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Glenwood Springs council candidates opposed to street tax question spending

While the majority of Glenwood Springs City Council candidates support the ¾-cent street sales tax question being posed to voters in the April 2 municipal election, three are on record as opposing it.

At-large candidate Tony Hershey, Ward 4 candidate Paula Stepp, who is unopposed, and Ward 3 candidate Jennifer Vanian have all three stated their opposition to the proposed tax increase.

Ballot Issue A on the city ballot seeks a 3/4-cent increase in the city’s sales tax rate to fund $56 million in needed street rebuilding and repairs, along with underground utility upgrades, over the next decade.

Hershey has been the most vocal opponent of the proposal among the candidates, asserting that the city must tighten the belt on its spending habits. He says that spending often favors council wants instead of city needs.

Before asking voters to support any new tax, projects like the Seventh Street beautification should be heavily scrutinized, he says.

“We have to make streets a priority,” Hershey said. “Police and streets, those are the two things this government has to provide.

“If we have $65 million in revenues and $55 million in expenditures, that sounds like we have money to fix the streets,” he said in reference to figures pulled from the 2019 city budget.

Hershey said he was not insinuating that a $10 million surplus existed. Rather, he said he is just pointing out that the city was not facing a budget crisis.

He said he just wants to see more fiscal responsibility exhibited within the city’s financial parameters.

According to city officials, in 2019, the city’s general fund does have a $101,000 budget surplus forecasted.

And, a claim by Hershey that $2 million a year could be set aside from the general fund and used to issue bonds for the street work without raising taxes is questionable, because any bonding against general fund dollars would require voter approval.

A separate question before voters, Ballot Issue B, seeks authority for up to $16 million in bonding against the new sales tax revenues, as a way to fast-track the projects.

Hershey’s two opponents for the at-large seat, incumbent Jim Ingraham and challenger Erika Gibson, have both said they support the tax proposal as the best way to rebuild and fix city streets — several of which have been deemed as “failing” — and to bring the underground utilities up to par, and in the shortest amount of time.

They and other tax supporters have said that any amount of money that might be shaken loose from the current city budget each year would pale in comparison to the $56 million needed to do the infrastructure work without compromising other city projects.

“I have not heard any other reasonable solution put forth,” Ingraham said in an earlier question-and-answer interview with the candidates. “Doing nothing is not only unreasonable, it is an abdication of our fundamental government responsibility.

“Grousing about past decisions, about how competing priorities were decided in the past, might make some folks feel good. But it won’t fix the problem.”

Tax supporters, including current City Council members and appointed members of the city’s Financial Advisory Board, have pledged that the tax will go away when the work is completed. The proposal calls for all of the street work to be completed within 10 to 12 years.

“It simply is not possible to find enough money within existing revenues to fix our streets,” tax proponents claim on their campaign website. “To meet a $56 million street replacement and repair schedule would require diverting one-third of total revenues ($5.6 million each year for 10 years) and would decimate current levels of city service.”

QUESTION OF PRIORITIES

“We are going to have to make some choices that do not include fountains, festival streets and statues,” Hershey said, referring to some of the amenities associated with the Seventh Street project. “We have to make better choices. That is my bottom line.”

The anti-street-tax Committee for Responsible Taxation, led by former City Council member Ted Edmonds, agrees that the city’s street network needs serious attention.

However, it also says the city should divert special Acquisition and Improvement tax funds from other projects, such as the future South Bridge project and some of the downtown redevelopment efforts, to focus on street needs first.

“The Acquisition and Improvement Fund has bonding capacity sufficient to provide the funds to begin the reconstruction of our streets,” the opposing committee claims on its campaign website. “This would give the city time and experience to consider the proper taxation to continue the work.”

For now, though, a 3/4-cent increase to the city’s sales tax, making Glenwood’s sales tax rate one of the highest in the area at 9.35 percent, is too much to ask, opponents have said.

OTHER CANDIDATE CONCERNS

Hershey has vehemently opposed the street sales tax since formally announcing his candidacy in mid-January. That’s when City Council voted in favor of putting the tax initiative on the ballot.

Ward 4 candidate Paula Stepp had not taken a formal yes or no position on the ¾-cent street sales tax question, until the days leading up to the Imagine Glenwood forum on March 19, she said.

