enough money via grants and donations to build a new center without government sponsorship.
Three years of fundraising efforts later, it had become obvious to Mr. Aragon and his team that they would never raise enough money without direct government participation and subsidies. But then, we have to remember that Ross Aragon was also the mayor, and that a majority of the Town Council were his close friends and supporters.
The big money would have to come from government — especially, perhaps, from the Department of Local Affairs. An especially cooperative DOLA representative named Ken Charles thought he could put together a grant package — but to qualify for this money, the new facility would need to be owned by the Town. Or rather, at least 51 percent would need to belong to the Town.
In 2001, Ross Aragon and Town Council member Bill Whitbred signed an "Agreement" that would direct the Town government to fund about 80 percent of the Community Center construction costs via grants and loans... and to donate the property necessary for the building and surrounding parking lots. In exchange for that $2.8 million contribution, the Town would own 51 percent of the facility. The Community Facilities Coalition would own the remaining 49 percent.
A few other details of that agreement, as researched by Matt Roane:
The Coalition shall prepare an annual operation, maintenance, and repair budget that is subject to review and approval by the Town. At the end of the year, the budget, actual expenses incurred, and the Town’s actual usage shall be reviewed and mutually agreed upon for purposes of calculating actual amounts owed. (Paragraph 6.)
The Coalition shall administer and manage the day-to-day aspects of the Community Center. “It is contemplated that the Coalition will contract with the Town for the administration of the Community Center using Town Employees. Coalition would then reimburse the Town for time and whatever miscellaneous costs are incurred by [T]own employees in performing administration and personnel management services.” (Paragraph 9)
Should the Town wish to rent out the large multi-purpose rooms and meeting rooms to which it has priority use, the Town shall retain all revenues generated therefrom. (Paragraph 9).
In fact, the Town has paid for the staffing of the Community Center since 2002 — apparently, without seeing any reimbursement whatsoever from the Coalition.
Total municipal expenditure on Center staffing since 2002: about $981,000, according to Mr. Roane's research.
It appears, meanwhile, that the Coalition corporation has received all, or nearly all, of the revenues from the facility's rental operations.
I've been told that the Town maintains no records of Community Center operations, revenues, or expenditures.
Read Part Four...