Glenwood Springs Council candidates offer different takes on streets tax proposal

Compiled by Post Independent staff

upcoming candidate and issue forums

Chamber Issues and Answers Night

When: 5–7 p.m. Monday, March 11

Where: Glenwood Springs City Hall

Format: Debates on the proposed city street tax and in the At-Large and Ward 3 City Council races.

North Glenwood Caucus Forum

When: 6-8 p.m. Thursday, March 14

Where: Hotel Colorado

Format: Candidate statements and responses questions

Imagine Glenwood Forum

When: 6–7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 19

Where: Glenwood Springs Library

Format: Candidate statements and responses to questions.

On the issues

Who: Glenwood Springs candidates for City Council At-Large and Ward 3

What: A weeklong series with the candidates in the April 2 city election addressing the Post Independent’s questions.

Monday: What is your vision for Glenwood Springs’ confluence area redevelopment?

Tuesday: Specifically, what should be done with the parcel of land where the former Grand Avenue Bridge touched down adjacent to Sixth Street?

Wednesday: What is your position on the new 3/4-cent sales tax for citywide street construction and repairs, and why?

Thursday: What can City Council do to help people who work in Glenwood Springs also afford to live in Glenwood Springs?

Friday: How should the issue of short-term vacation rentals be handled in Glenwood Springs?

The city of Glenwood Springs is proposing a new, 0.75 percent sales tax to implement a $56 million street reconstruction program to address failing streets infrastructure and underground utilities around town.

This question will be on the April 2 ballot, to be mailed to city voters next week, alongside candidate choices for four City Council seats.

We asked the candidates in the two contested races for the Ward 3 and one At-Large council seat their views on the tax proposal.

What is your position on the new 3/4-cent sales tax for citywide street construction and repairs, and why?

At-Large candidates

Tony Hershey

I am opposed to an increase in our sales tax.

Currently, the city sales tax is 3.7 percent. Total sales tax, including state, Garfield County and specials, is 8.6 percent (more at Glenwood Meadows with its 1.5 percent PIF). If we increase, it we will be at 4.45 percent, or 9.35 percent total (almost 11 percent at the Meadows!). This is a 20 percent increase.

This will make our base sales tax higher than Vail’s (4 percent), Aspen’s (2.4 percent – 9.3 percent total), Rifle’s (4.25 percent – 8.15 percent total), Grand Junction (2.75 percent), or even Denver, which has a city tax of 4.31 percent (8.31 percent total).

Only Snowmass Village would have a higher total rate of 10.4 percent.

This will be detrimental to our businesses and our citizens, and this plan was clearly rushed.

A tax of 0.75 percent may not seem like much, but our sales tax is already high, and we already have 0.5 percent dedicated to streets (and streets are also funded out of the general fund). People have other shopping choices close by.

I am for fixing the streets, which desperately need our attention, but not at the expense of the rest of our economy. A property tax might be a better long-term solution.

Instead of wasting money on Seventh Street and improvements under a bridge, we need to refocus the taxes we collect now for projects throughout the city. Poor spending choices by a majority of the current council is not a reason for a 20 percent sales tax increase.

Erika Gibson

I support the proposed tax. There is a clear need to fix our streets, not just patch them. I personally do the daily pothole dodge on Midland, and Midland is but one of many streets that are in poor or failing condition.

Fixing the underlying problems will require exposing road layers and presents an added opportunity for the city to repair and upgrade other aging infrastructure, like utility, water and sewer lines, as well as install curbs and gutters, where needed.

Lumping together this work now actually saves Glenwood in the long-run by taking advantage of shared costs and reducing the number of disruptions.

Putting off this work, however, only increases the ultimate costs for emergency repairs to the streets and vital utilities, the latter of which would fall squarely on Glenwood citizens in the form of increased utility bills. The tax is needed now because the current budget cannot absorb this extraordinary work, which is estimated to cost $56 million over a 10-year period.