“We asked for a street maintenance tax in 2005, we were asked to renew the A&I fund in 2016, and I think the citizens have been pretty forthcoming on how taxes support the city,” Stepp said Wednesday. “But I am wondering what else we can do besides that.”

Stepp explained that her stance against the new street tax was not intended as a jab at the current City Council, but rather she says she wanted more questions answered and ideas generated before asking residents to support yet another tax.

“When we passed that maintenance street tax in 2005, what did we do before we got that ½-cent street tax, and how were we taking care of our maintenance, our snowplowing, and the other things that we needed to do with our streets?” inquired Stepp, who is running uncontested for the seat being vacated by Michael Gamba due to term limits.

“Was that part of the general fund, and can we be looking at that again? That is my first question,” she said.

Stepp, who ran unsuccessfully last year for Garfield County commissioner, also wanted a more robust conversation about the county’s role as it pertained to former county roads that were annexed into the city over the years.

“When I am told that we took over streets in annexation, and those streets were in disrepair, was there any agreement with the county [that it] would help [the city of Glenwood Springs] with the maintenance?” Stepp asked. “Where is the partnership with the county?”

While Stepp did not dispute the $56 million projected cost to fix the city’s streets, but she believes the proposed tax was rushed without looking at all possible alternatives first.

“If it doesn’t pass, then what is our next step? I want to see that, as well,” Stepp said.

Ward 3 candidate Jennifer Vanian, running against Charlie Willman and Ksana Oglesby for the council seat being vacated by term-limited Councilman Todd Leahy, has also recently come out against the street tax question.

Willman and Oglesby both support the tax measure, joining Ingraham and Gibson in saying it’s the best way to move forward on the street work as quickly as possible without cutting into other important projects.

Vanian, however, thought it was odd for the current council to spend taxpayer money on beautification projects, only to later ask constituents for additional money to rebuild and fix the city’s streets.

“You can see it with projects from Seventh Street … to Two Rivers Park,” Vanian stated. “Some of those projects should have the flourishing touches looked at again, and make sure they are in the best long-term interest, as fixing the streets certainly are.”

The other current City Council member who is running unopposed for re-election, Ward 1 representative Steve Davis, also sided with the council majority in favor of putting the tax question before voters.

mabennett@postindependent.com

Street tax looms over Glenwood At-Large council debate

Three candidates for the At-Large City Council seat presented their visions for Glenwood Springs and discussed a wide range of issues Monday. But the most prevalent topic to arise at the Issues and Answers forum was the proposed street tax and bond referendum also on the April 2 ballot.

Voters throughout the city elect the At-Large councilor seats. Questions at the forum, sponsored by the Glenwood Springs Chamber and Resort Association, KMTS and the Post Independent, touched on many specific issues, including the Glenwood Springs Mall, the city airport, South Canyon Landfill, short-term vacation rentals, and encouraging a diverse economy.

The candidates on the ballot, Jim Ingraham, the incumbent appointed to the seat in 2018, local water attorney Erika Gibson, and prosecuting attorney Tony Hershey, each had two-minute opening and closing statements, and one minute to answer each posed questions.

Ingraham quoted Winston Churchill in his opening statement: “Politics isn’t a game, it is earnest business.” He said he is not politically ambitious, but decided to run for reelection on the advice of constituents who said he was “a good listener, thoughtful, communicated well.”

Gibson, who moved to Glenwood Springs three years ago, said her vision is to make the city more viable for the next generation.

“As much as we want to be in Glenwood, I am currently experiencing how hard it is to live here. It’s not just affordable rentals; it is trying to find a place to start your first home. I want affordability to be a more consistent focus for City Council,” Gibson said.

As the only candidate for City Council opposed to the street tax, Hershey made his position clear.

“I think this City Council has abdicated its responsibility,” in not keeping up with street maintenance, which will now cost $56 million, Hershey said.

Hershey said he had identified $2 million in the current budget that could be used immediately to repair streets without a sales tax.

“If I sound like a broken record, it’s because I am. If we raise our sales tax, people are going to go shopping in Rifle, in Eagle, in Grand Junction, even in Aspen,” Hershey said in answer to one of the questions.

If passed, the sales tax would push the city’s tax rate to 9.35 percent, the highest in the region besides Snowmass Village, which has a rate of 10.4 percent. The sales tax rate at Glenwood Meadows, which has an extra 1.5 percent public improvements fee, would jump to more than 10.9 percent, at least until 2025 when the PIF is set to expire.

