Soap Box

Breaking down the math of 1A

To the editor,

Ballot Issue 1A poses a difficult choice for Durango voters on how to maintain basic functions supported by the city’s General Fund. Here are relevant facts.

The 2019 General Fund budget includes $40.9M in expenses. However, offsetting revenues plus contractual obligations (e.g. fire protection) account for $17.5M, leaving $23.4M for potential reallocation. Of this, half goes to the net costs (expense minus revenue) of the Police Department, 911 Communications Center and streets. According to a recent workload study, the Police Department needs more officers, not fewer. Unmet street needs are the focus of 1A. Excluding these important expenditures would leave just $11.7M.

The now unfunded Streets Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) proposes at least $2M per year in upgrades, in addition to already budgeted maintenance. (For details, see To fund the CIP from the General Fund would require roughly 17 percent cuts elsewhere. Because about 60 percent of expenses are personnel costs, 17 percent reallocation would require layoffs and service reductions. Significant layoffs occurred during the last recession. If such cuts now happen in “good” times, what option would remain when the next recession hits?

Some opponents of 1A propose reallocating revenues from the 2015 Sales Tax Fund. They would suspend Parks and Rec capital investments, instead funding general P&R operations. This strategy of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” would not address the underlying problem of revenue growth failing to keep up with expenses. Moreover, many of the 70 percent of voters who approved the 2015 initiative would regard this choice as a betrayal. Subject to decisions by future councils, the “temporary” diversion could  become permanent, further undermining public trust.

Defeat of Ballot Issue 1A would force the new City Council to make extremely challenging decisions to fund the multi-year street CIP and avoid much larger future costs. Given likely competing tax initiatives in November, the next realistic opportunity to approach Durango voters will not come until the 2021 city election. Alternatively, passage of 1A would allow restoration of a “rainy day” fund and afford the community two years to come together to identify a sustainable fiscal strategy. This would enable the new City Council, rather than engaging in damage control, to focus on building a better Durango.

– Dick White, Durango City Council

Forward-thinking leadership

To the editor,

I am supporting Barbara Noseworthy and Kim Baxter for City Council due to their varied and impressive professional experience, which they will use to provide leadership and vision to tackle Durango’s challenging financial and social issues. I have known Noseworthy personally for some time and know her to be thoughtful, focused, committed, ready to listen to concerns from the entire community, and with a wealth of knowledge and expertise invaluable to the City Council. She believes that people want their government to be transparent, accountable and sustainable.

While I do not know Baxter personally, I have been impressed with her likewise thoughtful responses in forums and with her experience, and I believe she shares similar values that can provide thoughtful and forward-thinking leadership.

Please take time to read and hear the candidates for City Council and consider voting for these two candidates.

– Charlotte Deters, Durango

Maintaining quality of life

To the editor,

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 1A “Strictly Streets” ballot measure in April.

Curbs, gutters, sidewalks, alleys, construction, operation and maintenance of streets is on the ballot and sunsets in 10 years. The proposed half-cent tax, or $.50 on a $100 purchase, would have citizen advisory board oversight.

The 1A language dictates exactly how the funds would be used. A sales tax was proposed rather than a property tax because Council listened to citizens, and a property tax disproportionately impacts small business.

1A is specific, narrow in scope, short in term and what citizens requested from the Council. The street department operates in the General Fund, which is supported by sales tax. Shopping locally supports not only our wonderful businesses but also the General Fund.

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 Fund.

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 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 Fund.

Pot holes 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, N. College Drive, Sawmill Drive, E. 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 treatment or overlays. The longer street maintenance is deferred the more expensive the repairs become (up to eight times or $2-$4 million each year we wait).

Shopping on the Internet, the decline of the oil and gas industry, and Fort Lewis College enrollment has all negatively impacted sales tax revenue over the last three years. With 1A, visitors, 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. Passing 1A will preserve the 2015 sales tax, passed with

70 percent approval, dedicated to parks, recreation, natural lands and multimodal projects. Voters want to maintain and grow what we have to promote healthy lifestyles, protect environmental resources, and foster economic vitality.

