City and county officials haven’t figured out how to pay for a new Durango-La Plata County Airport terminal, but an airport tax question could end up on the November ballot.
The Durango City Council and La Plata County Commission on Thursday discussed grants, property or sales taxes, and seeking regional help for the terminal.
The group asked staff to explore additional grants, getting nearby counties to help pay for the airport and the impact of sales taxes versus property taxes on residents and businesses.
“We obviously are not going to solve this today,” Councilor Dick White said.
The two boards plan to meet again within 30 days to revisit how to fund a $85 million terminal on the east side of the runway. Potentially, a Federal Aviation Administration grant could provide $35 million to $45 million. Local funding needs to cover $35 million to $40 million, and the airport could cover $7 million to $10 million through passenger facility charges, Aviation Director Kip Turner said.
The boards have discussed asking voters for a tax increase in November. But officials are split on the merits of a sales tax versus a property tax increase.
Councilor Sweetie Marbury strongly opposed a sales tax increase of a third of a cent on every dollar spent. This would raise sales tax in Durango from 7.9 percent to 8.22 percent, a move that would encourage people to drive to Farmington to shop and hurt overall sales tax revenue, she said.
“You hit 8 percent in this area, you are killing the golden goose,” Marbury said.
However, an increase in property taxes could increase rent in an area struggling with a housing shortage, county commissioners said.
A legacy grant through the state’s Department of Local Affairs could offset the cost, but it could limit other grants that the city and county could accept, said County Manager Joe Kerby.
For example, if the city and county accepted a $10 million grant for the airport, both governments would be ineligible for DOLA grants for two years, he said.
“That is pretty impactful for both the city and the county,” he said.
Officials hope leaders in San Juan County, New Mexico, and Montezuma, Archuleta and San Juan counties will commit to help fund the airport because it boosts the regional economy. However, that could require forming an airport authority, which could take several years.
To include New Mexico would require a change in state law to allow Colorado counties to sign intergovernmental agreements across state lines, county Commissioner Julie Westendorff said.
She is working with state Sen. Ellen Roberts on a bill to change the law this spring.
The time required to form an authority could eliminate it as a funding option for the terminal, White said.
While many options are under consideration, the officials agreed a decision must be made soon so a campaign can start well ahead of the November election.
To help make the case for expansion, the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance is working on an economic impact study to examine how much the airport contributes to the economy, said Roger Zalneraitis, executive director.