As the mayor of Durango, I have a positive outlook on issues that make a difference to the residents of my hometown.
Historically, our town has burned many times and, like a phoenix, rises to be rebuilt.
The Animas River has overflowed its banks and wreaked havoc on our mountain town. The mining spill turned the Animas orange and the negative publicity was deafening on the national news. The Missionary Ridge and 416 fires will be a part of our vocabulary for decades.
Every town has its challenges. Bayfield voted to raise its sales tax 1 percent for street maintenance. Farmington raised the sales tax to 8.2 percent to pay for street infrastructure. Durango is proposing its 1A “Strictly Streets” ballot measure in April.
Curbs, gutters, sidewalks, alleys, construction, operation and maintenance of streets are on the ballot and sunset in 10 years. The proposed half-cent sales tax, or 50 cents on a $100 purchase, for existing street improvements, would have citizen advisory board oversight on all proposed expenditures.
The 1A ballot language dictates exactly how the funds would be used on street projects. A sales tax was proposed rather than a property tax because City Council heard citizens at the numerous listening sessions, and a property tax disproportionately impacts small business.
1A is specific, narrow in scope, short in term, and what citizens requested from Council. The street department operates in the General Revenue Fund supported by sales tax revenues. Shopping locally supports our wonderful businesses and city coffers.
Durango has Enterprise Funds that operate like businesses: airport, trash, utilities, transportation, recycling, water and sewer all pay their own way from fees. Streets repairs do not come from Enterprise Funds but the General Revenue Fund supported by sales tax.
Department heads cut operating budgets in the last six months for a total of $500,000 to balance reduced revenue and rising costs. Since 2009, just 10 employees were hired in the General Revenue Fund. The city maintains 83 miles of streets in Durango, including Grandview, and with limited revenue there are no major street improvements budgeted in the 2019 General Revenue Fund.
Potholes will be repaired in 2019, but the failing streets will continue to fail. Alamo Drive, Turner Drive, Sanborn Island, Thomas Avenue, Columbine Drive, Weston Drive, 14th Street, Kennebec Drive and Court, Hidden Valley Circle, Narrow Gauge Avenue, Folsom Place, Sheppard Drive, North College Drive, Sawmill Drive, East 2nd Avenue, Animas View Drive and Lizard Head have been identified for complete reconstruction.
Other city streets have been identified in the five-year Paving Condition Index Survey (on the city website) for surface treatments to overlays. The longer maintenance is deferred, the more expensive the repairs become (up to eight times, or $2 to $4 million each year we wait).
Shopping on the internet, shopping in New Mexico, the decline of the oil and gas industry, and Fort Lewis College enrollment have all negatively impacted sales tax revenue over the last three years. With 1A, visitors and city and county residents will share the cost of maintaining the streets equally.
There are no bike lanes or trails proposed in the ballot language for existing streets; and developers pay for new construction of streets, as witnessed in the construction of apartments on Escalante Drive.
The ballot measure, if approved, is very precise as to where the funds can be used. It is binding by law on all future councils for 10 years. The Advisory Board, made up of Durango residents, will be the checks and balances as we see today from other citizen volunteer boards operating successfully in the city. Passing 1A will preserve the 2015 sales tax, passed with 70 percent voter approval, dedicated to Parks and Recreation, Natural Lands and multimodal projects. Voters want to maintain and grow what we have to promote healthy lifestyles, protect environmental resource and foster local economic vitality.
Robbing parks and recreation general funds to pay for streets, as has been proposed, would violate the public trust and shortchange future projects like Lake Nighthorse, Needham Elementary Connect, the SMART 160 Trail, the Animas River Trail, the Camino underpass connecting downtown to the Animas River Trail, among others.
Good streets and ADA ramp and sidewalk improvements benefit everyone who walks, runs, drives to work, shops, uses a wheelchair or pushes a baby stroller. The 1A vote is up to you. I’m voting YES.
Sweetie Marbury is the mayor of Durango, a position rotating among members of City Council. Reach her at SweetieMarbury@DurangoGov.org.