Glenwood Springs voters deny airport mill levy, debt question
In a landslide, Glenwood Springs voters shot down a proposed airport mill levy and debt request.
With the funding questions receiving support from less than 20% of voters — based on early Garfield County poll results — the future of the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport is now up in the air without a clear path forward for funding a tunnel underneath the runway, which was proposed to connect South Midland Avenue and 4 Mile Road to the South Bridge project.
Ballot question 2A asked voters whether to raise Glenwood Springs’ property taxes by 4 mills for 20 years, which could have generated approximately $1.2 million annually to pay for the airport’s operational costs, facility improvements and the South Bridge tunnel.
On ballot question 2B, voters were asked if the city should take on $8 million in debt to fund the South Bridge tunnel, new airport hangars, a new fixed base of operations and bringing the airport’s aging fueling facilities up to code. The ability to incur debt would have allowed the city to borrow money based on the projected mill levy revenue.
If the ballot issues were approved by the voters, about $5.5 million raised through taxes and bonds could have been used to fund the runway tunnel, and approximately $7 million was slated for airport improvements, such as a new fixed base of operations, hangars, a fuel farm, perimeter fencing, taxiway lighting and seal coating for the runway every five years for the next 20.
The questions were put to the ballot by a 4-3 council vote on Sept. 2 — one day before Garfield County’s deadline for adding ballot questions.
The council’s approach to adding the questions to the ballot drew condemnation from several members of the city’s airport commission, who said they weren’t consulted about avenues for funding the airport’s needs and potential improvement projects.
A City Council work session is scheduled with the airport commission Thursday before the council’s regular meeting.
“The results speak for themselves; there was not support for this,” Airport Commission member Dave Merritt said. “Other tax issues in Garfield, such as the school district and Colorado River Fire & Rescue measures passed. They made a very good case for those issues. They had support. This did not.”
Merritt said he thought it was unfortunate the City Council voted to put the questions on the ballot, and the challenges now facing the commission and council are coming up with the funding to address airport safety issues and make improvements to the facilities.
“We also need to find funding for South Bridge,” Merritt said. “But the tunnel under the airport is only a small part of that.”
Based on conversations Merritt had with people leading up to election night, he said the few voters who supported the measure might have been confused about the ballot questions.
Mayor Pro Tem Charlie Willman and Tony Hershey opposed the ballot questions from the outset.
“This was rushed, and the people of Glenwood and the airport are owed an apology,” Hershey said. “So I will offer that apology.”
Willman said the voter response was not surprising.
“I did not support putting this on the ballot,” he said. “We need to sit down with the airport board and users and figure out how to deal with the significant safety issues using the airport’s revenue streams and opportunities for income.”
The airport’s current runway configuration could be at risk if no other funding options are uncovered for the South Bridge tunnel, Willman said, adding that the council intends to continue looking into what funding options are available.
Mayor Jonathan Godes, who made the motion to add the questions to the ballot, declined to comment on the election results.
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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