Demystifying the ballot

SideStory: A glance at the statewide initiatives


by Missy Votel

Sharpen your pencils, because this year’s ballot is a doozy, with more items than any of us can remember. Given space and reader-attention constraints, we will not go into painstaking detail here, but will offer a brief synopsis as well as a detailed account of what we deem the more pertinent issues. If you crave more information than provided here, visit the La Plata County League of women voters online at In the meantime, get cracking – you only have until 7 p.m. Tuesday. And remember, lose your vote – lose your voice.

Durango Fire Protection District Ballot Issue 4A, 4B, 4C

In a nutshell: No doubt the most contentious local issue on La Plata County voter’s plates, this item deals with the consolidation (4A), oversight (4B) and funding (4C) of the Durango Fire and Rescue Authority. The authority was formed in 2002, constituting a merger between the City of Durango Fire Department, the Animas and Hermosa Fire Protection Districts, and Mercy Medical Center paramedics. The first five years of the authority were designated as a test period in which to evaluate the merger.

Now with that test period coming to a close, the agencies are looking to go beyond an organizational merger to become bound legally and financially. As such, 4C proposes a single, districtwide property tax. The district encompasses Durango and its environs; the Highway 550 corridor from the stateline to just north of Purgatory; and the Highway 160 corridor from Hesperus Hill to the Florida River, west of Bayfield.

Currently, the authority is funded via three mechanisms. The Hermosa and Animas district funds are via property taxes while the city pays its share (about $2 million annually) out of the General Fund, made up mostly of sales tax. For owners of a $400,000 home, the proposed tax of 6.323 mills ($8 million annually) would result in an increase of $19.80 per year in the Animas district; a decrease of $84 a year in Hermosa; and new tax of $122 per year in the city. This figure is based on the hypothetical possibility of the city removing its existing 2.5 mill levy. In the event this does not happen, the increase for city property owners will be around $201 annually.

The measure also contains a de-brucing clause, whereby excess revenue generated above Tabor limits would not be returned to taxpayers.

Pros: 4C et al are being proposed by the current board of directors for Durango Fire and Rescue. Supporters argue that passage will result in:

• Quicker response, and more efficient communication, training and distribution of resources throughout the service area, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

• Replacement of 3 boards with one

• One stable funding mechanism

• Lower insurance rates

• Increased safety for personnel

Proponents also argue that the new tax would even the playing field. According to them, the city is in need of two replacement fire trucks, to the tune of $800,000. Furthermore, a Hermosa Cliff bond issue paid more than $400,000 for a fire truck that now is housed in the downtown Durango fire station. Likewise, an Animas district bond paid $180,000 for a rescue truck that now operates out of the downtown station. The only truck operated within city limits paid for with General Fund is a ladder truck, which cost around $400,000.

Cons: Those opposed argue that not only does it constitute an enormous new tax, but one for a service that is already being provided. Among the arguments:

• With or without the new tax, residents will continue to experience the same service.

• The City of Durango has different fire and rescue needs than those of the rural Hermosa and Animas districts, where water and fire hydrants are not readily available.

• If the city needs to increase its service, there are less drastic options, such as capital improvement funds generated from last year’s 2A, the creation of another special district (as in the case of Three Springs) or a small mill levy increase.

• Lifting the city’s 2.5 mill levy (as proposed), would take away the City’s most stable and secure form of revenue.

• Given the pace of property tax increases, the tax would generate $147 million more than needed in 10 years. Even at a more modest property tax increase rate of only 6 percent per year, it would generate an excess of $9 million in 10 years, amounting to a blank check.

Our two cents: While we applaud the fine people who risk their lives to come to our rescue, we do not feel that throwing heaps of unaccounted money at them is prudent choice. The consolidation of the agencies is a good idea, but let’s look at common-sense funding mechanisms that won’t leave city taxpayers gasping for breath.

Referred Measure 2A – Library

In a nutshell: If your head is spinning from talk of mill levies and taxes, rest easy. This proposal does not involve any new taxes. Rather, it is about allowing the city to move forward with plans to build the new library. Students of local issues may remember the “Open Space” half-cent sales tax increase that was approved by city voters in April of 2005. While half of that revenue was dedicated to trails, parks and open space, the other half (a quarter cent) was dedicated to capital improvements.

In order to finance the construction of the new library at the old Mercy hospital site, the city must sell bonds in the amount of $15.9 million, which will be repaid at a later date from the quarter-cent tax. In order to do this, however, the city must first gain voter approval.

Earlier this year, the city held public meetings to gather input and ideas on the library’s design. Included in the building’s 42,000-square-foot, two-story design will be: dedicated children and young adult areas; a Southwest history area; reading gardens; and public meeting spaces.

Pros: The current library is outdated and cramped, with no room to grow or to expand young adult offerings. Likewise, space for children’s storytime and other programs is limited, as is on-street parking, which is paid. The library is a vital resource for the community, and Durangoans need and deserve a quality facility that will take them through the 21st century.

Cons: None that we’ve heard

Our two cents: We like the idea of an expanded library, with better access, more books and space to spread out, as well as bathrooms on every floor. Plus, the funding for the building is already in place, we just need to spend it. Now if only they could do something about an amnesty day. •



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows