Durango voters have spoken: No more taxes. With more than 8,600 votes counted, the city measure to increase property and sales taxes failed by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent as of 10 p.m., according to final unofficial results.
Mayor Sweetie Marbury said the results were disconcerting – now roads won't be fixed and police will have to cut back, she said. But this isn't the end, she said.
“This is not doom and gloom,” Marbury said. “We'll go back to the drawing board and have discussions. That's what City Council does.”
John Simpson, a resident who voiced opposition to the ballot measure, said the city has plenty of money; it simply needs to prioritize its spending.
“Maybe the city didn't quite show the accountability that's required to pass such a tax increase,” Simpson said. “There's a lot of work to be done still, and I hope the council will start listening to the community more on how to solve those problems.”
The city of Durango sought the property and sales tax increase to help pay for a new police station, fund public safety and code enforcement, and maintain city streets and buildings. The measure was designed to raise up to $7.5 million in revenue annually for the city. The tax increase would have raised up to $187.5 million for the city by 2043.
Voters were asked whether they wanted to raise sales tax by 0.55 percent and property tax by 5.4 mills.
Increasing Durango sales tax and property tax
A 5.4 mill increase would have cost property owners about $140 per year on a home with an assessed value of $400,000. A 0.55 percent increase to sales tax would have brought the sales tax rate up to 8.45 percent in Durango. Ignacio has a sales tax rate of 7.9 percent, Cortez collects 7.35 percent and Farmington is at 7.625 percent.
Marbury, who previously opposed sales-tax increases, championed the city's effort to pass the amendment, meeting with local organizations to explain and promote the tax increase. She said voting for the measure is “good common sense” to support police and street infrastructure.
Simpson, a Durango resident who has been vocal about his opposition to the 2A tax increase, said increasing taxes is irresponsible. The city has money elsewhere – particularly in the parks and recreation department – that could be used to overcome the budget shortfalls, he said. City officials should ask voters to transfer money from other inflated funds rather than seeking a tax increase, he said.
The ballot question was crafted after months of public hearings and a statistically valid survey that found residents were split about which taxes would be appropriate to raise: property or sales tax. The survey found that 58 percent of respondents supported a sales tax increase and 33 percent supported a property tax increase to fund long-term city needs.
In preparation for a potential failure of the tax question, the city, in its budget for 2019, did not include any money for capital improvement projects for streets and sidewalks.
“It is not sustainable for a growing city to operate without investing in basic capital improvements,” City Manager Ron LeBlanc wrote in an introduction to the 2019 budget.
The money that would have been raised by the 2A tax increase would have payed for street overlays, asphalt surface preservation, Americans with Disabilities Act improvements, sidewalk improvements, storm drainages, facility improvements and technology system improvements.
It also would fund construction of a new police station; city staff say the current police headquarters does not accommodate the needs of the growing department. A new headquarters would cost the city about $19 million at a cost of about $2 million annually.