Hershey offered that money from the Seventh Street project and funds from other parts of the budget (he mentioned that an intern was being paid who didn’t need to be) could be used to bond for the street restoration without a tax.

As a current member of the council, Ingraham defended the work of the city in the past year, noting the completion of the Grand Avenue Bridge, restoration started on 27th Street, Seventh Street beautification, Veltus Park improvements, the Hanging Lake shuttle, and a plan for fixing the infrastructure.

Regarding the Seventh Street project, “it was worthwhile to spend a couple extra million to make it a very nice, attractive space,” Ingraham said.

“A lot of good things have been accomplished in the last year by [the council] working together a coming up with practical solutions,” Ingraham said.

“What could this council do much better? Communicating with its citizens,” he said.

Gibson mostly agreed with Ingraham that the sales tax was the only solution to fix the roads, and that Seventh Street needed the money to be activated, particularly after the bridge reconstruction. But she also noted that the cost of the project and some of the processes concerned citizens.

“I think it’s now time to focus our efforts elsewhere,” she said.

On other issues, there was far less disagreement. Hershey did criticize the Urban Renewal Authority being formed to encompass the West Glenwood mall property as a “bailout” of a private business owner who made a bad decision.

Ingraham said it was not about a bailout, but an act to fix a blighted area. Gibson said what started out as a contract issue “turned into a problem for our community,” and now the area has real potential.

tphippen@postindependent.com

(Editor’s note: This story has been revised from the print version to more accurately reflect the exact sales tax rates that are being proposed.)

Glenwood street tax debate explores both sides of the road

Former Glenwood Springs city councilman Ted Edmonds and current City Councilor Jonathan Godes sparred over the proposed ¾-cent streets sales tax question at Monday night’s Issues and Answers Forum.

Edmonds, representing the Committee for Responsible Taxation, and Godes, on behalf of the Campaign to Fix Our Streets Now, fielded questions pertaining to the ramifications should the tax proposal fail, the potential impacts of an overall sales tax rate of 9.35 percent should it pass, and the tax’s specific ballot language.

KMTS News Director Ron Milhorn, who served as the forum’s moderator, asked each campaign representative what would happen should the voters reject the sales tax and how a followup solution might look.

“Construction costs go up 5 percent every year, the roads will continue to degrade, and we are not going to have a $56 million dollar ask, we will have a $65 million dollar ask,” Godes answered.

Godes said a possible alternative, should the ¾-cent sales tax not pass, may come in the form of a property tax. But he called that scenario problematic, citing that 100 percent of the burden would then fall on Glenwood’s property owners.

Reiterating what the Fix Our Streets Now campaign has stated, Godes said that with a new sales tax, 73 percent would be paid for by tourists and visitors, whereas 27 percent would get funded by city residents, according to Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association estimations.

“It is the definition of having the tourists pay for our community improvements,” Godes said.

Edmonds pushed back saying that, should the new sales tax pass, Glenwood would then have the second-highest overall sales tax rate in the Roaring Fork Valley.

He was particularly concerned as to what such an increase would mean for retail businesses at Glenwood Meadows, which generates a healthy amount of sales tax and has an additional public improvement fee (PIF) in place.

“I think it gets a little more intense when you get up around 11 percent for a new refrigerator, stove, and some of those larger items,” Edmonds said of shopping in stores such as Lowe’s. “If you really believe that having our sales tax be higher than any of our neighbors is not going to impact the business community in this town … I am going to have to disagree.”

A ¾-cent increase would bring Glenwood’s total sales tax rate to 9.35 percent. It would be the second-highest rate in the Roaring Fork Valley, behind only that of Snowmass Village’s rate of 10.4 percent.

Godes countered, however, that in the rest of the city where a PIF is not instituted, if one were to purchase a $10 sub and chips, they would pay 7.5 extra cents.

“And, you know what I get to do, I get to drive home on roads and not bottom out, not wreck my front end suspension … that is the impact that I am focused on, not the extra seven and a half cents for the sub,” Godes said.

Milhorn also inquired about the fact that a 0.75 percent tax that collects $4.5 million annually over 20 years equals $90 million, as spelled out in the ballot question, whereas replacing the city’s streets and their underlying utility infrastructure has an estimated cost of $56 million.