While new taxes cannot be the solution for every budget gap, this proposed tax will impose very minor, and temporary, consumer-cost increases that are more than offset by the tangible, long-lasting payback of improved infrastructure. The sales tax would add $0.02 to a cup of coffee or $1.50 to a $200 purchase.

I also appreciate that this tax is shared by residents and non-residents alike, and that the tax expires in 2029 or sooner, if the projects are completed before then.

Jim Ingraham

The most fundamental responsibility of municipal government is to provide its citizens with safe infrastructure: clean, safe drinking water; clean disposal of waste and storm water; safe streets to drive, bike and walk.

We’ve got a problem, which is obvious to anyone who has driven South Midland, or Riverview, or Red Mountain, or many other streets. In fact, the majority of our 43 miles of city streets were assessed as “failed.”

I support the 3/4 cent temporary tax measure. It is the only reasonable way to address the problem. As a member of City Council, I insisted on three safeguards:

1. That there is a specific plan in place so the money does not go into some black hole;

2. The legal language is tight, so that current or future city councils cannot touch the money for anything else; and,

3. When the project is complete the temporary tax goes away.

The project will be complete in eight to 10 years. It will rebuild the failed roads, replace the aging and broken pipes, and add conduit for fiber-optic cable.

I have not heard any other reasonable solution put forth. Doing nothing is not only unreasonable, it is an abdication of our fundamental government responsibility. Grousing about past decisions, about how competing priorities were decided in the past, might make some folks feel good. But it won’t fix the problem.

Having the courage and foresight to address the problem in a responsible way is what I stand for.

Ward 3 candidates

Jennifer Vanian

Thanks you for asking about the proposed 3/4-cent sales tax. It is a question I have not achieved clarity with. I saw a message in today’s paper that it would add 24 cents to a family of four coffee. Funny, because I don’t often buy coffee like that, because it to expensive!

Rather, what does it do to your yearly car registration, and for people on fixed income?

With the Black Hills Energy rate hike, 911 surcharge rate hike, fire protection tax rate hike, high cost of food, as well as the general cost of living being so high already … my point is that, in its innocence, the street tax seems like a no brainer. We need the work done. However, I am not in a good position to push it.

I am seeking more understanding of how we got to the place where we are ready to pour dollars into both the already nice Seventh Street and Two Rivers Park, and have at the same time a crisis with the streets. I believe every voter has to vote his or her conscience.

Ksana Oglesby

I support this sales tax. Adequate repair and maintenance on our streets has been largely deferred for decades, and streets were inherited from the county with insufficient drainage and structure for the traffic load that they experience.

While we can argue about how and why we got here, to me it is important to bring all our streets up to par as quickly as possible, and certainly before more of them begin to fail.

Charlie Willman

I support the proposed 3/4-cent sales tax. The existing street tax is not sufficient to pay for the almost $60 million in necessary street reconstruction. Roughly $1.5 million of these revenues pay for annual, ordinary maintenance and repairs and $500,000 pays for striping, signage, safe routes to schools, pothole repairs and traffic calming.

In 2019 there is only $400,000 available for extensive street reconstruction. Over 70 percent of our streets are rated poor to failing. The estimated cost to reconstruct these streets includes necessary drainage repairs and appropriate curbs, gutters and sidewalks. These utility replacement costs paid by this tax are estimated to be an additional $14.5 million.

Without an increase in utility rates, there are no funds available to fix these failing water and sewer lines. And, there is a cost of delaying the passage of this 3/4-cent sales tax. The City’s sales tax revenues over the last 15 years have increased an average of 2.7 percent annually. However, estimated reconstruction costs increase 5 percent, or $3 million annually.

If the sales tax does not pass, more and more streets will fail. No one wants to pay more in taxes but the additional tax to the average citizen is less than a dollar a day. A common theme I often hear is, “please fix my street.” There is no other way than a dedicated tax to do this, and this tax will end in about 10 years when these repairs are completed.

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