Robbing the P&R funds to pay for streets, as has been proposed, would violate the public trust and short change future projects like Lake Nighthorse, Needham Elementary Connect, the SMART 160 Trail, the Animas River Trail and the Camino, among others.

Good streets, ADA ramp and sidewalk improvements, benefit everyone who walks, runs, drives to work, shops, uses a wheel chair, or pushes a baby stroller.

The 1A vote is up to you. I’m voting “yes.”

– Mayor Sweetie Marbury, Durango

It's your electric co-op – own it

To the editor,

If you want to find out which candidates for the LPEA Board care about sustainable energy use, it makes sense to ask local environmental organizations such as San Juan Citizens Alliance, right? Jack Turner and Jeff Mannix are reliably green. They understand that clean, renewable energy is also cheaper, creates jobs and can keep millions in our local economy – all good stuff. Sadly, their opponents “talk green” only at election season. Your clarity about each candidate’s real intentions is vital.

It’s important to vote! Don’t toss away your ballot! Here’s why:

We’re used to paying our bills to corporations that lie beyond our community. Corporations are designed for profit, not democracy. We think of our monthly bill to LPEA as just another bill, like those paid to corporations that draw wealth out of Southwest Colorado.

But think about this: LPEA is a cooperative, owned commonly by us member/owners. It cannot generate or extract profit. Instead, it’s designed to meet rural members’ energy needs, as cheaply, reliably and safely as it can.

Most significantly, LPEA is by design democratic. We own it, and we control it.

Control offers choice – and also equals responsibility. We member/owners share an obligation to make good choices about how we access electricity. We shouldn’t mindlessly bumble along a path, simply because it is already under our feet, or because it saves us the trouble of having to think carefully about options. Make sense? I

owned a ‘65 Barracuda, in bad shape and a gas hog – my sweet car. But the time came when I had to let go and get one more efficient to commute in.

We’re the first generations on Earth to ever confront an existential threat like climate change. The magnitude and staggering significance of climate destruction is so overwhelming that some of us deny its reality. Others mouth the words but are frozen in old habits. Don’t blame or be judgmental – it’s not useful. Be kind. Meanwhile, let’s shake off our shock and get busy.

The first and best step is to locally change the ways we damage our climate. Our current provider, Tri-State, burns around 350,000 tons of coal to generate our electricity. At around 3⁄4 carbon content, that coal emits nearly half a million tons of carbon dioxide. This is low-hanging fruit that we have control over.

And now, economics are on our side: installing renewables ground-up is cheaper than simply operating existing coal plants, according to Pacificorp, the largest operator of coal plants in the Western U.S. That’s particularly significant, since Tri-State (in a restrictive contract until 2050) generates almost 60 percent of its electricity from coal, twice the U.S. average. Meanwhile, many other utilities are making dramatic changes to their portfolio, including Xcel here in Colorado, announcing plans for 100 percent renewable energy.

We Americans have become passive in our usual, depowering relationships. We click away our rights to corporate entities, signing contracts so long and dense they’re unreadable.

But we need to wake the heck up. LPEA is a portal to self-determination. We can install community-owned energy generation, with important benefits that will pass on to our kids and grandkids. These benefits include local, well-paying jobs; recirculating in our local economy the $70 million per year that we currently send to Denver; and sovereignty over our future, with decision-making in-house. Perhaps most importantly, the vital knowledge that we are not continuing to rape our young by continuing our foolish coal-burning habits.

Ballots are mailed April 2 – your vote and awareness are crucial. Get involved, or more involved. If you understand the magnitude of these issues, stepping up and becoming active in creating positive change is the antidote! Visit San Juan Citizens Alliance website for more information and “Renewable Energy Durango” on Facebook.

On Sat. March 23, from 3:15-5:45 p.m., come hear what is happening with your electric cooperative at the Durango Public Library. Presentations and a panel discussion by LPEA directors (speaking on their own behalf, not as representatives of LPEA) and Dick White will illuminate topics such as how power markets operate; what our options are as a cooperative; the risks of no change; and how Durango can join the growing list of cities making real progress toward 100 percent renewable energy.

– Kirby MacLaurin, Durango (please see links online)

More to lose by not voting for 1A

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 and the

city’s website “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.)