From Darkness To Light

6 Jan 2019

Boards defend parks, open space and trails taxes from reallocation to streets, police station

Posted by Adam Howell

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John Simpson advocates the reallocation of dedicated sales taxes that were approved of by voters.

The idea of reallocating taxes to a new police station and streets from sales tax funds that were previously dedicated by voters specifically for parks, open space lands and trails was chided by City board members Thursday night.

At the meeting, City board members vocalized their disagreement after listening to a presentation by John Simpson, who gave three options on how to redirect sales tax revenues that were originally  designated by voters to go towards city recreational facilities, parks, open space lands and trails.

Ask John Simpson to interpret this option on reallocating the 2015 Sales Tax.

“All of our POST-related resources really are a vital economic engine for the community,” said Steve Whiteman, the Chairman of the Natural Lands Preservation Advisory Board. “I think the way many of us on the board see this investment is that this comes back to the city in direct and indirect ways. Revenues for our local vendors, lodgers, people come to Durango for events and activities that are happening on our open spaces that rely on these facilities.”

“Pulling back on our ability to manage those resources effectively, basically is dampening that economic engine, and we feel that would be a step in the wrong direction,” said Whiteman.

The impetus behind letting Simpson provide the City with these options for redirecting our tax dollars was the failure of 2A last November, a tax measure that Simpson opposed.

2A was a ballot measure that City Councilors designed to fund a new $19 million-dollar police station, new streets and street maintenance with a new sales taxes and property taxes.

This graph that Simpson was talking about color-coded the taxes.

Voters either could not afford it, or did not agree with it, and the tax proposal failed 61% to 39% in November.

In all, it was one of several tax increase proposals that voters in Colorado rejected on the bloated November ballot.

It was one of many tax increase measures that voters have been presented with over the past ten years.

Voters have a glass ceiling for new taxes

Durango voters have chosen to raise their taxes to pay for a new library, to pay for the rebuilding of Florida Road, to pay for a new sewage treatment facility and to pay for parks open space and trails, to name a few new city amenities.

For public officials, there may be no ceiling to the amount of taxes that voters are willing to pay. For voters, however, the reality of trying to survive financially in Durango means that they have to pick priorities.

Last August, City Operations Director Levi Lloyd told City Council that in order to bring all of Durango’s streets up to standards, another $4 million dollars would be needed every year. This, even though 63% of our streets are in the ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ category, according to Lloyd.

“For our standard reconstructs, surface treatments, overlays, ADA ramps and storm sewer improvements that go along with those, we’re looking at roughly $2 million dollars a year in needs for that,” said Lloyd. “Then we have another $2 million dollars a year in complete streets. Animas View Drive is a good example where we don’t have curb, gutter, sidewalk. The street’s in poor condition, needs to be upgraded, we need to make improvements to that. Sawmill is another one, North College is another one where the sidewalks need to be improved.”

Standards aside, voters will still prioritize the City’s funding needs based on how much money they have in their own bank accounts.

To say that Animas View Drive needs a curb, gutter or sidewalk may leave many people scratching their heads when the City has already eliminated all parking on the existing shoulder for those that want to visit the newly purchased Oxbow Park and Preserve. Why not stimulate our economy by letting tourists and locals park on the side of the street so that they can access our new open space lands?

Next, look at the City Pavement Ratings chart that was drafted prior to question 2A being placed on the ballot and you’ll see some repair/replace recommendations that voters have a hard time prioritizing over putting food on the table.

Specifically, do sections of Forest Ave, Weston Drive or North College Drive really need to be replaced immediately?

Rejection of new taxes does not mean referendum on dedicated taxes

When voters rejected a sales and property taxes for a new police station and streets, it did not mean that they wanted to instead reallocate funding to a police station from funding sources that are already dedicated to parks, open space lands and trails.

Parks, open space and trails funding, for many people in Durango, represents their pathway to living healthy, active lifestyles.

People understand that the train is not the only reason why people visit Durango.

In addition to outdoor recreation being a means to attaining physical wellness, it is also a leading factor in drawing tourists to Durango.

It is likely that outdoor recreation represents the number one economic draw for tourists who visit the City of Durango.

Furthermore, property values near City open space areas are higher than other areas, according to local real estate brokers.

Overall, the economic benefits of recreational facilities, parks, open space lands and trails is more of a priority than the City’s current list of $8 to $10 million dollars in annual building and infrastructure needs.

My concerns with how specific general fund taxes are spent

As a taxpaying resident of Durango, I have a number of concerns about specific expenditures that Durango puts in it’s annual operating budget of the general fund.

Some of those concerns are as follows:

  1. Be certain that I do not earn a salary of over $100,000 dollars a year as eight government officials at the City of Durango do. Why should executive salaries increase every couple years when sales tax revenues are projected to stagnate?
  2. Is the awarding of contractual and discretionary grants to nonprofits like Axis Health Systems for operational expenses as “Community Support Funding” to the amount of $881,853 dollars more important than repairing or replacing our defective sections of streets?
  3. Is the $34,500 dollar purchase and drugging of our municipal water supply with Chinese sodium fluoride, a drug as defined by the FDA, more important than a new police station or new streets?
  4. Is the funding of $24,000 dollars in public art installations more important than a new police station or streets?
  5. Does the implementation of business licensing fees in our community, as currently configured, promote economic growth? Do business licensing fees, as currently configured, promote the health, safety and welfare of our businesses and residents?

Municipal drinking water in Durango is drugged with Chinese sodium fluoride that’s paid for by taxes from the City’s general fund.

Adam Howell is a writer who is on the City of Durango’s Natural Lands Preservation Advisory Board. He can be reached by clicking on this link to the contact page.

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