Affordable housing, tax at center of Cdale candidate debate
Candidates for Carbondale’s Board of Trustees were largely divided by their perspectives on two proposed tax increases, but the need for affordable housing was of universal concern.
Patricia Warman said she has mixed feeling on the proposed climate action tax, which would tax residents’ use of electricity and gas. “It seems like a valuable way to generate revenue for the infrastructure the town vitally needs,” but she feared for the residents on fixed incomes and retirees. Those residents should get a rebate on the tax, she said.
Clean energy has been a clear priority for Carbondale for a long time, and adding the tax would keep those clean energy dollars from encroaching on other town priorities, said Ben Bohmfalk.
Dan Richardson represented the Technical and Financial Advisory Committee in support of the carbon tax at a recent panel discussion. While the town has been spending general fund and federal dollars on clean energy projects, it’s time for them to have an independent, stable funding source, he said.
Trustee Allyn Harvey, the sole incumbent running for re-election, also supports the carbon tax. Funding for these projects has come from mineral severance and the Federal Mineral Lease District money, but both those sources are declining as the community is watching the oil and gas industries’ activity collapse, he said.
The money is partially planned to go toward clean energy upgrades for residents and businesses, but Wayne Horak said the proposal amounts to a tax on the poor renters, who’ll end up paying for homeowners’ upgrades.
No one in their right mind can be against sustainable energy, said Marty Silverstein. “But I don’t know that this tax is the right way to go.”
Michael Durant, currently on the planning commission, also sees it as a tax on a family’s ability to heat their home, keep the lights on and cook meals. The new tax would hit businesses and renters hard, and all Carbondale’s utility companies have clean energy programs that aren’t being taken advantage of, he said.
Doc Philip, wearing a chicken hat, railed against population growth worldwide and the growing influence of the super rich locally. He also wasn’t in favor of any additional taxes. Residents could install devices that generate electricity produced from a stationary bike, and Carbondalians could generate a day’s electricity with less than an hour of pedaling, he said. Philip also advocates for Carbondale to secede from the union and become its own nation-state in an effort to become a fun town again.
Candidates were also split on a proposed property tax increase that would fund the town’s capital improvements.
But its timing makes it a difficult pill to swallow, as the town transitions out of a recession and property values have steeply risen, said Richardson. But if the community doesn’t fund these projects, it’s simply passing the burden to later generations, he said.
Bohmfalk questioned its chances of passing, saying the timing is unfortunate, but he too supports the property tax. Harvey also advocates for the tax. He said the town has been paying to develop and maintain infrastructure from the general fund and tapping into its reserves when necessary. And residents won’t be stuck with these taxes forever, as both of them sunset, said Harvey. The carbon tax would sunset after six years, and the property tax after 10 years.
Silverstein said he and other Carbondalians are suffering from “tax payer frustration.” All the recent taxes and the new ones proposed are for good things, he said. “But they keep coming; I don’t know anyone that’s gotten four raises in that amount of time to pay for all of it.”
Horak was more favorable toward the property tax, saying that government’s primary job is to deal with streets, highways and infrastructure.
Durant was hopeful that the town’s new City Market and fueling station would generate enough tax dollars to fund capital improvements funding, eliminating the need for the tax.
Warman said she simply feels taxed to death, and the proposal isn’t clear enough on where the money would go.
Developing new infrastructure and maintaining the existing infrastructure is going to be key to Carbondale’s growth, said Richardson, who also promoted fiber optic upgrades to keep the community competitive.
Ben Bohmfalk said that affordable housing, now at a crisis level, is Carbondale’s single greatest challenge. But he was pessimistic about finding a funding source soon.
While there’s been no shortage of talk on the subject, Bohmfalk said it hasn’t been a concrete priority for the town. “We have a tree board and no housing board.” The town needs either a staff member or a volunteer committee whose primary function is to find affordable housing solutions, he said.
The recently adopted Unified Development Code moves the town toward higher density neighborhoods by reducing minimum unit sizes, but Carbondale can go a step further by also reducing minimum lot sizes, he said.
The town’s neighborhoods are a fascinating mix that serves both the wealthy and people with constrained finances, but the recession interrupted its development, said Harvey. The solution won’t come about through a government-run program, but through partnerships with organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Catholic Charities or companies like Aspen Ski Co., he said.
The town has to reach compromises with developers interested in doing businesses in town, said Silverstein. If the town will loosen its grip on housing, the private market can solve much of the issue, said Horak.
The key is to increase housing stock at the low end of the market, said Durant. Some of the town’s high density zones remain undeveloped or underdeveloped, he said.
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