Soap Box

More to lose by not voting for 1A
03/21/2019

To the editor,

April’s election will bring change to City Council and hopefully new sales tax revenue, the benefits of which are multiple for our community.

The half-cent sales tax increase ($.50 on a $100 purchase) – shared in approximate thirds by city residents, county residents and visitors – will increase sales tax to 8.4 percent, in range of other similar mountain and regional towns.

If passed, it will provide much-needed revenue to fund street, sidewalk, alley, curb, gutter and ADA improvements. Currently, 37 percent of our streets are in need of immediate repair. Every year we defer this work, repairs could cost as much as $2-$4 million more per year.

If passed, 1A will raise approximately $2.1 million in its first year and between $4 - $5 million in the subsequent nine years. It will provide revenue to help shore up the General Fund. It will afford City Council some breathing room in the short-term to identify longer-term strategies to fund facility maintenance and construction needs outlined in the city’s five-year capital improvement project plan.

Passing 1A will preserve the 2015 1⁄2-cent sales tax dedicated to Parks & Recreation, Natural Lands and Multi-modal funding and avoid future attempts to divert these 70 percent voter-approved funds to parks maintenance (currently funded through the General Fund) – an act that could jeopardize millions in grant funding, not to mention the public trust.

Passing 1A will maintain the city’s investment in new park and recreational resources including amenities at Lake Nighthorse, sidewalks near Needham Elementary, connecting the SMART 160 Trail, development of Durango Mesa Park and the Camino del Rio underpass – all projects that support healthy lifestyles, protect environmental resources and foster local economic vitality.

A sales rather than a property tax (which unfairly burdens property owners), Ballot Question 1A is narrower in

scope (strictly streets and sidewalks) and duration (10 years) than the November 2018 ballot measure. Question 1A responds to citizen concerns that the 2018 measure was too broad, complicated and inequitable. This citizen feedback received in over 50 meetings includes the  recommendation to establish a citizen advisory board to oversee the allocation of funds.

In 2019, the City budget is $92 million and supports almost two dozen departments, offering more than any other city with a comparable population, staff and budget. $40 million of that is dedicated to the General Fund, which pays for everything that enterprise funds do not. Enterprise funds finance new construction and stabilize the operating budgets of critical services like water, sewer, solid waste (trash and recycling), transportation and the airport.

Council can increase fees to bond projects and balance budgets, as was done from 2013-16 when we instituted higher fees to pay for expansion of the sewer treatment plant. Yet, only a vote of the citizenry can increase General Fund revenue.

With the 2009 recession, the City implemented austerity measures cutting positions and has only slowly added staff back. Of the city’s 350 employees, 230 are supported by the General Fund. That number, 220 in 2009, only increased by 10 positions, or 5 percent, in nine years.

From 2017-19, Community Support Services funding for nonprofit organizations was cut from $1.3 million to $750,000. Funding for 21 of Durango’s nonprofits that provide critical human services to residents was cut from $220,000 to $140,000 and will surely result in a decrease in community services. Another $100,000 in funding for economic development, accessibility for people with disabilities, the arts, sustainability and public education was also cut.

The library is not open seven days a week nor has it ever been fully staffed. The City employs two code enforcement officers to respond to all the snow-, bear-and trash-related calls. They do their best and it’s not enough.

Due to a decrease in sales tax revenues from the 416 Fire, online sales, the decline of the oil and gas industry, and the increased cost of labor, materials and constructions costs, revenues have not been keeping up with the cost of infrastructure upkeep. See a1durango.com and the

city’s website durangogov.org “Hot Topics” for more information.

To maintain our infrastructure and preserve our quality of life, please join me in voting yes on 1A.

– Christina Rinderle, Durango (Rinderle served as a Durango City councilor from 2009-17 and as mayor in 2011/12 and 2016/17. She is the chair of Citizens for A#1 Durango.)

Noseworthy & Baxter for council
03/14/2019

To the editor,

Just in case you aren’t aware, we have a City Council election coming up – ballots will be mailed March 14 and need to be voted by April 2.

I am encouraging every eligible voter to support Kim Baxter and Barbara Noseworthy!

I met Kim before she even moved to Durango when she was on a road trip checking out the area. Her focus is on multi-generational growth – how do we make sure our kids can get good jobs and housing affordable enough to live here?

I have worked with Barbara on several committees over the past years and you will not find a more focused and clear leader. Her expertise is working with tight budgets to prioritize needs and stimulate economic diversification.

They’re both running because they LOVE our community and want to make sure it keeps its character.

Please come and hear from them for yourself Sat., March 23, 3:15 p.m. at the library! You will be impressed! Promise!

– Sarah Musil Burris, Durango

Protecting industry, not people
03/14/2019

To the editor,

Our Children’s Trust is a group of climate change workers seeking to “elevate the voice of youth to secure the legal right to a stable climate and healthy atmosphere for the benefit of all present and future
generations.” www.ourchildrenstrust.org/colorado OCT has originated an extraordinary set of lawsuits now making their way through federal court and the courts of nine states, including Colorado.

On Jan. 14, in the case of Martinez v. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the Colorado Supreme Court denied the plaintiff’s motion to make the COGCC condition oil and gas development on protecting public health, safety and welfare, and the environment. (https://static1.squarespace.com/static/571d109b0442627 0152febe0/t/5c3cbbfaaa4a994017464835/1547484155208 /Colorado+Supreme+Court,+Martinez+Decision.pdf

Consider this ruling. It says that citizens’ rights to life, liberty and property are subordinate to industry’s right to pursue profit – no matter what dangers industry creates in the process, such as global ecosystem collapse.

