Carbondale Corner: So, Town Council, how’s the homework?
Have you ever asked your kids what they did at school today, only to have them respond with a “nothing?” A few times recently I have felt like the kid when I’m questioned on the street about what the Board of Trustees is working on.
While I don’t respond with “nothing,” I sometimes find myself at a loss for words, even though there is usually plenty of things we’re working on. So, to all of you that have thoughtfully asked the question only to receive a mediocre response, here goes.
The board’s top three priorities this year involve developing a sustainable funding strategy for our infrastructure, adopting an environmental charter and increasing availability of affordable housing.
As it relates to the first priority, we spent the first half of the year reviewing and adopting an updated Water and Wastewater Master Plan, and as a result resumed a sustainable rate increase strategy after a multiyear hiatus during the recession. We have also begun discussion on the possible renewal of our “streetscape” property tax, which sunsets in 2020 and is responsible for paying for many street and pedestrian path upgrades. We’re a mobile community, so I think it will be important to extend that funding.
This summer we also adopted an Ecological Bill of Rights. We felt strongly that given the strong commitment to environmental stewardship the town has, a succinct document would help guide our decisions at a high level. In fact, it is helping to guide current discussions on waste hauling and diversion, the Crystal Valley Trail and more. The board also adopted a Climate Action Plan that includes some aggressive goals, including 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
I wish I could report similar progress on the affordable housing front, but every day this challenge gets more difficult to address. I hear this on a regular basis from both business owners trying to recruit good talent and from house-hunters trying to put a roof over their head. The cost of housing is simply far outpacing wages year after year.
The town has budgeted for a Housing Needs Assessment and we continue to pursue the viability of a multi-jurisdictional housing authority. I believe both are steps in the right direction, but where the affordable housing challenge has been successfully addressed, there has been public funding available to, at a minimum, buy down the cost of land.
I have been brainstorming a funding strategy and the board has graciously granted me a little leeway to explore the idea. Most consider it a pipe dream, but I’ll let you decide. What drives up the cost of housing perhaps more than any other factor is the enormous demand to live here. Those of us fortunate enough to own a home profit handsomely from that demand when we sell or leverage our home value.
I would argue that a good portion of that profit is a result of our thriving communities and therefore there is a strong rational nexus to reinvest some of that profit back into addressing the challenge it exacerbates. My hairbrained idea is to create a mechanism for current homeowners to voluntarily donate a percentage of their home sale (if and when they sell) to help buy down the increasingly unattainable cost of workforce housing. There are many hurdles to this idea and it likely wouldn’t generate much for a long period of time, but I’m not giving up yet.
What is producing results now is our new Unified Development Code, which appears to be making workforce housing more feasible because we have approved multiple projects this year and have seen even more applications. I’m encouraged with the interest in Carbondale and the creativity of projects being proposed.
Beyond that, we’re diving into some new discussions, as well. We are revisiting our marijuana regulations to strike the best balance between community welfare and business success. We are exploring ways to improve waste diversion and minimize the impact to our infrastructure from waste hauling. We have welcomed GlenX, a co-working/business incubator to the Third Street Center, and I am excited to see it grow. And the board is in the middle of reviewing 2018 budget recommendations, including our Community Grant requests to which we strive to dedicate 1 percent of our general fund.
There is a bit more but I’ll spare you the details because it’s time to drill my boys about their day. If you have thoughts or comments about what we’re working on or what we’re not, don’t be shy and let us know.
Dan Richardson is mayor of Carbondale.