Discussion on Monday sent standard meeting protocol to the sidelines during the Windsor Town Board’s latest heated conversation about the proposed community recreation center expansion, which resulted in exploration of yet another build-out scenario.
The meeting’s intent was to determine what a board-supported ballot question could look like. Representatives from George K. Baum and Co. — a consultant group — helped facilitate the conversation and answered board questions, which ranged from why sales taxation is preferred for projects like the proposed $14.9 million expansion to how bond repayment would work.
Sales tax, the consultants said, is easier to collect and would apply to people who came from out of Windsor to use the facility and may also shop or buy gas. It’s much less convoluted than working with property taxes, mill levies or special districts. Additionally, the bonds would likely be based on a 20-year repayment plan, though there would be no early payoff penalty.
That means if the town asked for $15 million for the project — with a potential 1 percent sales tax increase — and then got a bunch of grants or sponsorships, the loan could be paid off early and not accrue millions of dollars in additional interest.
It was after that discussion when things got interesting.
The board opened the meeting up to the roughly 20 community members in attendance. Standard meeting protocol sets a speaking time limit and maintains discussions should relate directly to the specific agenda item — in this case, revenue sources and ballot question wording. But while Mayor John Vazquez requested everyone keep their comments related to the topic at hand, several community members opted instead to talk about the issue that has come up at virtually every meeting this year — whether the center will run small fitness clubs out of business.
Many residents said it was not the “government’s role” to compete with private business. By moving forward with the complete build-out scenario, which includes an aquatics center, auxiliary gym, running track and weight rooms, some argued the town’s existing fitness businesses, like the Windsor Health Club, would suffer.
That was the topic of the previous meeting, and the town board requested staff explore what has happened in communities around the country after a new rec center opens. That conversation will come up again on Nov. 4.
The back and forth went on for nearly an hour with some residents speaking for several minutes, addressing the consultants and expressing their overall opinions about the project. Some said they were still unaware of the four scenarios — full build-out, aquatics only, fitness only or do nothing — despite a string of eight meetings earlier this year aimed at getting community input, where an unofficial straw poll showed that 61 percent of residents favored the complete build-out.
But now some including Vazquez say those meetings and the straw poll that indicated support aren’t representative of the broader population. Meanwhile, others on the town board including Ivan Adams stressed the community has had plenty of chances to weigh in, including during public comment portions of town board meetings and through email or direct board member contacts. To him, the issue isn’t progressing and there likely won’t be a resolution until it goes to a community-wide vote.
There will be additional chances for feedback, especially as the issues moves into 2014.
Seeking compromise, board member Robert Bishop-Cotner floated the idea that the board and staff explore a fifth scenario — previously mentioned last week — that includes everything except the actual fitness machines. That way, he said, the center won’t be as much of a direct competition to private business, thus appeasing everyone in attendance.
The board on Nov. 4 will discuss that additional scenario as well as the future of the topic including which version of the build-out they will ultimately champion moving into 2014.