Editorial: Fix Carbondale streets, but skip the carbon tax
We support necessary taxation.
For example, we held our nose and averted our gaze a bit from the questionably located Eastbank school in favoring the Roaring Fork School District’s sweeping, $122 million bond issue last year. It contained many needed projects, including an investment in teacher housing, and allowed the district to secure a big state grant for renovation of Glenwood Springs Elementary School.
In the same vein, we look favorably on Carbondale’s proposed infrastructure property tax levy to fix crumbling streets and be ready for development in a reluctantly but inevitably growing town. We think this is a critical function of government that cannot be achieved another way, and support the levy despite eye-popping increases in town residents’ property taxes this year.
We also support clean energy.
Obtaining our energy from renewable sources above ground rather than digging for polluting and finite resources will serve our health, planet and economy. And we believe that even small efforts make a difference in changing a wasteful culture that has fouled water, land and air, and put the sustainability of Earth at risk.
We also find it delicious that a former coal mining town — called Carbondale for goodness’ sakes — is considering a tax on natural gas and electricity usage to create a dedicated clean energy fund. We consider it a sign of social progress.
But we cannot support the proposal.
It’s a nice enough idea, philosophically, but has many practical flaws.
First, it’s tone deaf.
When homeowners this year got property tax bills 40 to 70 percent (or more) higher than last year, when rent is climbing amid a housing shortage, when wages are flat and when the economic recovery remains uneven and uncertain, it’s not the time to ask people to pay even a few dollars a month for something better accomplished by unleashing entrepreneurial creativity than by a tiny local government.
Carbondale’s tax “triple whammy,” the Post Independent’s John Stroud wrote last week, comes from rapidly rising property values, the big school district bond approved last fall and a Carbondale fire district levy OK’d at the same time.
To a lot of Carbondale residents, a few extra bucks here and there doesn’t matter that much. They describe the utility tax as “a couple of lattes a month.”
Unfortunately, we have not achieved a society where everyone budgets in lattes. Arguments for the utility tax might feel a bit elitist and cavalier to folks pinching pennies, and part of what makes Carbondale a good town is its embrace of a diverse population.
It’s uncertain how the town would fulfill some of the promises it has made — that poor people would not be harmed and that people who have voluntarily invested in solar power or energy efficiency would somehow get credit for it.
We’re inviting uneven policy here. The town can’t possibly fairly exempt every choice residents have voluntarily made to reduce fossil fuel usage. What about bike commuters? Aren’t they already doing their part? Bikers, telecommuters and people with one car, perhaps an electric vehicle or hybrid, are making big contributions as well as reducing the eyesore of haphazard on-street parking and traffic in a town with an infrastructure struggling to keep up with its population.
While supporters of the tax say it would average $5 to $7 a month for residences and $30 a month for businesses, some, including people living in inefficient rental properties and overpriced housing constructed cheaply before Carbondale adopted its green building code, would no doubt pay more.
Utility tax supporters say Carbondale has reduced energy use and saved residents $400,000 over recent years. The town should continue to incentivize residents and entrepreneurs without taxing teachers and hotel housekeepers who struggle to find anyplace to live, let alone energy-efficient housing.
We fear that the proposal will sink a more appropriate and needed tax request: the levy to support infrastructure needs including street repairs, trail maintenance and support for future development, perhaps including attainable housing projects. Almost no one is talking about this, but it deserves attention.
Carbondalians are feeling tax fatigued and, we suspect, are disinclined to support either measure, but the infrastructure levy is essential. It’s also more money — about $120 a year on a home valued at $500,000 — but the town must work to keep up on infrastructure — which, by the way, is a sure job creator.
Whether the new levy is approved or not, Carbondalians’ taxes will increase in 2017 from reassessment of properties based on valuations this June 30. Perhaps, if the infrastructure levy is approved, some of that added money could go toward some clean energy projects in time.
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