Durango voters will be asked in April to approve a half-cent sales tax to pay for street infrastructure.
The Durango City Council approved ballot language 4-1 on Tuesday to put a question on the ballot that would raise sales taxes for 10 years to pay for the construction, operation and maintenance of streets, alleys, curbs, gutters, sidewalks and related street improvements.
At the request of Mayor Sweetie Marbury, city leaders also added language to the question that would establish a citizens advisory committee to recommend expenditures to City Council.
The proposal would raise no more than $4.69 million in the first fiscal year, according to the approved ballot language.
Marbury said the ballot question takes into account feedback residents shared with councilors during a series of listening sessions held to learn more about why voters rejected a sales and property tax increase by more than 20 percent in November.
Residents said the 2018 request was too complicated, extended for too long, asked for too much money and was not specific enough. Council responded by simplifying the question, making it easier for residents to understand.
“There’s this phrase: keep it simple, stupid,” Marbury said. “... I know exactly, as a resident, what I’m voting for.”
Councilors Dick White, Dean Brookie, Chris Bettin and Marbury voted to approve the ballot question. Councilor Melissa Youssef rejected the proposal and offered a different tactic: Put two questions in front of voters. One question would ask for a sales tax increase and the other would ask voters to reallocate a portion of the Parks and Recreation funds to pay for infrastructure – something some city residents have suggested in recent months.
Such a proposal would give the community more of a choice, Youssef said: Do residents want more taxes or do they want the city to reallocate its funding?
“We have a divided community right now; there are plenty of people out there who are not happy with how we’re managing our resources, and this proposal will respect that,” Youssef said. “It would show that we listened, it would show that we recognize there is a significant divide.”
Councilors did not discuss the possibility of both questions passing.
Councilors Bettin and White sympathized with Youssef’s proposal but suggested it may be too late to draft such a question. Any ballot measure must be crafted by the city attorney and approved by the City Council before Feb. 1. There is no City Council meeting during the last week of January, and Tuesday’s special meeting was designed to reach a decision.
“If the council votes tonight to put a ballot initiative on the April ballot, a vote against that will essentially tell the council that we’ll have to look at those kinds of reallocations, and parks and recreation is the place that it will come from,” Bettin said.
Any decision to reappropriate sales taxes dedicated to parks and recreation would have to be approved by city voters.
Councilors Brookie and Marbury rejected Youssef’s proposal. Brookie said the question of whether to ask voters about a sales tax or a reallocation is a decision for the council. Two questions could also confuse voters, he said.
“I think we’ve done our work. We’ve simplified it. Do we want to maintain our streets or not?” Brookie said. “It’s so simple it shouldn’t confuse voters in the spring.”
Marbury said reallocating money would be “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
“We’ve had meetings, met with many different people, received thoughtful emails,” Marbury said. “We’ve been very transparent in trying to listen to everyone. The reallocation of the 2015 sales tax, in my opinion, was an absolute ‘don’t do that.’”