If there is one thing we know to be true about any new year, it is that there is no shortage of issues to address.
With as active and engaged a community as ours, one has reason to be encouraged. We live among problem-solvers, people who are willing to put their minds, and time, to the task of improving our community. Every year we see progress. Yet, there are still numerous issues – intractable or that just take time – that see little movement for any number of reasons. Here is what we expect to see in the coming year.
At the top of the list is taxes and the effects of significant changes to the federal tax code on national, state and local economies. If the GOP’s predictions are correct, there will be a big, new infusion of cash into all three, and new tax revenue generated from wage increases that, in time, will do more than trickle down. State and local governments need it.
If projections are correct, the federal changes in the tax code could increase income tax revenue starting in fiscal year 2018-19 by an estimated $196 million to $340 million and begin to pay for the $9 billion backlog of state infrastructure needs.
How this significant a tax cut plays out in the long term is unknown, but the short-term calculation relies on pretty drastic budget cuts to agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, which is poised to see a 30 percent reduction; this may affect funding for the Bonita Peak Superfund clean-up.
Locally, partly because of freezing temperatures across the nation, the natural gas industry has seen an uptick in prices, and drilling in western Colorado is at its highest in the past few years with no signs of slowing down in 2018. Despite this industry optimism, La Plata County has been hit hard in recent years. Because of the Gallagher Amendment, any gains the industry may see may not benefit the county. The county still may need to prepare for less property tax revenue in 2019.
While there was great enthusiasm and some county funding dedicated to developing plans for a new multi-event center on Ewing Mesa, on the 200-acre site generously donated by Marc and Jane Katz, funding in this and future years to pursue its $80 million full implementation is highly uncertain. Voters have twice rejected an increase to the county’s mill levy, the fourth lowest in the state.
Facing sales tax-generated revenue declines of its own, the city of Durango may propose an increase to the lodgers tax, the second lowest in the state. The lodgers tax funds marketing and transit for our tourism-dependent community. Having lost $800,000 in state transportation funding this year, this could be a partial source.
In 2018, we will be electing a new governor and lieutenant governor – who are term limited – as well as casting ballots for treasurer, attorney general, secretary of state, Congressional District 3, Senate District 6 and House District 59. At the county level, one Commissioner position will be filled in District 1, and we will be casting ballots for sheriff, treasurer, surveyor, coroner, assessor and treasurer. We expect many incumbents to run for re-election.
Between now and then, we look forward to big winter and spring snowstorms and some excellent spring skiing, followed by an April opening of Lake Nighthorse with a reasonable compromise between motorized and nonmotorized users. We also anticipate good, new leadership at Fort Lewis College.
As soon as possible, we hope to see progress on housing via a new housing plan, and homelessness with the hire of a new coordinator. We look to continued progress on the sewer plant and the “Bridge to Somewhere.”
Most of all, we look forward to people receiving the care and help they need to find answers in alternatives to suicide.