La Plata County voters are being asked to increase property taxes to pay for an expansion of Durango-La Plata County Airport.
Ballot issue 1B reads in part: “Shall La Plata County debt be increased $40,400,000 with a repayment cost of $64,432,00 and shall county taxes be increased $3,221,633 annually to finance the costs of a new terminal and other improvements to the Durango-La Plata County Airport to improve safety, capacity and functionality ...”
La Plata County must pay back the $40 million in debt in 20 years, and after that, the tax would no longer be collected.
The first phase of the terminal project requires about $85 million. The additional $35 million to $40 million must come through Federal Aviation Administration grants, airport fees or other sources.
If the FAA does not provide the money, the project likely would not move forward.
The airport has set aside a minimum of $4.7 million from airport revenue to fund the project, Interim Airport Director Tony Vicari said in an email.
Later phases of the project would be built as traffic increases and would not require additional taxes.
A “yes” vote would increase property taxes to help pay for an airport terminal on the east side of the runway. It would also pay for 1,500 parking spaces for cars, five parking spaces for planes and possibly a safer intersection at Colorado Highway 172.
A “no” vote would not increase property taxes, leaving the existing terminal and infrastructure in place.
If approved, the county would set a sufficient property tax rate each year to pay off the debt. The owner of a $400,000 home would owe about $50 more in annual property taxes.
The owner of a $600,000 commercial building would see an increase of about $300 in property taxes, according to an analysis by the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance.
Proponents, including airport staff, say construction is needed to serve the existing level of traffic, improve working conditions and attract new air service.
The construction will ensure the airport continues to drive the economy by supporting about 1,900 jobs in La Plata County and generating $161.1 million in general economic activity, according to a Colorado State University study.
Backers of the measure include Durango City Council, La Plata County Commissioners, La Plata County Economic Development Alliance and some prominent business owners, such as Al Harper, owner of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
Two committees support the measure, Yes for DRO! and Citizens for vote YES! for Durango-La Plata County Airport. BCI Media Services is the registered agent of Citizens for vote YES! Ballantine Communications is the parent company of The Durango Herald and BCI Media Services.
There is no organized opposition to the airport, but residents have raised arguments against it, including questioning the funding structure and competing priorities.
Some would rather see it funded through a sales tax rather than a property tax, spreading the burden to all residents and tourists.
Others question whether this should be a priority when money is needed for Durango and Bayfield schools and La Plata County roads and bridges.
Residents contend some of the airport’s problems, such as the need for more baggage carousel space, could be solved less expensively with a remodel of the existing terminal.
They also argue that a new terminal might not bring in new air service, lower ticket prices, expand the schedule or prevent flight delays and cancellations.
One unresolved question is whether a new alignment of County Road 309A would be built as part of the construction project.
Endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mice are living in the path of the road and a plan for their habitat mitigation has not been decided.
Airport, city and county officials plan to meet next week with FAA and Colorado Department of Transportation staff to discuss mitigation and alternatives, Vicari said.