Two candidates for City Council were receptive to the idea of rolling back fee increases for sewer, parking and recycling now that Durango’s fund balance has swelled by $2 million, reaching $9.8 million.
The sewer rate is set to double this year, and parking fees are also set to increase to pay for infrastructure improvements such as backup generators for sewer pumps and possibly a downtown parking garage. The city is charging residents a new $3 monthly fee to pay for an expanded recycling service.
The two youngest candidates, Jordan Golson and Kristen Smith, who are both 29, were the most open to the idea of a fee rollback.
“To me, the word ‘fee’ is a code for tax,” said Golson, during a candidates forum sponsored by the Durango Chamber of Commerce, the Durango Area Association of Realtors and La Plata Forum on Tuesday at the DoubleTree Hotel.
“More taxes can be a bad idea in general because it takes money out of your pocket, makes it harder to hire employees,” Golson said. “I would certainly be in favor of anything that reduces the tax burden of the city, the businesses. One of the biggest problems is the sheer number of fees. Certainly, I think there could be some streamlining.”
Otherwise, Golson said, he would earmark the city’s savings toward “a fund for sewers and roads and water, all those things we’ll have to deal with in the future. Having a (fund) balance is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it’s not spent frivolously.”
Smith, a server at Ska Brewing Co. and an artist, said reducing fees was “an interesting idea, maybe it’s worth looking at.”
She also thought the $2 million surplus “could be used for infrastructure.”
But candidates Dean Brookie, an architect; Floyd Patterson, a roofing company owner; and incumbent Christina Rinderle were content to leave things alone. Candidate Keith Brant, owner of Durango Premier Vacation Rentals, was absent.
“Leave the rollback to Walmart,” Brookie said to laughs from the ballroom crowd of about 150 people.
“The additional fees we’re incurring for recycling, sewer and parking, those are to solve existing problems. The council has responsibly raised those rates to respond to existing needs,” Brookie said.
Brookie and Rinderle made the same point that the city’s rates for sewer and parking are not so steep when compared to other cities.
“Even with our increases we’ve had lately, I know it seems like a lot, but in reality, we have some of the lowest parking rates and sewer rates in the entire state and in cities that compare (to Durango),” Rinderle said.
Rinderle also said the city has not raised sewer and parking rates for “so long, even though it seems like a jump, really, if you look at it amortized over time, since the ’80s, we’re really right in line (with other cities),” Rinderle said. “So I don’t support any refund of it, but I feel like we’re at a very stabilized place.”
She said adding to the fund balance “is just a fiscally prudent thing to do.”
Patterson also seemed content.
“I think our city is managed by smart people,” Patterson said.
Golson, a technology journalist, seemed to differ from most candidates by striking a more libertarian tone.
“The government that governs best governs the least, to steal a phrase,” Golson said in his closing.
He had also called proposals to put a fee on plastic fees a distraction.
“We have bigger fish to fry,” Golson said.
All of the candidates rejected a ban on plastic bags, but Brookie and Rinderle liked the symbolism of a nominal fee like 5 cents per bag to help the environment.
Smith and Brookie also differed on accessory dwelling units. Smith did not think they would create affordable housing, but Brookie said an accessory dwelling was his affordable housing when he moved to Durango in 1980 at age 26.