That language is required by the state’s TABOR law, which requires tax measures to estimate the most the tax could generate over 10 years, Godes explained. The tax is only meant to generate what’s needed for the identified streets projects, which is $56 million, he said.

Godes also cited “off-ramps in the next 10 years,” when both the existing PIF and ½-cent street tax currently in place, unless renewed, would go away in 2025 and 2026, respectively.

“The ultimate off ramp is, when it’s done in 10 years it expires. It is done. It is automatically repealed by TABOR law,” Godes said.

Edmonds countered that the ballot language was not specific and subject to different legal interpretations. As a result, it may land the city in a lawsuit down the road, he said.

“It does leave the door open for a future council, none of whom are on council now, to make decisions about this,” Edmonds said. “I know Jonathan disagrees, but this is one of those things where I say the lawyers are eventually going to have to deal with that.”

mabennett@postindependent.com

Glenwood’s $56M streets question is city’s biggest dollar ask ever

Ballots for Glenwood Springs’ municipal election go out Monday, and on them voters are being asked a $56 million question in the form of a new 3/4-cent, or 0.75 percent, sales tax to fix the city’s streets and utility infrastructure.It’s the biggest dollar ask ever in the city’s history, eclipsing the voter-approved Acquisitions and Improvements (A&I) tax renewal in November 2016. At the time that measure was approved, it included a $54 million bond issue, but even that amount was later adjusted downward.Earlier this year, City Council, following unanimous recommendations from the city’s Financial Advisory Board and Transportation Commission, approved putting the ¾-cent sales tax increase question before city voters. It would sunset after 20 years, or as soon as the specified streets and underlying utility work is completed.

A separate ballot question seeks authority to cover the cost of the proposed streets and utility projects through a $56 million bond issue.

Much of the public debate in recent months, and some inherent confusion among residents, has centered on South Midland Avenue, which is already slated to be reconstructed aside from the new tax ask.The new ¾-cent tax would not fund that street rebuilding project at all, supporters have had to clarify during the campaign. Instead, a portion of  the 2016 A&I sales tax renewal, in addition to last year’s $7 million federal Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant that was obtained by the city will go toward South Midland’s reconstruction.Instead, the ¾-cent tax will go toward “every other neighborhood street throughout the community,” supporters including Jonathan Godes, a current City Council member, and former Councilor Kathryn Trauger, said in a recent interview.Additionally, they pointed out that $14 million of the $56 million ask will go toward rebuilding and improving the underlying utilities beneath the streets, including “storm sewers, sewers, water mains, electrical upgrades, and broadband conduit.”The pro-streets tax campaign, Fix Our Streets Now, has touted the new sales tax as being as close to a free ride as Glenwood Springs residents will get for fixing its streets, since studies show the vast majority of sales taxes are paid by visitors and out-of-town residents who come to Glenwood to shop.

questions arise

Opponents, including the Committee for Responsible Taxation campaign, have noted that the tax would bring Glenwood’s overall sales tax rate to one of the highest in the Roaring Fork Valley, and also question the city’s past spending habits in general.

The opposing committee has said the city should consider other funding mechanisms besides a sales tax, or wait for a future election year to build support for the proposal.

According to supporters, city residents would pay 27 percent of the $56 million generated from the tax, if it passes. Visitors and tourists, on the other had, would fund 73 percent of it, supporters say.Census.gov, as of July 1, 2017 — the most up-to-date census information — shows the city of Glenwood Springs had an estimated population of 9,962. Comparatively, over two million tourists visit Glenwood Springs annually, plus visitors from other Garfield County communities and nearby Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties, who come here to shop and play.A ¾-cent increase would bring Glenwood’s sales tax rate to 9.35 percent, the second-highest in the Roaring Fork Valley, only behind that of Snowmass Village’s rate of 10.4 percent. The ¾-cent increase would also make Glenwood sales tax rate very similar to Aspen’s, which amounts to 9.30 percent.Godes called the sales tax increase, “a very reasonable investment.”Citing the Internal Revenue Service’s 2018 sales tax deduction calculator, supporters in their campaign literature say that, “A family of four with an annual income between $60,000 and $70,000 would pay an additional $87.15 in retail sales tax annually to support this measure, or $7.26 each month, or about 24 cents a day.”

