Street sales tax question headed to Glenwood Springs voters in April

Glenwood Springs’ street sales tax debate maneuvered potholes, made U-turns and almost hit a dead end before city councilors were able to strike an agreement Thursday night.

Ultimately, council voted to approve putting before the voters this April a 0.75 percent sales tax proposal with a 20-year sunset and bonding capacity to fix city streets. Additionally, should the city complete the anticipated work before the tax actually sunsets, the tax would subsequently end too.

While the decision was reached to put the question on the ballot as part of the April 2 municipal election, some uncertainties still exist — in particular, whether the Community on the Move political action committee will get behind the proposal.

“I wish we just had a little bit more clarity, because that was what the whole gnashing of teeth in the last two hours was about,” City Councilor Jonathan Godes said as he left a Thursday morning work session between City Council members, various city board and commission members, and the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association (GSCRA), regarding the tax proposal.

“I think, honestly, [the Chamber and its Community on the Move committee] are looking for [City Council] to take the lead … because [council] has been taking the lead on this,” said Godes who is a supporter of the tax proposal.

The work session honed in on whether the ad hoc chamber committee would support a street sales tax question should it appear on the April ballot.

Over the course of the last three decades, Community on the Move has helped pass tax initiatives responsible for major infrastructure and aesthetic improvements ranging from City Hall and the Community Center to various streetscapes, sidewalks and lighting. Most recently, it got behind the reauthorization of the city’s special fire department tax funding last fall.

“Community on the Move is definitely the political organization that has successfully pursued, I think, every tax measure that the city has looked at in the last 30 years,” Mayor Michael Gamba said following the morning work session.

Chamber representatives were not comfortable formally endorsing any new sales tax, yet, until they could consult further with the business community they represent.

Another concern was the fact that an additional 0.75 percent sales tax — on top of the existing 0.5 percent streets tax, other special fund sales taxes and general city and state sales taxes — would bring Glenwood’s total sales tax rate to 9.35 percent. That would make Glenwood Springs’ sales taxes higher than all of its valley neighbors, with the exception of Snowmass Village.

However, given the current state of city streets and the fact that council did not want to kick the can down the road until the 2020 election, council took the advice of its Financial Advisory Board (FAB) to pursue the streets sales tax question this April.

“There are a few facts that I don’t think are new to anyone. One is the fact that our streets are a disaster,” FAB Chairwoman Kathryn Trauger said at the council meeting. “It’s also a fact that the city does not have the revenue, currently, to fix those streets.”

The current half-cent street sales tax expires in 2026 and, according to city staff, barely maintains the streets in their current state.

Still uncertain of Community on the Move’s position, Chamber Board Chairman Ian Exelbert then took to the podium to read a prepared statement.

“Ultimately, we represent the business community and we feel that that’s a voice that has not yet been heard,” Exelbert said.

Exelbert explained that the chamber wanted more time to understand council’s direction before it takes an official stance.

“The Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association Board expresses continued support for the need to give attention to the city’s streets and infrastructure,” Exelbert said. “In light of the short time frame, we would like additional time to consider council’s decision, which we will take under advisement, promptly, following tonight’s meeting and prior to the ballot language being finalized, provided the language is reasonable and acceptable.”

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