Previously approved tax increases for city parks, open space and recreational facilities may have contributed to voters rejecting ballot issue 2A on Nov. 6.
The city of Durango’s tax increase request asked for $200 million over 25 years for a new police station, more police officers, road and bridge maintenance and other capital projects. If approved, the measure would have raised sales tax by 0.55 percent and property tax by 5.4 mills.
“I’m not sure the City Council has its priorities right, so I voted against the tax,” said Jim Mueller, who noted he supported the wastewater treatment plant expansion because he felt it was needed.
Mueller was among 16 residents who gave their views on why 2A failed during a special work session of the council on Monday night.
Mueller said he was disturbed by city spending on trail expansions and parks when the police department needs a new headquarters and road maintenance lacks adequate funding.
He suggested a half-cent sales tax dedicated to parks and recreation passed in 2015 and a quarter-cent sales tax, half of which goes for open space, that passed in 2005 be “clawed back” to spend on “higher priority items.”
Several residents called for a ballot question that would redirect some of the money from the 2005 and 2015 sales tax increases to other priorities.
Mueller said parks, trails and open space should compete for funding with other priorities in the general fund and not have their own dedicated funding sources.
Sidny Zink, a former city councilor, said, “There is a perceived misallocation of funds that are available. We seem to focus on what’s nice and not on what’s essential, and that is not a good perception for a government to be in.”
Kim Baxter said if the 2005 and 2015 sales tax increases cannot be put to a vote to be redirected to other priorities, then the city needs to make that clear to voters before proceeding with additional requests for tax increases.
“It’s all part of communication, transparency and prioritization,” she said.
John Viner suggested the city should narrow its focus in asking for a tax increase. He suggested asking voters to approve only bonding to build a new police headquarters, and the vote should occur only after a solid study that can tell voters how much the building would cost per square-foot.
He added requesting funds for multimodal projects is a luxury the city can’t afford when police and roads and bridge maintenance lack funds.
“City Council, to have any chance of structuring a tax increase voters will approve, must develop a clearly understood list of high-priority items,” Viner said.
Jeff Blecker, who recently moved to Durango from Tuscon, Arizona, said the city’s tax increase was defeated because it was one of several tax increase requests from state agencies.
“The requests for state and local tax increases were overwhelming,” he said.
City Councilor Dick White noted under provisions of Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, requests for tax increases from municipalities can come only during General Elections or during a City Council elections on odd-numbered years.
TABOR timing limitations force numerous tax request proposals onto the same ballot, which White said “almost certainly guarantees a train wreck.”
Blecker said he believes a new police headquarters is needed, but he wondered if space for lease couldn’t be obtained rather than resorting to new construction.
As a business owner, Blecker said, when he has a bad year, he can’t raise prices the next year to make up for lost sales. Instead, he has “to tighten his belt and look for creative ways to save money.”
“The city needs to adapt when less revenue is available,” he said.
Zink, who represents Southwest Colorado on the Department of Transportation Commission, noted Proposition 110, which detailed each project and dedicated funding in all areas of the state, still failed to pass.
“In that proposition, you knew how the money would be spent. CDOT did all of this, and it still wasn’t persuasive enough. It failed 60-40 (60 percent to 40 percent),” she said.