Read Part One
My interest in the Community Center controversy was sparked by the discussion at the Town Council's October 8 budget work session, but it has, I think, a clear bearing on another financial situation currently in front of the Council: the proposed Geothermal Greenhouse project in Centennial Park.
More about that in a minute. But first, I want to quote a couple of Council comments from the October 8 discussion about the surprisingly non-transparent Ross Aragon Community Center operations.
Ross Aragon Community Center on Hot Springs Boulevard.
The first comment came from Mayor Don Volger, and I quoted the first part of his comment in Part One. Here's a more complete quote:
"I think that we need to protect the interests of the Town when we enter into these agreements, to make sure, you know, that our primary focus is on the interests of the Town residents. It can be, and I think it will be, beneficial to the whole community, these partnership... you know me; I like to work together and build unity and partnerships and collaboration and all that kind of stuff. I place high value on it. But they are not without their challenges.
"And we need to understand that as we are revamping our relationship with the Community Center Coalition; we need to understand that with the Geothermal Utility; with the sewer pipeline. We need to understand that with any of these partnerships.
"Because I think there will be more of them in the future. Because when we join together with resources, we're going to get more done. We're too small to each go our separate ways. That's the general principal. But the partnerships are not without their challenges."
Council member Tracy Bunning responded to those comments.
"I agree that we get more done working together than we do with all of us working separately. But I would like to see a little more protection for the Town, on the front end, rather than… well, using the [Intergovernmental Agreement] of Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation as an example. This past year, I've become very familiar with that [sewer pipeline] IGA, and I cannot believe the Town agreed to that — with advice from our legal counsel. There's just so many areas that leave us unable to have input. And that IGA was written primarily to facilitate the construction of the pipeline... but once the pipeline is completed, we're looking at a long-term relationship [according to] all this stuff that was included in the IGA…
"I don't know if it can be done, but I think we should keep in mind that once this [pipeline] is completed, the IGA perhaps needs to be re-written to focus more on the day-to-day operations and maintenance."
Two valid points of view. The community accomplishes more if entities work together. But as Mr. Bunning so correctly notes, the construction of a pipeline or a community center or a geothermal greenhouse complex is only the beginning, and takes maybe a year or two. Then comes the ongoing operations and maintenance (or lack thereof) lasting many decades. Clearly, Mr. Bunning feels the Town-PAWSD pipeline IGA is probably insufficient to effectively guide those coming decades of operation. (No doubt some of the poor quality of that IGA derived from the fact that the very same attorney firm represented both sides — PAWSD and the Town — during the original negotiations.)
Just as clearly, the Ross Aragon Community Center agreements from 2001 were also insufficient to guide a supposed "cooperative" venture which has now fallen almost entirely onto the shoulders of the Town government — financially and operationally. Prior to the construction of the Community Center, the community was assured that non-profit uses of the facility would pay the cost of its operations. That has most definitely not been the case. The Center has been subsidized by the Town to the tune of nearly a quarter million dollars a year since its completion. Very few local non-profits use the facility more than a couple of days per year.
But I'd like to point out a an important distinction that Mayor Volger failed to make in his October 8 comments. He compared the Town sewer pipeline to the Community Center, in the sense that both are beneficial but challenging partnerships. He failed to note, however, that a sewer pipeline is an absolute necessity; Pagosa Springs cannot exist without a sewer treatment facility, and no home or business can avoid paying their monthly sewer fee.
The choice to use the Ross Aragon Community Center is, by comparison, completely optional. A non-profit group planning to host an event has numerous options: Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts; Quality Inn, PLPOA Clubhouse; school buildings; and several smaller venues, public and private. Some of those locations provide services not available at the Community Center. That helps explain why, twelve years after its completion, the Community Center still operates in the red.
Ross Aragon Community Center on Hot Springs Boulevard.
In 2001, the Town of Pagosa Springs — under the leadership of Ross Aragon — took a huge business risk in constructing a 21,000 square foot facility with no dependable revenue source (outside of Town government). Such is not the case with the sewer pipeline; that particular partnership has a very reliable revenue source: all property owners within theTown.
It's not clear, at this point, if the new "Geothermal Power Utility" — now in its formative stages — will be able to pay its own way over the long haul, or whether it will become yet another financial weight on the taxpayers' shoulders. I've not read the agreements between the Town, County and privately owned Pagosa Verde, and I am unable to report any facts about this new "public-private" partnership.
I have, however, read the agreements between the Town and the Pagosa Springs Community Facilities Coalition, and I agree with Mayor Don Volger and Council member Tracy Bunning — the agreements have served the taxpayers rather poorly over the long term. As the Council discussions have indicated, the relationship is in need of serious revamping.
One important similarity between the sewer pipeline, the Ross Aragon Community Center, and the Geothermal Power Utility: all of these cooperative projects were initiated under the leadership of Mayor Ross Aragon, and with the advice of the Town's legal firm, Collins Cockrel and Cole.
And then we have the sad situation with the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership… a private non-profit project that has rather suddenly become a "public-private" partnership… but without any written "cooperative" agreement at all. Nada. Zip.
Read Part Five...