Durango city government went to residents Thursday to ask for ideas about how to escape a projected budget shortfall expected in 2020.
Community members brought their ideas to a presentation at Ska Brewing Co. that attracted a revolving crowd of dozens to see the city’s presentation of its budgetary fix. It was the third of four community presentations, with the last one planned at Carver Brewing Co. on June 25.
“We need to invest in infrastructure that’s going to produce revenue and make a difference in the future,” said Bud Franks of Franks Associates, who is an advocate for a combination performing arts-conference center in Durango.
“Spending wisely to attract visitors can have a substantial positive impact on the economy. It leads to sales tax increases, it leads to jobs and it leads to private investment in your community. We need a business model in the community that increases the tax base, creates a substantial economic boost and provides jobs,” Franks said.
If revenue and expenses continue on trend, by 2025, the city expects to be short $2 million a year on street maintenance and $3 million to $4 million short on street reconstruction.
At earlier presentations, popular items for cutting included the city government channel, DGOV, and social media efforts, public art and the general fund’s 10 percent subsidy of recreation programs.
The problem is those identified savings are tiny compared with the nuts and bolts of city government, such as street maintenance, police services and transit.
Heather McGlasson, a Durango homeowner, said the event was educational for her. For instance, she didn’t know the general fund didn’t pay for things such as the Durango-La Plata County Airport and the water and sewage operations, which are considered enterprise funds and are paid for by fees they charge for their services.
McGlasson said the city should take a hard look at making cuts within the budget before going to residents with a request for a tax increase in November.
“As an individual, I have to live within my means, so I figure the city should be able to as well,” she said. “We have great parks and the library is wonderful. It makes it difficult to decide what to cut.”
Her idea was to trim the subsidy the city pays for the cost of the spring cleanup day. While she said that’s only a small program, a line-by-line analysis of the budget might find dozens of small programs to trim, and eventually that might amount to some real money.
Karen Carver, a Durango homeowner, came Thursday because she wanted to see what the budget fix might mean for property taxes, and she came away impressed by the city staff members and their willingness to engage with residents on their ideas.
“Right now, it seems like there are no preconceived ideas, and everyone is open to different ideas and options, and no one pathway has been predetermined,” she said. “Sometimes, you go to community meetings and you get the feeling they have already decided.”
Last week, the City Council began reviewing options for going to voters for a tax increase because of the anticipated revenue shortfalls. Voters could be asked to increase sales taxes, property taxes or a combination of both, Assistant City Manager Amber Blake told councilors.
Councilor Dick White was pleased with the event Thursday.
“We’re getting what we want from this. We want to see what people think they have in Durango, what they want to have but don’t, and what their willing to do about it,” he said.
Events like Thursday’s gathering over a beer at Ska, he said, are essential when the city finally decides what tax increase it will seek from voters in November.
“Without a process like this, we don’t have a chance of passage,” he said.