Gunnison’s proposed 1% sales tax hike fails

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Residents of Gunnison County voted against the city’s demand for a 1% sales tax increase to fund the construction of a new fire hall as well as the maintenance of streets, alleys and sidewalks .

The 2B ballot question failed at the polls, with an unofficial tally showing 53.53% against and 46.47% in favor out of 1,517 votes cast in total. Had the initiative been passed, it would have raised Gunnison’s total sales tax rate to 9.9%.

About 70% of the increase would have gone to road maintenance across Gunnison, and the remaining 30% would have paid for half a new fire station. Residents of the Fire Protection District voted for 7A, a proposal for a separate factory tax increase to fund the other half of the station. Question 7A also narrowly failed by nine votes, with 50.22% against and 49.78% in favor, leaving the fire station with no new source of revenue for planned renovations which city leaders say are desperately needed.

Without the additional $ 2 million that would have been generated each year from the sales tax increase, city finance director Ben Cowan said the city would try to “maximize as much as possible with the resources available to it. we dispose”. The city will continue to save money for several years to tackle larger projects to consolidate equipment costs. Unless helped by grants, sidewalk maintenance would become a low priority.

The cost of asphalt and concrete continued to rise, doubling every 10 years and exceeding inflation. Cowan said the price has grown too high for the city to absorb within its budget. Road maintenance expenses alone would absorb 28% of the city’s general fund. Using such a sum of money from the general fund would mean “huge cuts” in municipal services, he said.

Public Works Director David Gardner said the department had attempted to generate funds from outside sources, seeking grants from the Colorado and Region 10 Department of Transportation, but these projects typically require a 20-minute correspondence. at 50%.

“I can’t even afford to match the grant,” Gardner said. “The street budget is just not enough to maintain the streets we have here.”

Gardner said just because the initiative wasn’t passed doesn’t mean the problem is going away. It is at least eight times more expensive to repair roads and sidewalks when they deteriorate beyond a certain point, rather than repairing them while they are still in good condition, he said. . “This is why it is urgent that we do it as quickly as possible. ”

“Each year it’s just going to increase in cost to the taxpayer. You go deeper and deeper into the hole, trying to hold the streets. It’s just not a good situation, ”Gardener said.

The department will continue to monitor the condition of streets and lanes, city engineer Cody Tusing said. Although the city has “done very well with the maintenance”, they can only “do it for such a long time”.

He said some cobbled lanes are likely to transition to a type of recycled asphalt or gravel surface that will be easier to maintain in the future with road leveling equipment. Staff would continue to try to keep the deteriorating lanes passable, but paving them “wouldn’t really be an option.”

Tusing said the city will start exploring alternative courses of action, such as building its own asphalt plant to help reduce road maintenance costs. A number of other Colorado municipalities have built theirs. He said Delta County built theirs in the ’90s when they encountered a similar problem where they didn’t have enough income to maintain the roads they already had.

City manager Russ Forrest said the city’s strategic plan refers to creating a source of funding for the fire station and roads. With the failure of the initiative, “Plan B” could take many forms. The city could try again and provide more information to the public to motivate a different outcome. The second would be more of a ‘band-aid solution’, where staff would try to keep the physical structure of the fire station in place and then take care of the streets in the worst conditions.

The last option would be to take neither action and move on to the next issue, but Forrest said those issues aren’t going to go away. He said the city will assess public comments to inform on how they move forward.

The fire station will remain the status quo, but poll results showed that there is some level of support for a new fire station. Cowan said the city will take a closer look at what the community is potentially willing to support.

“It’s so close that maybe if people saw actual blueprints and saw that it wasn’t an extravagant building, and it’s just a replacement and big enough to accommodate modern equipment, maybe it would accommodate. be more supportive, ”Cowan said.

Mayor Jim Gelwicks said the low turnout made it difficult to judge what is going on in the audience, he said. Although the results were “disappointing, it means we have to do a better job of disseminating the information”. He said the city had “a lot of work to do” and would likely present the initiative to voters again.

“We have no choice,” Gelwicks said. “The choice is you have an inadequate fire department that endangers the volunteers who work there and the streets that turn to dirt – neither of these options is acceptable.”

(Bella Biondini can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or [email protected])

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