New taxes are never easy propositions.
This is especially true in Glenwood Springs and the lower Roaring Fork Valley, where it seems we’ve been hit with a “bomb cyclone” of tax proposals in recent years, to borrow the weather term d’jour.
The latest tax proposal — a new ¾-cent city sales tax to cover the estimated $56 million cost to rebuild some 43 miles of city streets and underground utilities — is another storm cloud looming near on the horizon.
The questions at hand:
Do we try to skirt it, like maneuvering around all the potholes cropping up on our streets only to hit the next one?
Or, do we just hit it head on and suck up the cost to do the necessary streets overhaul?
It’s not an easy choice.
We’ve listened closely to both sides of this issue, and have taken all points to heart in our endorsement of Ballot Issues A (sales tax) and B (bonding authority) on the April 2 city ballot.
The reality is, Glenwood Springs’ streets are in bad shape; many of them to the point of “failing,” according to our expert engineers’ evaluation of the situation.
For both sides of the tax issue, it came down to “wants” and “needs.”
The opposition cites historical bad decisions by the city and concerns about economic impact of being the second highest taxed place in the area if the tax passes, at 9.35 percent (10.99 percent at Glenwood Meadows).
They also say there should be funding in the city’s approximately $90 million overall budget to be found.
Perhaps better decisions could have been made in the past with regard to spending the existing ½-cent streets maintenance tax, or the special 1-cent Acquisitions/Improvements (A&I) tax fund.
That’s water under the bridge, and the very urgent problem at hand is that the streets need to be fixed. And, part of the equation here is that we really need at least one or two more of those bridges.
Opponents suggest that some of the major projects outlined when voters agreed in 2016 to renew the A&I tax for another 30 years could be suspended in lieu of rebuilding city streets.
One of those projects, the 27th Street (Sunlight) Bridge replacement, is already under way. A second, the planned rebuild of South Midland Avenue from 27th Street to Four Mile Road, is budgeted and ready to go, thanks in large part to a $7 million federal grant that the city was fortunate to obtain.
Other projects outlined in the A&I proposal that have not yet been budgeted include construction of the “riverwalk” and related amenities as part of the confluence-area redevelopment, construction of the Sixth Street corridor “Gateway to Glenwood” improvements, and the massive South Bridge project.
The problem with what’s left is, the South Bridge project is not a “want,” in our opinion, it is a “need.” And, the money saved by waiting to do the other projects would pale compared to what’s needed to rebuild streets.
Should the city “borrow from Peter to pay Paul,” as Fix Our Streets Now committee representative and City Councilor Jonathan Godes offered during the Issues and Answers Forum earlier this week? We think not.
The possibility of closing the Rec Center to save $1 million a year, or limiting hours or increasing fees, has been cited as a funding source. That is a “want” for our community, but one that is important to many people. Even saving $1 million a year for streets, it would not keep up with what is needed.
If we do a property mill levy as an optional funding source, the cost to Glenwood residents and business owners would be far greater than a sales tax. And, a majority of sales taxes are paid by non-Glenwood residents and tourists.
We fully understand the opposition. Some of us on the editorial board oppose it. More taxes are not easy to swallow.
Regardless if you vote yes or no on this issue, there is a cost to pay.
If you vote yes, we have a higher sales tax and the potential of dollars leaving our community for lower tax rates elsewhere.
If you vote no, we will have streets in disrepair with no clear vision to fix them, associated costs of damage done to your vehicles playing dodgeball with potholes, and the very real potential for expensive emergency repairs if a street fails or water line breaks.
We urge you to vote yes.
At the same time, we urge all residents to hold your elected City Council members more accountable for this and other city taxing and spending decisions in the future.
The city’s budget documents are cumbersome and not easy to read or understand. That must change.
As the ones who will be paying this and other city taxes, it’s incumbent on every tax-paying resident to demand clear answers about where our tax dollars are going.
We, as the watchdogs of our local government, intend to do the same.