City needs to work hard to sell citizens on tax increase

Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 1:11 AM
Shane Benjamin/Durango Herald - The Durango police station at 990 East Second Ave.

Tomorrow is Sept. 1, and in a little more than six weeks, ballots for this November’s election will be mailed by county clerks.

While Colorado is a leader among the states in voter participation as a result of its all-mail-in elections, they present a few challenges. One is that candidates will still be campaigning during the approximately three weeks that voters will be completing their ballots, and a prompt voter might make a mark before a candidate, or the opponent, makes a misstep or makes an appealing claim.

Given the length of this November’s ballot, with about a dozen state-wide questions, voters may take a little more time with their ballots and turn them in closer to Nov. 6 than they might have otherwise.

For the city of Durango, which hopes to have a “yes” vote on its two tax increases, that extra time will be critical.

Based on polling that was largely statistically valid, the city is going ahead with proposing a 0.55 percent increase in its sales tax (to 8.45 percent)and a 5.4 mill increase ($140 on a residence assessed at $400,000) in order to be able to avoid a significant reduction in several city services.

The polling showed narrow support for the sales tax increase, and only about a third of the respondents supporting a property tax increase.

About $7.5 million would be raised in 2019, and the taxes would sunset in 25 years, in 2043. Public safety and streets are listed to largely receive new revenues.

A sales tax increase was selected because sales taxes are also paid by visitors, and a mill levy increase because property taxes are largely predictable and thus facilitate planning.

It is a given that taxpayers do not agree to increasing their taxes without knowing what the revenue will be used for, and they feel those needs are important. If the application of the revenue looks to be too widely applied, and the benefits unfocused and uncertain, a “no” vote almost certainly follows.

Governments have to be mindful of the law when proposing tax increases. Government employees cannot say or do anything to support or oppose a tax increase; they are limited to explaining the needs and the revenue sources without advocating either for or against.

Elected officials, on the other hand, are free to show their support for such an increase, or their opposition, and citizens expect them to do so.

What this means is that elected officials who support an increase have to hit the streets and the airwaves – and, today, use social media – with city generated statistics in hand to persuade voters to vote “yes.” That takes time and effort.

Tax increases often come to the voters a second time before they are supported. We hope that is not the case here.

If the city leaders really want a “yes” vote in November, we expect them to be working hard with information and advocacy for just that.