FOREST LAKES – The Forest Lakes Metropolitan District Board of Directors will ask voters to weigh in on moving the district’s office from Bayfield to Forest Lakes, one of La Plata County’s largest subdivisions with about 800 homes..
For months, the board has been mired in debate. The office relocation has sparked disagreements over budget priorities in the district, board statues and relocation project planning.
“In my mind, (the vote) is the totally right thing to do,” said Keith Roundtree, district manager. “We are using the public’s money, and they should have a say on how their money is being used.”
The district currently rents office space in Bayfield. Last year, the Feasibility Study Committee found a modular building and foundation would cost about $265,000 to be paid over 15 years. Rent over 15 years would cost $359,000, the committee said. The new office would be at the entrance of the neighborhood.
If approved, the board plans to fund the project through a loan. The issue must be on the ballot because the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, says voters must approve any indebtedness that goes beyond 12 months, according to the district attorney. The measure would go on the ballot during special district elections, May 5.
Discord on the boardDuring recent months, the board and community members have disagreed over how to plan and fund the project.
Last year, the board voted to move the office based on a rate analysis, then disagreed about whether the analysis provided enough information.
During meetings, board members disagreed on vote outcomes and which statutes they were following to make decisions. In one meeting, residents and the board debated the project for 45 minutes.
Board members Dave Sheetz and Robin Kissell said residents will save on overall costs by building a new office in Forest Lakes. “We put facts, figures and a cost analysis together and proved that it would be cheaper to own than it would be to rent,” Sheetz said. Also, the current landlord kept his option to sell the property and did not guarantee the district a long-term lease, he said.
Other members, including Shauna Unger, Toby Schrier and Brien Meyer, have questioned the project. Unger said it would be irresponsible to tie up funds in the relocation project while Forest Lakes has other large capital projects to consider, like replacing dam infrastructure and aging snowplows, or funding a sewer system project that could cost millions.
“I’m not opposed to moving, I just don’t think this is the right time,” she said.
Meyer, board treasurer, said he would consider the idea if he had enough information. The initial cost analysis did not include moving expenses, utility expenses, maintenance expense, a line-item budget explaining the modular building cost estimate or other financial information, he said.
“I find it very unfortunate that we’re making these big decisions and our manager doesn’t have the information,” said Meyer, who voted against the ballot measure and was absent for the board’s first vote approving the project.
Race against timeNew district staff members are racing to learn their roles, get the district organized and provide information to the board.
Roundtree said the staff is working to establish a detailed cost estimate for voters before ballot language is due in March. The initial cost estimates were based on a floor plan, but those estimates did not reflect requirements for office sizes, architectural standards or the building site, he said.
He has requested proposals for conceptual designs for stick-built and modular buildings. The district will review the proposals, conduct cost comparison and negotiations, then use the final cost estimates on the ballot.
“This is going to be speed-tracked in order to get this done,” Roundtree said. “I feel what we’re doing now is the proper way to do business.”