Demystifying the ballot
The local voter's cheat sheet to the 2003 ballot

Pedestrians stroll the streets of Durango’s Central Business District earlier this week. Property owners in the district are being asked to vote on a $150,000 tax increase to help fund tourism and special events promotion./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

As voters ponder a relatively sleepy Nov. 4, mail-in ballot, business owners and residents of the Durango Central Business District will be asked whether or not to resurrect an increase in the district’s property tax to help boost stagnant tourism.

The referred measure comes from the Durango Conference Center Business Improvement District, a group that formed seven years ago after a successful similar vote. In that case, the measure called for an identical increase in property tax to cover the cost of bringing a tourist-attracting conference center to downtown. Three years ago, the term of the tax expired.

The new measure calls for a total increase of roughly $150,000 a year in property tax collected within the Central Business District, an area stretching from Fifth to 15th streets and bounded by Camino del Rio and E. Second Avenue. Select, service-oriented businesses along North Main Avenue also are considered part of the district. For these property owners, the increase would translate into an additional $88 per year per $200,000 of assessed value. The money would be spent on event marketing, event coordination and possible capital improvements to draw more tourist dollars into downtown Durango.

John Wells, a board member of the district, noted, “The ability to raise between $140,000 and $150,000 for marketing special events could be quite impactful for the community.”

Wells explained that the board would manage the funds by responding to requests from existing or new local events to market outside the community. He argued that with extensive advertising of local happenings, Durango’s tourism industry could be revived.

“Visitor numbers have been stagnant for a few years,” he said. “The idea is that the Durango Area Tourism Office already does tourism marketing and this would be targeted toward marketing new and existing events.”

Wells believes that $88 per $200,000 of assessed value is not a dramatic increase.

“We think it’s a reasonable amount of additional tax to pay,” he said. “We believe that the amount would be more than off-set by the amount of benefit.”

Wells also explained that the measure is not tied to the City of Durango’s recent hire of Bob Kunkel as the Central Business District events and promotion specialist.

No formal objections to the referred measure have surfaced as of yet. However, several local business owners expressed “off-the-record” concerns about the measure. First, there are concerns about what happened to the original pool tax collected for the conference center, which was never built.

Wells noted that a portion of it was spent on a feasibility study that determined such a conference center would not be economically viable. As the Business Improvement District has shifted gears toward event promotion, a portion of the funding also has been spent on outside advertising of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, the Rocky Mountain Runners’ Festival and Colorfest, as well as other events.

Another chunk has been spent on testing the feasibility of such an events-marketing program with serious analysis of other resort communities’ efforts. However, Wells noted that the vast majority of the money remains in the bank.

“We’ve been pretty frugal with it,” he said.

Another charge was that the board has operated behind a veil of secrecy, to which Wells replied that the district meets monthly and the meetings are open to the public.

An additional “off-the-record” comment was that such a tax to encourage tourism would only benefit local retail, lodging and restaurants, even though businesses and residents throughout the central business district would be taxed. Wells’ response was that the pool of dollars throughout Durango would grow and change hands several times in the community. “It’s easy to see the benefits when you look at retail or lodging or restaurants,” he said. “But there’s also a ripple effect that would help people in other areas of business throughout the community.”

The people who would be directly impacted by the tax increase are also the ones who will decide whether it passes or fails, according to Lisa Lieb, election official for the Business Improvement District. Eligible electors are required to be 18 years old, Colorado residents and own a primary dwelling or business property or have leasehold interest within the district. Lieb noted that the election will be held at Durango City Hall between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 4.

People interested in obtaining an absentee ballot have until Friday, Oct. 31, to do so. Lieb said that qualified electors should have been notified by mail, but anyone with doubts or interest in an absentee ballot can contact her at 759-4564.

Wells remarked in closing that the ultimate decision on the tax increase is in the hands of those who would have to pay it. “Certainly we encourage everyone to exercise their right to vote,” he said.






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