LPEA franchise passes with 61%

City expects to gain $1M, much of which will go to street repairs

The second time was the charm for a city franchise for the La Plata Electric Association, passing with 61 percent, or 4,933 out of a total 8,058 votes, according to unofficial results.

Because of a franchise fee tacked on to consumers’ monthly electric bills, Durango could get as much as another $1 million for its budget next year, most likely for more street maintenance and code enforcement.

Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc said the vote was a return to normalcy since Durango has had a franchise fee for as long as the city had organized electrical service.

“The city has enjoyed a franchise since 1906,” LeBlanc said. “It wasn’t until April of 2012 that the city was without a franchise.” The city manager was referring to the voters’ rejection of an earlier franchise proposal in the spring by 41-vote margin.

To address criticisms and increase the odds of the franchise passing this time around, the city changed the City Charter during the summer to open up franchise votes to all registered voters. Previously, the vote had been limited to property owners.

It also restructured the franchise fee so it applied just to electric consumption at a rate of 4.67 percent.

Because of Tuesday’s vote, consumers will see the franchise fee return to their electric bills in 2013. The fee is supposed to cost a typical consumer about $3.64 a month.

With the projected funding of $900,000 to $1 million, Durango’s two priorities will be to restore funding for street maintenance, such as overlays and chip sealing, and increase city staffing to free up code-enforcement officers to concentrate on their jobs, LeBlanc said.

Once code-enforcement officers are relieved from having to set up and organize special events, such as downtown street festivals, it will be like having another code-enforcement officer, LeBlanc said.

The city would like to transfer special-events responsibilities to a newly created crew leader in parks and recreation. Because parks and recreation employees work on a seven-day-a-week schedule, the city does not anticipate having to pay overtime during the busy summer season, either.

“Economically, it should be much more efficient for us,” LeBlanc said.

While franchise opponent Tom Darnell had criticized the fee as a regressive tax on those least able to afford it, voters interviewed on Tuesday said they understood the city needed the revenue to maintain services and infrastructure.

“I’m always a fan of maintaining the facilities we do have in Durango,” voter Aaron Sinberg said. “Property taxes are super low. If there’s a need for improving the electrical service, I’m all for it, (it’s just) for a couple of bucks a month.”

“I understand things are more expensive as time goes on,” Sinberg said. “You got to maintain the quality of the things we do here. I see no problem with that. We’re happy to do our part to help out the town.”

Voter Doug Pfliger also wanted to support the city.

“I hope it ends up being beneficial as it sounds,” Pfliger said.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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