New filters for the water system should improve the taste and odor of water in Durango in 2014.
The shelf life on the current filters is past its sell-by date, so to speak, since they were installed in 2002. Replacement filters are expected to cost $55,000.
“It should be done every 10 years. Do the math. We're already late. That's the longest you should let it go,” said Steve Salka, the utilities director, at a city budget workshop.
Deferring projects was a necessary reality during the recession years. Now that the economy has turned around, with sales tax up by 5 percent more than last year, the city is embarking on a big game of catch-up. It's something not all regional municipalities are in a financial position to do.
In 2009 and 2010, Durango spent a below-average $200,000 annually on improvements to its sewer system, for example. In 2011, it invested nothing in its sewer system.
In 2014, the city is planning to spend $10.1 million on capital improvement projects, while it spent $7.5 million in 2013.
In the proposed budget for next year, which won't formally be approved until December, the City Council has made investments in streets and water and sewer a priority, approving the withdrawal of $1.3 million from its fund balance or savings for urgently needed fixes.
The city is also proposing 5 percent rate increases for water and sewer next year. Some water- and sewer-related costs include $1.5 million on a 3-million-gallon water storage tank and a $1.59 million project to improve treatment of sewer effluent, to be offset with a $1.08 million grant.
For streets, the city is spending $2.9 million, including $640,000 for street reconstruction plus an additional $465,000 to replace the dilapidated Thomas Drive near Needham Elementary.
When things are not cared for, costs balloon.
“On the street side, it will take anywhere from seven to 10 years to get back to the point where we can just maintain streets from year to year. So we have to play catch-up for seven to 10 years,” said City Manager Ron LeBlanc.
Priorities seem to be pressing on Durango from all directions, with the airport studying whether it needs a new terminal, Durango Public Library in need of a new computer server and City Hall in need of a projector system for council meetings.
Still, LeBlanc feels Durango is in better shape than most cities because the city made “necessary” sacrifices during the recession to stay within its means.
For a statewide perspective, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs is overwhelmed with requests for help with infrastructure projects.
“It's difficult for local governments to keep up with maintaining and improving infrastructure that may be in some instances 100-plus years old,” Linda Rice, the department's public information officer, said in an email. She said grant applications with requests are outnumbering available funding.
To help the budgeting process, Rice said DOLA's eight regional managers have been asked to identify one community to assist in a “financial health analysis that will include an asset inventory analysis, strategic budgeting and capital improvement plans.”
“When state and local dollars are less available, the demand for DOLA's technical assistance is even greater,” Rice said.
The town of Silverton, for example, is seeking DOLA funds for “significant repairs” to water lines that are prone to freezing in the winter, estimating it needs $200,000 for its water lines in the worst shape, according to a Silverton budget document.
Chris LaMay, Bayfield town manager, said the town's many infrastructure projects for 2014, including replacing twin bridges over Los Pinos River at the cost of $3 million and budgeting $700,000 on street resurfacing, are a result of the funding opportunities and necessity.
Compared with other cities, Cortez has found a relatively painless way to keep on top of its street repairs.
By city ordinance, the city earmarks 12.36 percent of its 3.5 percent sales tax toward street maintenance as well as its 50/50 sidewalk repair program in which it splits the cost with residents.
The stable source of funding keeps streets in relatively good shape, Cortez City Manager Shane Hale said.
“You might find streets that are not great, but you will be hard pressed to find a bad street in Cortez. We've kept up. It's a good way to do it,” he said.
“Infrastructure is one of those things that you can kick the can for awhile and then 10 years from now, some poor city council is going to have their hands full,” Hale said. “Potholes are everywhere, and there's just not enough money.”
Of course, the city cannot spend that funding on other needs, but Hale said the city has learned to live within its budget.
“It's like a retirement account. If you get a new job, right away you put 10 percent away, you never miss it. You live on the 90 percent and (the savings) builds up to when you need it.”
If there is one infrastructure project that has been deferred in Cortez, it's a new city hall. The current facility is almost 60 years old.
If city funding was not so restricted, “maybe the city would have built a city hall 15 years ago,” Hale said. “It's really hard to say, maybe we would have had potholes everywhere and a nice city hall.”