A November ballot question to increase property taxes to pay for expansion of the Durango-La Plata County Airport was the favored option Tuesday of most city councilors and county commissioners.
La Plata County, Durango officials mull tax question for airport
Over months of discussion, city and county officials have weighed whether the airport project should be funded by a sales or property tax increase, and whether the question should be put to voters in 2016 or later.
While city councilors readily came to consensus at a joint meeting on Tuesday, commissioners struggled with the timeliness of the question after the county’s mill levy increase proposal failed at the polls in November 2015. Furthermore, the county is mulling an additional ballot item to boost the road and bridge fund.
Commissioner Julie Westendorff opposed presenting an airport ballot measure in 2016, as opposed to 2017, arguing that eight months is not ample time to execute an effective campaign.
“I don’t think getting enough voters can happen between now and when the ballots go out,” Westendorff said. “I’ve talked to informed voters. They say, ‘I don’t think this is going to win.’ There are three things I think we believe are facts, which are: the airport plays a critical role in the economic health of our community, the airport as it currently exists cannot continue to be the economic driver that it is, and open your checkbook and pay for it. I don’t think eight months is enough time to do that.”
She added that if airport, road and bridge and school funding questions simultaneously go to the ballot this fall, it will degrade the government’s credibility.
Councilor Christina Rinderle pointed to the past ballot items, such as funding for the rec center, that passed after failed initial attempts.
“Especially coming on the heels of an added flight to LA, people are watching us, and we want to build on that momentum,” Rinderle said.
City Manager Ron LeBlanc added support for a property tax question. The option, he said, is safer than depending on sales tax revenue, which takes an immediate hit when the economy nosedives.
The city will proceed with the process of forming the ballot question after the County Commission, which has taken direction from the city on airport discussions, takes a formal vote on the timeframe and funding mechanism at its regularly scheduled meeting next Tuesday.
Officials invite the public to attend Tuesday’s meeting and/or contact commissioners and councilors with opinions on the ballot question.
The item is intended to raise about half of a proposed $85 million expansion of the airport terminal. A grant from the Federal Aviation Administration could match the rest.