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.”
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Two state ballot questions before voters in the Nov. 5 mail ballot election deal with keeping tax dollars to fund education and transportation, and creating a new “sin” tax to help pay for Colorado’s Water Plan.