Glenwood’s $56M streets question is city’s biggest dollar ask ever | PostIndependent.com

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

In this January image, a car hits a large pothole and puddle on South Grand in South Glenwood Springs.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
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