‘wants’ vs. ‘needs’

Opponents, however, question the city’s spending habits in general; in particular the money the current council has put toward projects like the Seventh Street beautification.In January, councilors awarded local contractor Gould Construction the first three phases of work of streetscape improvements for Seventh Street. Two of those phases were labeled as “beautification.” Combined, those two specific phases carried a price tag of approximately $1.62 million.Both sides agree that $1.62 million would do little in regards to fixing the 43 miles of streets in Glenwood, many of which have been rated as “failing.” However, opponents of the new tax point it out as an example of the city spending money unwisely on wants as opposed to critical needs.Opponents also question where the money from the existing ½-cent streets tax has gone.That money is designated for “maintenance, snow removal, striping, crack sealing, signage, traffic calming, street sweeping,” and other street related maintenance projects, supporters of the new street rebuilding fund argue.Occasionally, money from the existing ½-cent streets tax has gone toward reconstructing a street completely, Godes and Trauger said. But, by and large, it serves as a maintenance fund, they said.mabennett@postindependent.com

Glenwood Springs’ Issues & Answers Forum Monday night

Glenwood Springs’ Issues and Answers Night takes place Monday evening, inviting City Council candidates to share their views and providing a forum for supporters and opponents of the proposed 3/4-cent (0.75 percent) streets tax to debate the topic.

Ballots for the April 2 city election are being mailed to all registered voters in Glenwood Springs on Monday.

Moderated by KMTS News Director Ron Milhorn, the event begins at 5 p.m. Monday at Glenwood Springs City Hall, located at 101 W. Eigth St. It will also be streamed live on KMTS’ YouTube channel.

According to Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association President and CEO Angie Anderson, all six of the At Large and Ward 3 candidates are expected to be on hand to field questions in their respective debates.

The At Large race includes Tony Hershey, who works as a deputy district attorney for the 9th District Attorney’s Office; Erika Gibson, an attorney with the law firm Balcomb and Green; and current At Large City Councilor Jim Ingraham, a retired finance professional who will seek formal election to the seat. Ingraham was appointed to the seat last year following the resignation of former councilor Kathryn Trauger.

“Each candidate or issue representative has been asked to prepare a brief, 2-minute opening statement and 2-minute closing statement,” Anderson said. “There will be one minute assigned for answering questions asked by the moderator.”

According to Anderson, organizers have prepared and collected questions from community members in advance.

“[The questions] will be sorted by a media panel to avoid duplication and to ensure that a wide variety of topics are addressed in the short period of time,” Anderson said.

The Ward 3 (east and north sides of downtown) race includes Ksana Oglesby, who works for Mountain Valley Developmental Services; local attorney Charlie Willman, a 2016 candidate for one of the two At-Large City Council seats; and longtime community activist Jennifer Vanian. The Ward 3 seat is being vacated by Todd Leahy, who is term-limited.

Running uncontested for the Ward 4 seat is Paula Stepp, a candidate for Garfield County commissioner last fall. She will provide a 5-minute statement. The Ward 4 seat is being vacated by current Mayor Michael Gamba, who is also term-limited.

Current Ward 1 Councilor Steve Davis, also running unopposed, is unable to attend the event, Anderson said.

The election forum will also feature a debate regarding the city’s proposed ¾-cent streets sales tax, which would raise $56 million over 20 years to rebuild failing streets and underground utilities throughout Glenwood.

Jonathan Godes, representing the campaign to Fix Our Streets, and Ted Edmonds, representing the Committee For Responsible Taxation, will provide the pro and con perspectives for this portion of the event.

“They will follow the same format as the candidates,” Anderson said. “I hope that Issues and Answers helps voters to make an informed decision in the election. The event provides a great opportunity for voters to hear from all the candidates and issue representatives at once, providing insights into similarities and differences.”

The Post Independent will also be providing coverage of the event, including Facebook live video of some segments.

mabennett@postindependent.com

Dueling street tax campaigns hit the pavement in Glenwood Springs

Proponents and opponents of the Glenwood Springs streets sales tax question have hit the streets themselves to try to sway voters one way or the other on the upcoming city ballot question.

Earlier this year, Glenwood City Council decided to go to the voters in the April 2 election, asking for a new 0.75 percent sales tax proposal with a 20-year sunset and bonding capacity to fix the city’s streets.

Should the city complete the anticipated work before the tax actually sunsets, the tax would subsequently end, too.

Ballots for the city election, in which voters also will decide on candidates for four City Council seats, two of them contested, are to be sent out to registered voters on March 11.

