The city of Durango is nearing the end of its budget development process for 2021, and Durango residents can expect progress on a few long-awaited – and a few controversial – projects.
Durango, like other cities around the country, endured economic impacts as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It expects an 8.5% drop in sales tax revenue and 2% drop in overall revenue compared with 2020, causing some projects to be deferred to another year and budgets to tighten. Durango City Council is scheduled to approve the final budget Dec. 15.
City councilors and staff members emphasized Tuesday they are taking a cautious approach to 2021 spending.
“We’re in a more dire situation relative to where we were in March when we actually shelved all capital projects,” said City Councilor Chris Bettin during a budget workshop.
He said the city might want to consider “telling staff that in this first quarter we need to be very cautious in spending even capital that’s already appropriated.”
“That’s the message starting day one,” said City Manager José Madrigal. “We will be proceeding with caution. Just because we have the funding there doesn’t mean we’re going to utilize it.”
The city also plans to revamp its budget development process in 2021. Moving forward, the city will be looking at the 2022 budget in June. The public will also have increased access to budget planning through an online platform, OpenGov, said city spokesman Tom Sluis.
Staff members aim to take a long-term approach to finances by forecasting the city’s operating budget for the next 10 years, while also considering the planned capital expenditures.
Because of pandemic-related economic challenges, no raises for city employees or cost-of-living adjustments are planned. This will be reviewed midyear, Sluis said.
As the city starts to bounce back from the pandemic, some of the most notable projects planned to receive funding in 2021 include:
32nd Street pedestrian bridgeThe city’s development of a pedestrian bridge at 32nd Street became a divisive topic after designs of a bulky, three-bridge crossing structure were released.
This fall, the city made progress on an alternative to the controversial design, which instead would include an underpass at 32nd Street and a street-level pedestrian bridge parallel to the Emerson-Parks Bridge.
In 2021, the city allocated $2.7 million for the design and development of the final connection project.
The money comes from the city’s 2015 half-cent sales and use tax for recreation facilities, improvements and maintenance.
The city also allocated money from the 2015 tax for a few other long-awaited projects.
Durango plans to spend $350,000 to design a grade-separated crossing of Camino del Rio at 12th Street to provide safer pedestrian access to the Animas River Trail from downtown Durango.
The city also budgeted about $1.35 million to fix the Animas River Trail between Rank Park and Demon Bridge.
About $97,600 will go to restrooms at Rotary Park, and $350,000 is planned for a street traffic calming and connectivity design at 32nd Street.
The street is one of the busiest in Durango, and two pedestrians were hit by a car on the street in mid-November.
Pickleball courtsPickleball has been another source of contention in Durango.
Pickleball enthusiasts have been searching for places to play, often turning to designated tennis courts. Some tennis players and residents living near the courts, however, have objected to the newcomers.
In 2021, pickleball players will finally get their stretch of court. Durango plans to spend $175,000 on the design for a community park in Three Springs, which will include eight lighted outdoor pickleball courts. Other amenities include parking, restrooms and an off-leash dog area.
SMART 160 TrailThe city is taking steps on another long-awaited project: the SMART 160 trail. In 2021, Durango will spend $405,000 to prepare design and construction documents for the trail’s connection along U.S. Highway 160 near Farmington Hill to the Colorado Department of Transportation interchange. Construction is anticipated for 2023.
The pedestrian trail will eventually connect the Animas River Trail, which stretches north through Durango to Oxbow Park and Preserve.