Candidates in support of Glenwood street sales tax say no other options; challengers beg to differ

Glenwood Springs City Council candidates who stand in favor of the ¾-cent street sales tax question that’s on Tuesday’s ballot maintain that the $56 million the city says it needs to rebuild and fix streets, simply put, does not exist otherwise.

In January, the current City Council voted unanimously to put the street sales tax question on the spring municipal election ballot.

Ultimately, city voters will decide the tax question’s fate when balloting concludes on Tuesday. But the tax proposal has remained, arguably, the most prominent talking point for candidates in the contested at-large and Ward 3 council races.

Current at large Councilor Jim Ingraham seeks formal election Tuesday, after he was appointed to the seat in 2018 following former councilor Kathryn Trauger’s resignation when she took a new job.

Citing the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ rating method, Ingraham said that Glenwood’s 43 miles of streets received a 35 out of 100 rating. According to Ingraham, the average rating for municipalities across the state was 70.

“You go through the process and you find you’ve got a [35 rating] and you are actually in really bad shape,” Ingraham, who supports the tax question, said of Glenwood’s streets.

Regarding the city’s streets and their underlying utility infrastructure, Ingraham said that Glenwood, according to the rating method, was ranked as one of the worst cities in Colorado, placing 75th out of 79 cities.

“It’s nothing to be proud of, and it’s nothing to take lightly because in the end what you are really talking about here is, it’s not pretty streets that you want. You want streets that are safe,” Ingraham said. “[Safe] for people who are walking, for people who are biking, for people who are driving in their cars, and you want the underlying infrastructure.”

At-large candidate Erika Gibson, who serves on the city’s River Commission, like Ingraham, also supports the ¾-cent street sales tax.

If Glenwood’s overall sales tax rate were to go up to 9.35% — the second-highest sales tax rate in the Roaring Fork Valley, should the tax pass — while a valid concern, Gibson said it was not a tipping point for her to oppose it.

“It’s an increase for a good cause. …We are saving money in the future,” Gibson said, citing how the city’s streets would only get worse and construction costs more expensive with time. “It’s like putting change in the piggy bank at the end of the day.”

Although Ingraham and Gibson both had their own reasons for supporting the tax, the two candidates were in agreement that no pool of money existed within the city’s budget to fund what has been billed as a $56 million project.

Tony Hershey, also seeking the at-large seat, however, disputes that the money does not exist. He’s the only candidate in the at-large field to outright oppose the street tax proposal.

“The budget is really rosy. We are not in a budget crisis,” Hershey said. “We have to make some choices. You’re not going to go on the European vacation when the kids need braces. You have to make choices, and infrastructure is my number-one priority other than the police and keeping people safe.”

Hershey has maintained that he wants the streets fixed, just like every other candidate in the at-large race. But, not at the expense of the taxpayers who he believes have already contributed more than enough.

Although seeking a different council seat, Ward 3 candidate Jennifer Vanian also opposes the ¾-cent street sales tax question and believes it was not thought out well, but rushed.

“It would hurt business,” Vanian said.

“If the Chamber of Commerce can’t get behind it, there is a reason. If Community on the Move can’t get behind it, there is a reason,” she said of the chamber committee’s decision not to back the tax, as it has other past city tax proposals.

“I can’t see any reason why the thousands of people driving up Highway 82 everyday won’t stop in Carbondale, especially if you are going to save money when you spend $100,” Vanian said.

While the Chamber did not formally oppose the tax question, it did inform City Council that it would not support it, either, preferring that the city wait until a future election to shore up the proposal.

As a result, the chamber’s ad hoc committee Community on the Move was not activated.

Earlier this year, the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association released a statement, saying, “Following additional consideration and discussion, and reflecting input from the business sector, we feel so strongly about this community priority that we encourage City Council to reconsider its recent decision to put before voters this April a .75 percent new sales and use tax proposal…”

Instead, the Fix Our Streets Now committee, made up of several members of the city’s appointed Financial Advisory Board, and three city council members, was formed.

Vanian questioned the city’s handling of its Municipal Operations Center (MOC) as one place where funds could have been freed to pay for street fixes.

She said a cost-cutting choice made by the city several years ago to bypass an engineer’s advice later cost the city nearly $2.5 million in foundation and structural repairs to the city building on Wulfsohn Road.

One of Vanian’s Ward 3 opponents, Ksana Oglesby, thought that the City Council had in fact received and appropriately weighed the advice of the Financial Advisory Board and Transportation Commission. Both advisory boards gave unanimous recommendations to put the sales tax question on the ballot now, rather than later.

“Having been on the Financial Advisory Board during the time when it was being considered, I know how much work went into the decision to proceed,” Oglesby said. “We received input from all of the necessary sources.”

Those sources, according to Oglesby, included city staff, namely its finance team and engineering department.

“The impression of a lot of people is that not a lot of thought went into this, and I would just like to really stress that it did,” Oglesby said. “We [the Financial Advisory Board] are all community members, we all volunteered for the job, we don’t get paid for it and I would like to just reassure to the voters that we looked at it long and hard.”

Current Financial Advisory Board member and Ward 3 council candidate Charlie Willman, who supports the tax, also said no other pool of money at the city’s disposal could fund the estimated $56 million in streets projects.

Asked if he had an alternative plan to fix the streets should the tax fail, Willman replied, “No.”

“The general fund is real small and most of that is in salaries,” Willman said. “The only way to do it would be to start cutting people. And, even talking to some of the administrators in City Hall, when some of these opposition people are talking about, ‘Oh, let’s use the general fund,’ they see that as their jobs. That causes consternation in City Hall.”

According to Willman, the money simply doesn’t exist in the general fund and the special A&I fund was all along meant for projects like South Bridge, Sixth and Seventh street improvements, the confluence area, and other projects that are already under way.

“I can tell you that what was told to the voters back when they passed the A&I tax in 2016, that it was for these projects,” Willman said. “[The opposition] talks in generalities, and a lot of those generalities don’t make sense.”

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