COGCC claims its hands are tied. Here’s the systemic problem: existing environmental laws do not account for the new development of rising carbon levels causing irreparable climate damage. Instead, our laws “balance interests,” overall protecting the “right” of business to use our common, boundary-less atmosphere as a dumping ground for its waste.

We clearly need a legal paradigm shift. Our state Supreme Court’s narrow, lockstep ruling does not protect us citizens but rather protects indefinite carbon release by industry, no matter how harmful to our Earth – or to future life on it.

– Miriam Barton, Durango

Popular-vote bill needs vetting
03/14/2019

To the editor,

It was the unintended consequences question that affected my vote last week. As one of the most difficult, but researched, votes I have taken this year, I voted no on the National Popular Vote bill, SB19-042.

According to the mail I received, as well as one person who chose to call me at 5:45 in the morning, the vote should be simple, either a yes or no with no discussion. But that isn’t the way I saw it.

Some of my peers at the Legislature argued that they have been advocating for this issue for years. But in all the town halls I have held or attended in District 59, all the mail and email I have received (up to this year) and all the constituents I have met, no one mentioned this issue. Discussions may have been happening elsewhere.

The U.S. Constitution, in Article II, Section 1, gives each state’s Legislature the ability to determine how its  electoral representatives are chosen. This bill basically says that Colorado will join with other states to elect the president and vice president of the United States by an agreement called the National Popular Vote. Currently, if Candidate A receives 60 percent of Colorado’s votes, all electoral votes are delegated for that candidate. The other 40 percent of votes are irrelevant.

With the National Popular Vote, Colorado’s 60 percent would be added to all the other votes in the nation for Candidate A. The 40 percent would be added to all the other votes for Candidate B. One vote. One person. The electoral tally will follow the voters, and the candidate with the most votes wins.

Sounds easy, but it apparently isn’t. I have had many in-depth discussions with Democrats, Republicans and Independents, and they all had strong opinions for both sides of the issue. This issue is all new to me, so my learning curve was steep.

I question what some say is tweaking the Constitution. I question if this new way of delegating electoral delegates will work. I question if this will finally induce candidates to visit every state, not just those with the largest number of electoral votes, as promised.

It feels like we should discuss the issue more. If Colorado votes to join this group, we will join 11 other states and the District of Columbia in the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which will take place once it has 270 electoral votes, the number needed to win the presidency. The Senate passed it 19-16, the House passed it 34-29, and the Governor said he will sign it.

Colorado, with nine electoral votes, will raise the current total to 181.

So, unless several other states join in, this compact won’t take effect until, perhaps, 2024. I would like to see much more discussion before then.

Many opponents said this is a Democrat Party issue, and I can see their point. In the last election, Democrat Hillary Clinton won 3 million more votes nationally than Republican President Trump. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote, but lost to Republican George W. Bush. But, they join winning candidates Democrat-Republican John Quincy Adams in 1824, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 and Republican Benjamin Harrison in 1888.

Others say that until the United States has uniform registration and voting rules, we will all be subject to voter fraud. Colorado, as many pointed out during debate, has an excellent record of clean elections, but they feared other states would taint our positive results.

I’d like to list the unintended consequences but, then, they wouldn’t be unintended any more. The premise of SB19-042 is interesting, but I want more discussion, more debate and more data.

– Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango

Knowing the facts about 1A
03/14/2019

To the editor,

The supporters of Ballot Question 1A are backpedaling because “misinformation” came out that refutes the argument that more tax money is needed. The piece of information they are calling “misinformation” is that sales tax revenues have been increasing since 2011. Supporters of 1A have incorrectly been stating sales tax revenues are decreasing. They even had the audacity to include it in the ballot informational booklet that went to every voter. But that isn’t all the misinformation the supporters of 1A are using to try to get more money.

With the revenue argument debunked, supporters of 1A now say that expenses related to capital projects such as asphalt and concrete are increasing too fast. But this year, the City isn’t spending any money on capital projects. Last year they said they didn’t spend any money on capital projects either. Rising construction costs would only be relevant if they spent money on construction projects.

The money the City made from increased sales tax revenue and the savings by foregoing construction projects was largely spent on increasing personnel costs. The City knows that it is easy to hire people, but very difficult to fire people. The City intentionally increased their personnel costs the last few years so that this Council would have the best opportunity to increase taxes. They inflated the Parks and Rec personnel from 24 employees to 36 employees the last eight years because many people consider Parks and Rec sacred. They added five new Parks and Rec employees last year. Couldn’t we have discussed our priorities and that another police officer might be more important than five more Parks and Rec employees?

I believe it is intellectually dishonest that the supporters of 1A use the declining oil and gas revenue problem to support this tax. Voters should know that the City doesn’t directly receive significant revenues from oil and gas like the County. The City is trying to use the County’s problem to garner support for 1A.

This isn’t “strictly streets.” The City admits that if this tax passes, they will be able to replenish general fund reserves to be spent on things other than streets. Replenishing the reserves will be possible because streets already receive millions of dollars, and the new tax money will supplant the money already spent on streets. The beneficiaries of this tax will be other departments like the City Manager, Parks and Rec or Finance. If the City would have taken public comments on the ballot language, we could have limited this tax to only capital projects.

The City Manager recommended three members of the community to serve on the citizen’s budget advisory board. Doesn’t it make more sense to select members of the community who may not agree with the current direction of the City? And have the board report to the Council, not the City Manager? The advisory boards have become support boards. There is rarely a discussion where there is back and forth between people with different opinions. The City is asking you to trust them with your money because after years of delay, they formed a substandard advisory board.

Before you vote on 1A, make sure you know why the City needs the money and what they plan to do with it. I voted to increase taxes back in 2015, but I didn’t know of all the problems that were being created. Vote no on 1A. And be sure to vote; don’t just throw your ballot away because you don’t agree with the tax increase.

– John Simpson, Durango