Glenwood Springs airport mill levy question heads to November ballot
Airport commissioners say they weren’t consulted on airport needs
Glenwood Springs residents are slated to be asked in November whether to increase their property taxes to help fund a tunnel beneath Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport runway, connecting Midland Avenue to the South Bridge project.
City Council members approved a resolution Sept. 2 to add a question to the November ballot, which could raise property taxes by 4 mills and allow the city to incur $8 million in debt. The ability to incur debt would allow the city to borrow money based on the projected mill levy revenue. Without the ability to incur debt, Mayor Jonathan Godes said the city would need to fund the various airport projects as tax revenue from the mill levy trickled in over the next 20 years.
If approved by voters, the mill levy could provide the city with about $5.5 million for the South Bridge tunnel and tunnel insulation, which was proposed as an alternative to shortening the airport’s runway.
“The South Bridge project idea was developed after the Coal Seam Fire in 2002. During that fire, I-70 closed. The fire was advancing from the west, and above the Three Mile area in south Glenwood. West Glenwood residents evacuated south on (Colorado) Highway 82, creating a bumper-to-bumper back up extending over Independence Pass,” a presentation from earlier this year on the project states.
The proposed project route would begin at South Midland Avenue and Four Mile Road, where it would follow Airport Road before tunneling below the airport’s runway. The South Bridge would then cross the Roaring Fork River before connecting to Colorado Highway 82.
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Additional revenue secured by the mill levy question could be used to fund a number of airport improvements, including constructing new hangars, new fueling facilities and a number of safety upgrades, city documents stated.
Raising property taxes by four mills could increase residential rates by $286 annually for a property with an assessed value of $1 million. Commercial properties with an assessed value of $1 million could see a tax increase of about $1,200 annually.
During the council’s regular meeting, several members of the Glenwood Springs Airport Commission spoke against the mill levy question and suggested it was not being proposed by the council in good faith.
Sean Thomas, who identified himself as an airport commission alternate, told council members that many of the commissioners had not seen the mill levy question proposal until just days before the council’s Sept. 2 meeting.
“You guys crammed this in without our knowledge, and I think that’s unethical,” Thomas said.
Glenwood Springs resident and airport patron Gregg Rippy said the mill levy would fund more than airport patrons needed.
“We’re happy to see you’re interested in improving the airport,” Rippy said. “But, you’ve given us a Range Rover when all we needed was a Corolla.”
Private investors would like the opportunity to fund several of the improvements listed in the mill levy question, Airport Commission member Alan Arnold said.
“If you could’ve brought this up to the airport board, I could’ve saved you a couple million dollars on a few things that are already in place,” Arnold said. “What the airport actually needs, we’re down to about $1 million.”
Many of the commissioners expressed concerns about a proposed operations facility, which could cost $2.5 million, listed in the projects to be funded by the mill levy.
Commissioners also said they didn’t understand why the South Bridge tunnel proposal was tied to an airport-improvement mill levy.
“That tunnel is not an airport issue — it’s a South Bridge issue,” Rippy said. “I support the South Bridge, but I can’t support a resolution to tax the people of Glenwood Springs for something we don’t need.”
Mayor Pro Tem Charlie Willman said the tunnel was an effort to save the airport’s runway, which might need to be shortened for the South Bridge project if funding for the tunnel cannot be secured.
“South Bridge is a safety issue for this whole community,” Willman said, emphasizing the airport serves a small percentage of Glenwood residents. “If you want to keep the airport runway, then vote for this.”
On the flipside, Council Member Ingrid Wussow said she didn’t feel the council should seek money for the tunnel before the rest of the South Bridge project was funded. She added that she would like the council to discuss airport improvements with the commission before moving forward with a ballot question.
Godes said funding the South Bridge Project required fitting all the smaller pieces together first, so the council could present community buy-in as a factor in securing large portions of funding through other avenues.
Council Member Tony Hershey said he could not support the mill levy question.
“I was as surprised as anyone else by this proposal,” Hershey said. “I look at this as a poison pill designed to kill the airport.”
Godes made a motion to approve two ballot questions: the first asking the voters to approve a 4 mill increase for the next 20 years, and the second asking voters to allow the city to incur a debt of up to $8 million with a maximum repayment amount of $14 million — both of which could allow the city to fund the South Bridge tunnel, improvements to the airport and airport operational costs. Council member Steve Davis seconded the motion.
Council approved Godes’ motion 4-3, with Willman, Hershey and Wussow voting against.
If approved by voters in November, a proposed mill levy increase and ability to incur debt could fund the following improvements and upgrades to the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport:
Tunnel underneath the runway: $4.7 million
Reconstructed runway, taxiway and lighting: $484,000
Redesign of the tunnel to accommodate tunnel insulation: $295,000
Safety improvements needed at the airport within the next year regardless of the South Bridge project:
New fuel farm: $450,000
Communication upgrades and new weather station: $185,000
Perimeter fencing: $120,000
New fixed base of operations: $2.5 million
Seal coat and runway painting and striping (every three to four years): $150,000
New city-owned hangars: $2.4 million
Covered and powered tie downs: $675,000
Bobcat or maintenance inspection vehicle: $30,000
Picnic /camping grounds improvements: $20,000
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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