The Durango City Council shied away from making a decision about a new ballot measure to raise taxes Tuesday for a reason Councilor Melissa Youssef summed up in one sentence: “I want to hear more.”
City councilors and staff have hosted a number of “listening sessions” with members of the public to learn more about why the city’s ballot measure to raise taxes for streets, sidewalks and law enforcement failed by a margin of more than 20 percent. There are more listening sessions this week.
Ballot measure 2A would have raised the sales tax by 0.55 percent and property taxes by 5.4 mills, creating up to $7.5 million in revenue annually for the city. City councilors said they heard from residents that the ballot question wasn’t specific enough about what the money would be spent on. The ballot language said the money would be used for streets, sidewalks and law enforcement improvements, including a new police station.
“They really want to know how we’re going to spend the money,” Youssef said of voters.
Councilors also recognized a perception among residents that the city has enough money, it just isn’t spending it appropriately. The council struggled with solutions to changing that perception.
“The biggest challenge is finding ways of communicating that we haven’t already tried,” said City Councilor Dick White. “How do we communicate with the other half of the people who didn’t know anything was going on?”
While not much was clear Tuesday about what a potential ballot question in April might look like, one thing was obvious, said City Manager Ron LeBlanc: Drafting a new question will take a lot of time.
The City Council has until Feb. 1 to make a decision about what a ballot question to raise taxes might look like. That question would be intended to overcome an annual deficit of more than $7 million in the general fund.