“The thinking is, let us make this an infrastructure ask,” said City Councilor Jonathan Godes, who supports the proposed street sales tax.

“It is not just a streets bill,” he said. “When we get this project done in a decade we will have completely modern infrastructure, all the conduit for broadband, and water and storm sewers that are ready to go.

“It will be like we have built a brand new city, and to not address that now and try to save $14 million along the way, I think is just malfeasance.”

Opponents of the measure still have plenty of questions themselves — namely, why funds from the existing 0.5 percent streets tax already in place haven’t gone to fix the “perpetual potholes and dangerous road surfaces” as mentioned on the pro-tax fixourstreetsnow.org website.

“It is just not enough money,” Godes said of the current sales tax that’s also set to expire in 2026.

“It is a maintenance tax, number one,” he said. “We have annexed a number of streets over the years. These streets need complete rebuilds and are not up to the city’s necessary street standards.”

Should the 0.75 percent sales tax pass this April, it would bring the in-city sales tax rate to 9.35 percent when factoring in the various sales taxes that are assessed.

Comparatively, Aspen’s combined sales tax rate comes in at 9.3 percent; Basalt’s amounts to 8.2 percent; Snowmass Village’s is 10.4 percent; and Carbondale’s is 8.4 percent.

The thought of Glenwood Springs’ sales taxes being the second highest in the entire Roaring Fork Valley has many residents and business owners concerned, said Ted Edmonds, a former City Council member and head of the Committee for Responsible Taxation, which opposes the measure.

“Essentially, the city has various pots of money,” Edmonds said. “We have a street tax, and the Acquisitions and Improvements tax, and my concern is that if we were to raise the sales tax that we would have the second-highest sales tax on the Western Slope.

“At some point, the consumer begins to look around.”

Edmonds said he agrees the city needs to fix its streets, but, between the existing street tax and the proposed street tax, the amount raised, according to Edmonds, would amount to well over the city’s budget for fixing its streets.

Counters Godes, “If you want to live in a community that has all of the natural beauty that Glenwood has, but also has the challenges of two rivers, two railroads, a significant highway, and a major interstate — it costs money.

“To have all of these factors bisect the heart of our town, geographic and man made, it is really challenging.”

Edmonds worries the new tax might impact consumer behavior, to Glenwood’s detriment.

“Before we proceed with any additional tax we need to make sure we are spending the current revenue wisely,” Edmonds said.

mabennett@postindependent.com

Glenwood proceeds with April street tax question, sans Chamber support

The Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association (GSCRA) and its ad hoc political committee Community on the Move will not get on board with the 0.75 percent street sales tax question headed to Glenwood voters as part of the upcoming municipal election.

Ian Exelbert, chairman of the Chamber Board of Directors, penned in a recent statement to City Council stating that, “following additional consideration and discussion, and reflecting input from the business sector,” the city should reconsider whether the timing is right.

The ballot proposal approved by council last month for the April 2 ballot called for a 0.75 percent new sales and use tax, with a 20-year sunset and bonding capacity, to fix city streets and infrastructure.

“If the city proceeds with its current plans, the GSCRA will not oppose the effort, but cannot – in good faith and absent adequate time to participate in the process and prepare for a campaign – activate [Community on the Move] at this time,” Exelbert stated in the letter.

Over the course of the last 30 years, Community on the Move, via political campaigns, has driven home numerous tax initiatives responsible for major city infrastructure needs and aesthetic improvements.

According to Exelbert’s statement, waiting until the November 2020 election would afford the GSCRA and Community on the Move sufficient time to work with the city, educate voters and, “put its full weight and energy behind a successful measure.”

As evidenced by a unanimous recommendation and subsequent vote in favor of the street sales tax, the Glenwood Springs Financial Advisory Board and City Council disagree with the chamber on the bumpy issue.

“When I think about the role of municipal government and I think about our most fundamental role and fundamental responsibility, it is to ensure that our citizens have clean water, clean wastewater removal, safe streets,” Councilor and FAB liaison Jim Ingraham said Friday.

Ingraham said he appreciates that the Chamber feels strongly about the issue, but, “We have a serious issue now with the safety of our streets.”

The city already has a 0.5 percent sales tax intended to help maintain and rebuild the city’s streets, but many believe the amount it generates simply does not suffice.

