With the November election looming, the Durango City Council and the La Plata County Commissioners unanimously endorsed a property tax increase to fund an expansion of the Durango-La Plata County Airport Tuesday.
In November, voters will consider a property tax increase that would fund $40 million of the airport terminal project. The Federal Aviation Administration will fund the other half of the first phase of the terminal project, which is estimated to be about $80 to $85 million. Full build-out is estimated to $131.5 million.
All of the councilors voiced their support for the airport because it supports 1,900 jobs and $200 million in economic activity. The FAA grant money also may not be available next year.
“Here’s an opportunity to get a phenomenal asset for half price,” Councilor Keith Brant said.
As part of this project, a new 80,000-square-foot terminal will be built on the east side of the runway to accommodate today’s level of travel, Mayor Christina Rinderle said. In addition, a new access road is planned.
Plans to realign the airport entrance hit a snag this summer because consultants found endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mice living in the path of the new route.
Now, Interim Aviation Director Tony Vicari is working with Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine if mitigation efforts might minimize destruction of the jumping mouse habitat.
“Those discussions are ongoing. Hopefully, we will have a mitigation for them,” he said.
The species was recently listed as endangered, and so not much is known about it, he said.
If mitigation is infeasible, drivers could use the existing roads to access the terminal on the east side, he said.
The species was discovered during the federally required environmental assessment process scheduled to wrap up a year from now, he said.
Frank Lockwood, who is leading the YESforDRO! campaign, does not believe the jumping mice will be a major campaign issue.
So far, the campaign has held between 15 and 20 community meetings, and it has focused on the importance of the airport as an economic driver, he said.
An opponent of the new airport terminal, Edwonne McCaw, argued in an interview it would be more fair to fund the new terminal with sales tax funding rather than property taxes.
“Everybody pays the sales tax,” he said.
Lockwood said this a common concern. Property tax is proposed because businesses would carry a large percentage of the burden, and the county’s property taxes would remain relatively low compared with other Colorado counties, even if the increase passes, he said.
A sales tax increase could push the total sales tax rate in Durango, which is currently 7.9 percent, up above 9 percent.