Durango voters approved a sales tax increase earlier this year with a few conditions, as stated in the ballot language, including one that spending of the new tax dollars be reviewed by a resident advisory board.
But instead of creating a new board, city staff suggested Tuesday – and City Council concurred – that the existing utilities commission could double up and give direction on infrastructure spending.
“It makes sense for a lot of reasons,” City Manager Ron LeBlanc told City Council. “You already have a commission in place and you can add, with appointments, the people you feel could contribute to this effort.”
Voters narrowly approved ballot question 1A – by 195 votes – to increase the city’s sales tax by a half cent to pay for “construction, operation and maintenance of streets, alleys, curbs, gutters, sidewalks and related street improvements with proposed expenditures being first submitted to a citizen advisory board.”
The sales tax increases the total sales tax paid in the city by 0.5% – from 7.9% to 8.4% – to raise no more than $4.69 million a year for the next 10 years. City Attorney Dirk Nelson said the ballot language says expenditures must be submitted to an advisory board, but it didn’t get specific about how to do it.
The council directed staff to draft a resolution giving the utilities commission authority to review 1A expenditures without a commitment to increase the size of the five-person, resident board already tasked with advising city leaders on at least 11 water and wastewater policy issues.
The resolution to add responsibility and change the name of the utilities commission may come in early September.
A decision about adding more people to what will become the infrastructure commission may come as City Council further discusses the role of advisory boards in the council’s decision-making.
City Councilor Kim Baxter, a liaison to the utilities commission, said the concept of consolidating direction on spending for utilities and streets to one board provides a more holistic approach to infrastructure.
Streets, sidewalks and gutters are intimately connected with sewer and water – city staff may have to tear up a road to fix a pipe or redesign a road to ensure effective water runoff, Baxter said. Combining financial decisions for streets and water provides for “better effectiveness,” she said.
“There was interest and no resistance,” Baxter said of her informal survey of utilities commission members. “I think this would work well.”
City Operations Director Levi Lloyd, a staff liaison to the utilities commission, told councilors that adding a streets advisory authority to the board would not be a “significant” increase to volunteers’ workload.
He envisions going before the infrastructure commission every three months. By comparison, the utilities commission meets once a month. The paving season starts sometime in April and ends no later than early November, Lloyd said.
“These are typically not great big projects, like creating a big road,” he said. “This is maintenance to existing infrastructure.”
City Councilor Barbara Noseworthy said the City Council needs to appoint someone with a financial background to the advisory board.
The city added a requirement that 1A tax spending would be reviewed by an advisory board to quell accusations of poor financial planning to try to get residents to approve the tax increase.
“I see the utility of this – pun intended,” Noseworthy said. “I want to entertain a discussion on how we attain someone with a budget background, someone who thinks of the ‘what ifs’ and addressing maintenance.”
City Council delayed a relaunch of a financial advisory committee in March and plans to discuss the details of a “finance committee working group” at a special study session Wednesday. Proposed bylaws for the committee suggest it review “fiscal policies, budget amendments, dashboards, capital-improvement project updates, special revenue funds, fees and charges,” according to documents.