“We also have some serious issues with our water pipes and waste water pipes and putting those off, putting off addressing those fundamental responsibilities, to me is irresponsible on the part of city government,” Ingraham added.

“Not only is it irresponsible from the most fundamental standpoint because we are talking about the health and safety of the people who live here, but it’s also irresponsible from a fiscal perspective, in my view, because the longer we wait the more expensive it gets.”

Councilors said at a January meeting that, should the ballot question pass, none of the revenue generated would go toward any project other than fixing the city’s streets and underlying infrastructure.

Additionally, should the work see completion before the 20-year sunset, the tax would immediately cease to exist.

Councilor Jonathan Godes said that enough work has been done by the city’s engineering and streets departments, and by council and its advisory boards and commissions, “that we feel this is the time, now, to give voters an opportunity to weigh in.

“As our streets are degrading, all of the time, and construction costs are rising at five percent annually a year, punting this two more years down the road to an uncertain political climate and an uncertain economic time just doesn’t make sense to me,” Godes said.

Glenwood Springs voters will get that opportunity as part of the April 2 municipal election, when four City Council seats are also up for election. Two of those races will be contested, between Ingraham and challengers Tony Hershey and Erika Gibson for an at-large seat, and between Charlie Willman, Jennifer Vanian and Ksana Oglesby for the open Ward 3 seat.

In his statement to council Exelbert concluded, “We wish the city the very best in whatever direction it takes and look forward to the opportunity to collaborate in future endeavors.”

mabennett@postindependent.com

Glenwood Springs advisory board drives street tax for April ballot

Exactly how to go about fixing Glenwood Springs’ less-than-stellar city streets has been a rocky road full of twists, turns and at times dead ends.

However, following a unanimous recommendation from the city’s Financial Advisory Board (FAB) and after gauging Community on the Move’s willingness to campaign for a street sales tax, City Council appears poised to send the question to Glenwood voters this April.

In 2005, a 0.5 percent sales tax, intended to help maintain and rebuild the city’s streets, was passed and will remain in effect until 2026. As evidenced in correspondence between the FAB and City Council, though, the amount of revenue that tax generates barely covers street maintenance.

“It was simply a matter of when, not if, the city would need to bring this to the voters,” FAB Chairwoman Kathryn Trauger said in a recent interview. “The Financial Advisory Board felt now was the proper time.”

While council has yet to officially vote on whether to put a street sales tax question on the April ballot, according to Councilor Jonathan Godes, in all likelihood, voters will be asked to vote on a 0.75 percent street sales tax this spring. As is being discussed, the tax would sunset after 20 years with all of the funds going directly toward fixing the city’s streets.

Godes explained that the 0.5 percent sales tax currently in place would continue to fund street maintenance through 2026. In addition, the new tax would run through 2039.

Godes stressed that if the 0.75 percent sales tax made it on the ballot and earned the support of voters, not a penny would get siphoned off to any project that did not involve fixing the city’s streets.

“Yes, I support a ballot question for a limited term and specific to a street reconstruction plan,” Councilor Shelley Kaup said of the FAB’s recommendation. “I am in favor because it is evident that our existing half-cent street tax is not keeping up with our street reconstruction needs.”

At a December FAB meeting, the board hosted members of Community on the Move to discuss the plausibility of getting a street tax question on the ballot, and the likelihood of it passing. At that Dec. 17 meeting, those in attendance discussed and correspondence concluded that, “City Council should be unanimous in its decision to put a tax on the ballot and must individually participate in the efforts to seek passage much more than council members have in the past.

“Council cannot rely on Community on the Move to do this alone,” according to the staff memo, which referenced the ad hoc Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association committee that has gotten behind numerous city tax proposals in the past.

“I really can’t say enough good things about how Community on the Move has supported and helped the city of Glenwood over the years,” Trauger emphasized.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Councilor Kaup.

“It is my understanding that Community on the Move is in support of the measure. They are a voice for the community, and their recommendations are important,” Kaup said.

Chamber President and CEO Angie Anderson said Community on the Move was still in the process of gathering information regarding the street sales tax ahead of formally deciding whether to endorse the measure.

