Transparent fee puts the ‘bill’ in sustainability

Sunday, March 4, 2018 6:16 PM

So I get this flyer in the city utilities bill about “Sustainability in Durango.” It says that “to increase transparency,” there’s now a $2.30 monthly “fee” to fund “sustainability efforts.” Since I can’t opt out of this “service,” why is this fee not a tax? Voters are supposed to approve new taxes. Why was a sustainability flyer printed on expensive, non-recyclable, glossy paper using petroleum-based color ink? – I’m Calling B.S.

Did someone wake up on the wrong side of the recycling bin?

But Action Line can see how residents cast a gimlet eye when the city gets all twitterpated about some New Thing linked to its Goals and Priorities.

It also doesn’t help when the flyer includes phrases such as “foster collaborative actions” and “economic, organizational and environmental resiliency.”

That’s hallowed but hollow hackneyed hokum designed as bullet points on a consultant’s PowerPoint viewed only by people who are paid to go to meetings.

Even Action Line, who has been known to blurt out banal buzzwords, had to raise an eyebrow.

But what do you expect? Brilliant ad copy from an ultra-hip urban marketing firm?

In any case, the measly $2.30 fee is precisely that, a fee. It’s not new. So it’s not a tax. And it lets people know where their money is going.

Dang. Action Line was geared up for an expose. But that’s how the gluten-free, organic, sustainable, cookie-like wafer crumbles.

Since 2011, the city’s trash and recycling fee consisted of a single stream of funding that covered several programs such as the sustainability initiative.

But the Durango City Council now prefers to sort and separate components of the trash and recycling fee.

Thus, sustainability is now a separate line item on your bill, the city’s sustainability coordinator, Imogen Ainsworth, said in an email.

The line item will also create a designated revenue source, Imogen added.

“The fee will cover existing sustainability programs along with new initiatives, such as an updated Community Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory, in line with city council goals,” Imogen wrote.

“Separating out sustainability programs will also enable existing trash and recycling fees to pay for additional capital improvement projects such as equipment for the Recycle Center and wildlife-resistant trash containers.”

Plus, there’s this new Durango Recycles web app, offering collection reminders, holiday service updates, recycling tips and a “Durango Recycles Waste Sorting Game.”

All of which is nice but doesn’t explain the two bucks and change.

For that, we turn to the city’s dollars and sense person, Amy Arnold, city finance manager.

Trash and recycling rates were set to increase 8.5 percent this year, Amy said. The new sustainability fee includes that increase, but the total is now broken out.

If it weren’t broken out, the bottom-line payment (which includes the 8.5 percent increase) would still be the same, she said.

Thus, Our Fair City, true to its diversity efforts, offers something for everyone to criticize.

If you distrust municipal government, a highlighted $2.30 line item gives malcontents more fodder for conspiracy theories, outrage and demands to Make Durango Great Again.

For climate-deniers, it’s an intolerable waste of money, despite the fact that $2.30 won’t get you a cup of Fair Trade coffee. Not that climate-deniers care about Fair Trade coffee.

For greenie progressives, it’s more of a self-righteous tithing, yet shameful because everyone should spend more to be told to consume less.

For the rest of us, we’ll just foot the monthly bill and move on.

As for the flyer itself, Imogen kindly reminds curmudgeons that glossy paper is most certainly recyclable. “As long as you can tear the paper, it’s recyclable,” she said.

Hopefully, these answers will sustain you through another week in which you’ll probably mutter, “How am I going to keep up with all this?”

Email questions to or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. You can request anonymity if you wondered why the city’s weeklong Winter Business Commuter Challenge to encourage biking or walking to work began on Presidents Day, when most people don’t commute because most businesses are closed.