Bag fee rebuffed; DFPD gets go-ahead

by Missy Votel and Tracy Chamberlin

Durangoans are now welcome to use their bags and bongs freely after Tuesday’s election.

Perhaps the most contentious issue on the ballot, the City of Durango’s short-lived bag ordinance, was suffocated by voters with a 56-percent margin.

The ordinance, which was passed by the City Council 4-1 in August after months of discussion and vetting, was to go into effect March 1, 2014. It would have placed a 10-cent fee on plastic bags used by consumers at the city’s largest grocery chains. Half of that money was to go to the city for an education campaign with the other half going to the stores for similar efforts.

However, after the ordinance was passed, a group opposed to the fee quickly formed, circulating a petition to put the ban to voters. With enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot, voters were asked whether or not they wanted to repeal the fee. 

The opposition, calling itself “No Durango Bag Tax,” was headed up by Dave Peters and recent City Council candidate Kristen Smith.

“It was a victory for the people,” said Smith. “We are very pleased Durango voters chose to recall the ordinance.”

Other key election results:

- Amendment 66 (tax Increase for school funding) La Plata County: 56 percent against, 44 percent for Statewide: 65 percent against, 35 percent for

- Proposition AA (marijuana tax) La Plata County: 72 percent for, 27 percent against Statewide: 65 percent for, 35 percent against

The group cites several reasons for opposing the fee. Among those were overreaching government, unfair financial burden and loss of local shoppers to Aztec. They also thought the ordinance was frivolous and merely a symbolic gesture. “We support a clean environment, we just think this was not quite the right way to go about doing it,” Smith continued.

City Councilor Keith Brant, the sole dissenting vote against the fee last August, said he thought the ordinance would be voted down but was surprised it was by such a large margin. However, whether the ordinance was voted up or down by the Durango community, Brant said he would have supported the outcome. “It should have gone to the voters in the first place,” he added.

Ellen Stein, organizer of the pro-fee “Durango Bag It” campaign, said she was obviously disappointed with the election outcome but was thankful for the conversation it started.

“What I’m focused on is we had 2,072 people who wanted (the fee), that’s a number not to be ignored,” she said. “It galvanized the community around something they believe in.”

She said she believes a myriad of factors played a role in the ordinance’s defeat, including current attitudes about government thanks to national politics such as the shutdown and Obamacare, and a general anti-tax sentiment. She also pointed to her campaign’s short window in which to get out its message.

“I think a lot of people had already made up their minds when we started,” Stein said.

And while the subject may be settled for now, she said she hopes it is not the last of it. “I think we’ll take a breath and a step back, but we’ll be back,” she said. “In what form, I’m not sure, but we will try to direct that energy into positive ways.”

Fire district gets the go-ahead

After seven years of struggles, three different election cycles and two key ballot measures, the Durango Fire Protection District can finally move forward. Voters approved both measures Tuesday, giving the DFPD the final pieces to a consolidation puzzle they’ve been seeking for years.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Durango Fire and Rescue Chief Dan Noonan.

One of those measures, Question 2A, asked city voters to approve a 15-year contract between Durango and the DFPD. It was supported 84 to 16 percent. The other measure, Issue 4B, was a replacement mill levy and passed 66 to 34 percent. Both were part of a larger puzzle to consolidate the Durango Fire Protection District’s efforts and assets, streamline its funding and governing structure, and allow for future planning.

Since the results came in, the DFPD has taken its first steps by signing the 15-year contract. Noonan said over the next couple months, the district will work on transferring all of the assets and operations to the DFPD. After that, administrators can focus on long-term planning, while firefighters and EMS personnel can simply focus on the community.