Street tax looms over Glenwood At-Large council debate
North Glenwood Caucus Forum
When: 6-8 p.m. Thursday, March 14
Where: Hotel Colorado
Format: At Large and Ward 3 candidate statements and responses to questions
Three candidates for the At-Large City Council seat presented their visions for Glenwood Springs and discussed a wide range of issues Monday. But the most prevalent topic to arise at the Issues and Answers forum was the proposed street tax and bond referendum also on the April 2 ballot.
Voters throughout the city elect the At-Large councilor seats. Questions at the forum, sponsored by the Glenwood Springs Chamber and Resort Association, KMTS and the Post Independent, touched on many specific issues, including the Glenwood Springs Mall, the city airport, South Canyon Landfill, short-term vacation rentals, and encouraging a diverse economy.
The candidates on the ballot, Jim Ingraham, the incumbent appointed to the seat in 2018, local water attorney Erika Gibson, and prosecuting attorney Tony Hershey, each had two-minute opening and closing statements, and one minute to answer each posed questions.
Ingraham quoted Winston Churchill in his opening statement: “Politics isn’t a game, it is earnest business.” He said he is not politically ambitious, but decided to run for reelection on the advice of constituents who said he was “a good listener, thoughtful, communicated well.”
Gibson, who moved to Glenwood Springs three years ago, said her vision is to make the city more viable for the next generation.
“As much as we want to be in Glenwood, I am currently experiencing how hard it is to live here. It’s not just affordable rentals; it is trying to find a place to start your first home. I want affordability to be a more consistent focus for City Council,” Gibson said.
As the only candidate for City Council opposed to the street tax, Hershey made his position clear.
“I think this City Council has abdicated its responsibility,” in not keeping up with street maintenance, which will now cost $56 million, Hershey said.
Hershey said he had identified $2 million in the current budget that could be used immediately to repair streets without a sales tax.
“If I sound like a broken record, it’s because I am. If we raise our sales tax, people are going to go shopping in Rifle, in Eagle, in Grand Junction, even in Aspen,” Hershey said in answer to one of the questions.
If passed, the sales tax would push the city’s tax rate to 9.35 percent, the highest in the region besides Snowmass Village, which has a rate of 10.4 percent. The sales tax rate at Glenwood Meadows, which has an extra 1.5 percent public improvements fee, would jump to more than 10.9 percent, at least until 2025 when the PIF is set to expire.
Hershey offered that money from the Seventh Street project and funds from other parts of the budget (he mentioned that an intern was being paid who didn’t need to be) could be used to bond for the street restoration without a tax.
As a current member of the council, Ingraham defended the work of the city in the past year, noting the completion of the Grand Avenue Bridge, restoration started on 27th Street, Seventh Street beautification, Veltus Park improvements, the Hanging Lake shuttle, and a plan for fixing the infrastructure.
Regarding the Seventh Street project, “it was worthwhile to spend a couple extra million to make it a very nice, attractive space,” Ingraham said.
“A lot of good things have been accomplished in the last year by [the council] working together a coming up with practical solutions,” Ingraham said.
“What could this council do much better? Communicating with its citizens,” he said.
Gibson mostly agreed with Ingraham that the sales tax was the only solution to fix the roads, and that Seventh Street needed the money to be activated, particularly after the bridge reconstruction. But she also noted that the cost of the project and some of the processes concerned citizens.
“I think it’s now time to focus our efforts elsewhere,” she said.
On other issues, there was far less disagreement. Hershey did criticize the Urban Renewal Authority being formed to encompass the West Glenwood mall property as a “bailout” of a private business owner who made a bad decision.
Ingraham said it was not about a bailout, but an act to fix a blighted area. Gibson said what started out as a contract issue “turned into a problem for our community,” and now the area has real potential.
(Editor’s note: This story has been revised from the print version to more accurately reflect the exact sales tax rates that are being proposed.)