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 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.)