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  • Get ready to open your wallet, Durango

    Costs of living to go up with new fees in 2013

    Local residents will be paying more next year for, clockwise from upper right, sewer, recycling, parking and electricity. Enlarge photo

    Durango Herald photo illustration

    Local residents will be paying more next year for, clockwise from upper right, sewer, recycling, parking and electricity.

    For anyone who thinks a pizza, a six-pack of beer and a movie rental make for a self-indulgent Friday night, the same pizza and a movie night might seem more extravagant next year when the average consumer must also budget about $26 extra a month to pay for rising costs in such basics as electricity, sewer, recycling and 911 emergency calls.

    The cost of daily life will be much more expensive for the Durangoan who parks downtown, works in the medical-marijuana industry or lights cigarettes in public places because of new fees and fines.

    Through the budgeting process for the coming year, local government and utility officials have justified new fees and rate increases as necessary because of their own rising costs.

    Because they had deferred many projects during the recession, facilities and equipment now are overdue for upgrades. The city of Durango, for example, is using Microsoft software from 2000, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said at a recent planning commission meeting.

    Not paying for preventive maintenance could mean larger bills for the public in the future.

    Fee increases for enterprise funds and business services, such as regulating medical marijuana, also have been justified to make sure these services pay for themselves. Local fees for medical-marijuana businesses and sewer are comparable to what other Colorado cities charge, according to Durango documentation.

    Jonny Radding, co-owner of Durango Organics, must pay a $2,000 fee to renew his license for his medical-marijuana business by the end of this year, according to the new fee schedule. A year ago, it cost $200 to renew a medical-marijuana license, but then the City Council changed the rates during the summer.

    Radding called the increases “totally unreasonable and out of line.”

    While the economy is on the mend, Councilor Paul Broderick is concerned abut the effect of new fees and costs that seem relatively minor.

    “The city has returned to strong retail growth, the shop fronts are full and booming, and with the recent addition of Sports Authority, the pending opening of Tractor Supply and the future likelihood of major retail in Three Springs (means) we should see years of strong revenue growth for the general fund,” Broderick said. “Our economy is largely driven by consumer spending, and when you stack up a bunch of nickle-and-dime fees, fines and taxes, you take real money out of people’s pockets that they could be using to keep the retail cash registers ringing.

    “The city budget has been growing faster than people’s wages, savings, retirement accounts or the value of their homes,” Broderick said. “The current annual budget for just the city is over $3,200 per capita. Durango is a great town with great amenities but a pretty steep price tag when you look at the cost. Can we afford it?”

    The City Council is scheduled to adopt a total budget of about $55 million on Dec. 11. The proposed budget recently was amended to include about $800,000 in projected revenue from the franchise fee for the La Plata Electric Association approved by voters in the Nov. 6 election.

    LPEA also is scheduled to adopt a rate increase Dec. 19.

    Here’s how a day in the life of an average consumer might change in 2013.

    A day in the life

    Upon waking, the budget-conscious consumer would have more reason to linger in bed rather than flip on the light switch. Electricity rates are expected to go up by about 11 percent in 2013, according to LPEA. The average monthly bill of $88.40 would increase by about $11.20, according to LPEA’s calculation.

    The electricity consumer also will pay an additional monthly fee of $3.64, an average estimate based on electricity usage, to pay for LPEA’s franchise with the city of Durango.

    Perhaps the call of nature finally will rouse the consumer out of bed, but there will be an incentive not to flush the toilet too much. The residential sewer rate is set to double to $15.64, based on 2,000 gallons a month, by the end of 2013.

    As part of the morning routine, the consumer might roll a 64-gallon recycling container to the curb. It might be filled with plastic flower pots and yogurt containers under an expanded recycling program. To pay for single-stream service, the city will charge the consumer an additional $3 a month.

    When the consumer returns to the kitchen, he may receive a phone call from a friend who wants to meet up for a walk later in the day. The phone he uses will cost 60 cents more next year to pay a 911 surcharge, according to a proposal of Emergency Telephone Services Association of La Plata County. The surcharge, which would cost a total of $1.30, is added to resident’s telephone bill.

    The consumer then will drive downtown to go to work. To park on the street could cost about twice as much, going up to a composite rate of 85 cents an hour to pay for sophisticated parking meters that take credit cards and payment from smartphone apps.

    This Durangoan happens to manage a medical-marijuana dispensary downtown. If the dispensary needs new employees, it will have to pay for a background check that has increased from $100 to $150. The registration fee for a new manager also has doubled to $150.

    The medical-marijuana business would like to move out of downtown, but the fee for moving the business has gone up from $600 to $3,000.

    The business owner also would like to sell the shop, but the cost to transfer the license also has gone up from $600 to $3,000. A new license also costs $2,000 when the city previously charged just $875 for a license application. Just to apply for a license now costs more than $3,000.

    Stressed out at work, the dispensary manager decides to meet his friend for a walk on the Animas River Trail, where he smokes a cigarette. A police officer then gives the smoker a $100 fine because of the city’s new ban on smoking in public places.

    The significant other calls the Durangoan with the night’s grocery list. At the supermarket checkout line, the consumer could be charged 10 cents per plastic bag. This fee still is tentative because city staff has not presented a draft ordinance, but officials anticipate there could be other fee increases in 2013.

    Because of uncertainty about federal funding, officials have noted that Durango could lose federal subsidies for pubic transportation next year. The city then would be forced to increase fares for bus rides.

    jhaug@durangoherald.com

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