The current sales tax rate in Glenwood sits at 3.7 percent. The passage of a 0.75 percent street sales tax would raise it to 4.45 percent, bringing the total tax rate paid by retail customers, including local, regional and state sales taxes, from 8.6 percent to 9.35 percent, according to an FAB memorandum.

mabennett@postindependent.com

Glenwood has a ‘$55 million problem,’ and possible tax solution

City of Glenwood Springs officials, with input from the Glenwood Chamber Resort Association’s Community on the Move committee, are debating the feasibility of a streets sales tax ballot question next April as part of the regular municipal election.

On Monday, Glenwood Springs’ Financial Advisory Board (FAB) met with city council members, city staff and Chamber representatives to discuss the possibility.

City Council already went back and forth earlier this year on whether to put a streets tax question on this past November’s ballot, but ultimately decided against it for two reasons.

One, councilors wanted to focus on the passage of Ballot Issues 2A and 6B, which extended property tax support for fire and emergency services for Glenwood Springs and the rural fire district.

And, two, with the fall ballot having already been as long as the number of streets in Glenwood Springs in need of dire repair, asking voters to support another tax on top of those already being posed did not seem wise, the council concluded.

“Right now, we have a half a cent that is dedicated to street maintenance,” City Councilor Jonathan Godes said in a separate interview. “When 60 to 70 percent of our streets are in failure, you cannot chip and seal a failing street.”

According to Matthew Langhorst, Glenwood Springs’ co-director of public works, that half cent currently generates $2.6 million per year.

Langhorst explained that, according to a pavement surface evaluation and rating (PASER) system prepared by an outside consultant, Glenwood’s roadway system held an average PASER rating of four. The scale rates a brand new road with score of 10, while a gravel road receives a one.

“Each year that roadways are not treated, they drop a PASER level,” Langhorst said. “Once you hit a three or below, you are in a full reconstruction, where as a five you may be able to do simpler mill and overlay.”

He explained that Glenwood Springs has 6.5 million square feet of pavement to maintain, and with the current funding amounts the average PASER level of 4 will only improve year over year by a very small amount.

“From the FAB board meeting … it appears that we are looking at an additional 0.75 percent tax on top of the existing 0.5 percent, but this will need to be brought back to council with a formal discussion and vote,” Langhorst added.

Additionally, earlier this summer, Frederick Polls surveyed Glenwood Springs’ voters asking a melting pot of questions, including how residents felt about the condition of the city’s streets and whether or not the community had an appetite for a sales tax increase to the tune of half or three-quarters of a cent, “with all the new money going to fix, repair and upgrade city streets?”

Out of the 225 respondents for that specific question, 69 percent said they would vote “yes” for the half-cent increase, while 29 percent said they would vote “no,” and 2 percent did not know whether they would favor it, or not.

When asked if they would support a three-fourths cent sales tax increase, 61 percent of voters replied “yes,” 36 percent replied “no,” and 3 percent were unsure.

“It is a 55-million-dollar problem, and every year that we put it off has been another year where another street has gone from fair to poor to failing,” Godes said. “I am in support of a three-quarter cent [street sales tax] because a half a cent does not address the needs.”

The same study illustrated that 57 percent of those polled held a negative view of the city’s streets, a statistic corroborated by Glenwood City Councilor Jim Ingraham.

“Just in terms of input that I get, it is almost universal,” Ingraham said at Monday’s FAB meeting. “People want the streets fixed.”

Arguing how tourists would fund a majority of the money that would go toward repairing neighborhood streets, Godes said of the three-fourths cent sales tax, “70 percent of this tax is paid by people who live outside the 81601 area code. It is as close to a free ride as we are going to get,” he said.

mabennett@postindependent.com

Judge retention questions on ballot to get simplified

Citizens of Colorado will find a different format for judge retention questions in future elections thanks to voters’ approval of Amendment W in this year’s election.

Amendment W, a 2018 ballot measure that seeks to change the format of judge retention questions in future elections, was approved by the votes of Colorado. Across the state 53 percent of the votes were cast in favor of the measure while 47 percent were against. In Garfield County, voters were split roughly 50/50.

Amendment W is primarily a cosmetic measure and will not change a voter’s ability to vote on the retention of judges and justices. Rather Amendment W will change the format of ballots as it relates to judge retention questions.

The judicial retention section on Colorado ballots is currently broken down into separate segments. In future elections the format of those retention questions will change by moving the retention question language from the section beside each judge’s name to the heading of the various courts. Each judge’s name will then be listed below the heading alongside the spaces for voters to select if they should be retained.