I am honored to serve Durango again as mayor for the coming year, and I look forward to taking this monthly opportunity to share my perspective on events and issues that affect our community.
This week marked the biennial transition to a new City Council, with the swearing-in of Dean Brookie for a second term and of Melissa Youssef and Chris Bettin as successors to outgoing Mayor Christina Rinderle and Councilor Keith Brant. Owing to my re-election along with Sweetie Marbury in 2015, the council enjoyed the unusual experience of having the same composition for four consecutive years. I thank all of my fellow councilors for collegial and effective conduct of city business. We have not always agreed – as our residents do not – but we have maintained mutual respect while we sought to serve Durango with the best possible decisions.
As Rinderle recounted in her final column on April 8, we have had a very productive time addressing many significant issues facing Durango.
A major effort for the last year was the update of the city’s 2007 Comprehensive Plan. This process, guided in part by a 13-member advisory committee and a separate 15-member Arts and Culture Working Group, began last summer and included 20 meetings, workshops and hearings.
The comprehensive plan is mandated by the city charter. It undergoes updates about every 10 years, each time with a 25-year planning horizon. As stated in the plan introduction, it “reflects a shared community vision of Durango’s future, and guides decision-makers toward that vision through updated goals and prioritized implementation strategies.”
Based on current projections from the state demographer on population and job growth, the 2017 plan seeks to identify the most cost-effective strategies for accommodating growth while at the same time maintaining the essential character of the city. Major chapters cover elements such as Natural Environment, Community Development, and Public Services and Facilities. The Utilities element stresses water as a key determinant of how our community can accommodate growth.
The plan also, for the first time, incorporates a section on Arts, Culture and Creative Economy as a component of the vibrancy and economic health of the community. As in the 2007 document, sustainability – economic, environmental and social – is an underlying theme throughout the narrative. The new comprehensive plan identifies five major areas that lack adequate funding:
Housing – The market fails to meet the need for workforce housing in Durango. Limited available land combined with the growing demand has driven up both rents and home prices. This has prompted many local workers to live out of town, saving money on housing, but spending time and money commuting, as well as increasing traffic congestion.Transit – Durango Transit provides an essential service, particularly for low-income residents, facilitating mobility in the city while limiting traffic. Without additional revenue, the city faces a projected $1.5 million transit shortfall within a few years. Possible changes in state transportation funding might meet some of the need, but would depend on passage of a referendum on a statewide sales tax increase.Facilities – City buildings need attention or replacement, most importantly, our sub-standard police headquarters and 60 year-old city hall. At present, no funding source exists for such major projects.Arts and culture – Following on the 2014 proposal for a Science, Technology, Education, Arts, and Music (STEAM) Park on the riverfront property now occupied by the fire station and River City Hall, the Creative Community section of the comprehensive plan addresses broader integration of arts and culture facilities and activity into the community. This initiative also lacks a funding stream, though development of a Colorado Creative Community district would be a first step.Stormwater – A three-year stormwater management study, to be competed in 2018, will further define this infrastructure need, as well as possible revenue sources to meet it. Establishment of a new utility fund for stormwater management is one possibility, with revenue from monthly cost-of-service fees for residents and businesses.The cumulative cost of meeting all of these needs is staggering, far more than $100 million. Setting priorities among them, and deciding whether, how and when to meet them are major decisions facing the community as the new city council begins its work.
I look forward to initiating civic conversations about priorities and possible sources of public, private, and philanthropic support for Durango’s future.
Dick White is the mayor of Durango, a position rotating among members of City Council. He was re-elected to City Council in 2015 and will serve as mayor until April 2018, when he will be succeeded by now-Mayor Pro Tem Sweetie Marbury. Reach him at DickWhite@DurangoGov.org.