Rifle sales tax increase proposal secured for November ballot

A man drops off his voting ballot.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

A proposed sales-tax increase to benefit city street repairs and improvements will head to Rifle voters in November.

The Rifle City Council on Aug. 16 unanimously approved putting on the Nov. 7 election ballot a measure to increase sales tax associated with the street improvement fund (SIF) from .5% to .95%.

According to City Manager Tommy Klein, the increase means consumers pay 45 cents for every $100 spent.

“If the initiative does not pass, then we will have to take care of our best roads and our primary roads,” he said. “Our secondary roads will deteriorate.”

City history shows the .5% sales tax for its street improvement fund was established in 1987. Rifle has sustained streets maintenance detail on this tax structure alone for more than 35 years, he emphasized.

But according to city financials, rising construction costs have taken a significant toll on how far a dollar can go. Examples presented by Klein show the city right now pays about $350,000 just to lay down 350 feet of asphalt — curb, gutter and sidewalks included.

On Tuesday, City Civil Engineer Craig Spaulding compared 2012’s Fifth Street improvements to 2022’s West Second Street improvements, which are similar in scope. The same work that would have cost $190,000 in 2012 now costs $415,000 in 2022.

In another example, he used the Fifth Street and Railroad Avenue Project. With this, even though the city removed traffic control and mobilization efforts from the project scope, the same work that would have cost $130,000 in 2012 would have cost $265,000 in 2022 and $330,000 in 2023.

“In the 10 years between 2012 and 2022 cost increased 104%,” he said in an email. “In the one year between 2022 and 2023, costs increased 24%.”

Rising construction costs have led to a $669,743 yearly average spending deficit for the city, numbers show. In fact, the city allocated $650,000 from its general fund to its street improvement fund to keep operations going.

The practice of allocating resources from the general fund is causing consternation from its staff.

The city does use federal mineral lease district (FMLD) grant funding to support its capital projects, but those grants could dwindle due to new oil and gas regulations.

Meanwhile, the city is currently entrenched in at least 14 major infrastructure projects. The most costly of these projects include placing a new roundabout north of Interstate 70 ($5.5 million), placing street lights at the Whiteriver Avenue/U.S. Highway 6 intersection ($2.8 million) and Fairway Avenue Extension ($1.6 million).

Altogether, the city estimates needing an average of $1.58 million per year to defray these projects. It also needs another $1.84 million per year to cover maintenance needs.

The city said it did consider going after a property-tax increase but chose not to since it would affect property owners only. A sales-tax increase, however, would also include non-Rifle residents into the mix. 

If passed at .95%, the city estimates generating about $2.71 million in sales-tax revenue each year for its street-improvement fund. The tax would officially go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

“Last time we did a citizen survey, the number one priority was improving streets throughout the community,” Mayor Ed Green said. “I think this is necessary if we are going to accomplish that for the citizens.”

By the numbers…

Rifle’s current sales tax structure:
• General fund = 2%
• Parks and Recreation = 1%
• Utilities = .75%
• Street improvement fund = .5%
• TOTAL = 4.25%

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