Connie Vaclav utilizes reusable grocery bags at South City Market on Wednesday, something many Durango residents choose to do. This November, Durango residents will make the final decision in the great bag debate./Photo by Steve  Eginoire

Money matters

Fees, taxes and fiscal issues dominate November ballot

Related story: Ballots around La Plata County

by Tracy Chamberlin

It’s all about the Benjamins. With money measures monopolizing the ballot this November, fiscal issues are foremost on the minds of area voters.

In next week’s issue ...

In our Oct. 24 issue, The Telegraph looks at two items on the ballot that specifically address the future of public education.

- Amendment 66: Proposed amendment to the state constitution that changes the structure of funding for public schools.

- Meet the Candidates: Question and answer segment featuring local candidates running for several open seats on the 9-R School Board.

Election coverage then turns to decisions when The Telegraph offers readers a Ballot Cheat Sheet in the Oct. 31 issue.

They’ll be asked to make decisions about fees for paper or plastic, changes in who the checks are written out to, new taxes on a budding industry and tax increases to offset falling revenues around La Plata County.

Under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, passed in 1992, only Colorado voters can approve changes to their taxes, making Nov. 5 a date that’s basically about the bottom line.

This week, The Telegraph breaks down some of the key issues for area voters, including Question 2B, the bag fee ordinance for Durango; Issue 4B, the replacement mill levy for the Durango Fire Protection District; Question 2A, the 15-year contract with the DFPD; and, Proposition AA, the marijuana tax.

Question 2B - The Bag Fee Ordinance

To repeal or not to repeal? That is the big bag question for Durango voters.

The City Council approved an ordinance in August that requires larger retail grocers like Walmart, City Market and Albertsons to charge 10 cents for plastic and paper disposable bags at the time of checkout.

Following that vote by the council, residents petitioned to include a repeal of the ordinance on the ballot this November, moving the controversy from City Hall to city homes.

If voters choose to support the ordinance and say no to the repeal, the fee will go into effect March 1, 2014. If they vote against the ordinance, the fee will not go into effect at all.

The ordinance language is specific on who would be subject to enforcement, detailing store size at a minimum of 25,000 square feet, and how the funds would be spent, splitting fees between the store and the city.

Fifty percent would remain with the retailer for things like education, training and signage related to the program. The other half goes to the city to be used for expenses like administrative costs, policy implementation and public outreach.

Also, any store or business in the city that does not fall under these guidelines reserves the right to “opt-in” to the program.

The topic of a disposable bag fees and bans has been debated by this community for the past few years.

The city first created the Plastic Bag Task Force to consider the issue and make recommendations to council. Then the bag fee ordinance was drafted and presented to the community for comment. In the end, council members approved it by a 4-1 vote.

The one dissenting vote came from Councilor Keith Brant, who’s not convinced it’s a truly meaningful measure.

“No one’s ever answered my question of what problem we’re trying to solve,” he said.

Opponents of the ordinance argue that charging customers for plastic and paper bags would not make the kind of impact on local landfills that proponents think it would. And, the costs in time and money to city and retail administrators don’t justify the limited impact it would have on the environment.

Kristen Smith, a member of Bag Ordinance to Vote, the group that organized the petition to get the repeal measure on the ballot, said the ordinance is poorly put together and discriminatory to larger stores.

“Taxpayer time and money has been wasted by our elected officials in their 4 attempts to continue to campaign for this ordinance ... real issues are not being addressed,” she added.

On the other side of the debate is Durango Bag It, a group supporting the ordinance, of which Ellen Stein is an advocate.

“Unfortunately, unless something is given a price, it does not have as much value as without that label,” she said.

The how, when, where and why of voting

This year, state lawmakers approved some changes to the voting process. Chief among those changes is that if a resident does not vote in a general election, which occurs on even-numbered years, they are not automatically moved to the inactive list. The only reason a voter would be switched over is if their voter card or ballot was returned in the mail. For this reason, La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Parker reminds citizens that it’s important to make sure their address is correct.

Election Day is Nov. 5, and all registered voters were mailed ballots starting Tues.,

Oct. 15. If residents have not received a ballot by Mon., Oct. 21, they should call 382-6296 or email

To submit ballots:

-  Mail them back

- Drop off at one of several locations: County Clerk’s Office, 98 Everett St., Durango; County Courthouse, 1060 E. 2nd Ave., Durango; Bayfield Town Hall, 1199 Bayfield Parkway, Bayfield; Ignacio Town Hall, 540 Goddard Ave., Ignacio.

To learn more about the issues:

- Durango School District 9-R Board; Thurs., Oct. 17, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Durango City Hall, 949 E. 2nd Ave., City Hall, 949 E. 2nd Ave. For more info., visit

- State and Local Ballot Issues Pro and Con Forum; Thurs., Oct. 24, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Durango City Hall, 949 E. 2nd Ave. For more info., visit

- Opinions and Thoughts Public Forum on Marijuana Businesses, Wed., Oct. 23, 6 p.m., La Plata County Courthouse, 1060 E. 2nd Ave. For more info., visit

Stein believes the ordinance will help reduce waste in Durango and encourage residents to limit their use of all kinds of disposable goods. “Reducing is the first tenet of recycling,” she added.

Councilor Sweetie Marbury, who voted in support of the ordinance, said that her vote to approve it was inspired by seeing plastic bags in hanging in trees, littering yards and gardens, along the Animas Trail and even floating in the river.

She added that a report by the city’s director of utilities about plastic bags “jamming the sewer system in Durango,” influenced her decision.

No matter what side members of the City Council fall on, they will join everyone else in making the final decision on Nov. 5.

“I’m just glad the voters get to vote on it versus five people,” Brant added.

For more information on these two groups, visit Durango Bag It at or Bag Ordinance to Vote at

Durango Fire & Rescue: Issue 4B - Replacement Mill Levy  and Question 2A - 15-Year Contract

Since 2006, when area voters approved the creation of the Durango Fire Protection District to consolidate fire and emergency services, the organization has been plagued with disorganization.

That same year voters did not approve a funding structure for the DFPD, which resulted in four separate governing boards with four different funding frameworks.

Two attempts to alleviate the money problems were made, the most recent in 2011, but both failed as tax increases for Durango property owners.

These clashes over capital also led to disputes between the four governing bodies, with the Animas Fire Protection District even threatening to leave the district at one point.

This new approach could change all that.

Legally following a framework that requires separate votes from the Durango City Council and area residents this November, the idea is to essentially consolidate the organization into one operating board, instead of four, with a streamlined payment structure that comes out of Durango’s General Fund.

Voters are being asked two questions. First, do they want a 15-year contract between the city and the DFPD? And second, do they agree to pay the DFPD a specific amount through the General Fund?

The first, Issue 4B, is the Replacement Mill Levy. This is not considered a tax increase but a change in how the city currently pays for fire and emergency services. Durango residents, along with Animas and Hermosa Cliff, are being asked to pay the equivalent of a 5.7 mill levy, which is the historical average over the past 10 years.

For the city, this will come out of the General Fund. For county residents living in the Animas and Hermosa Cliff districts, it will be paid through property taxes.

Durango Fire and Rescue Chief Dan Noonan said the one thing he would want people to know is that it’s not an increase in the taxes they’ve been paying over the past 10 years. The measure is essentially a change in who the taxes are paid to, one reason it’s called a “Replacement Mill Levy” on the ballot.

The second, Question 2A, is the 15-Year Contract, which is essentially an agreement that the DFPD will provide fire protection and emergency services to the city through 2028.

According to Noonan, if these two items are approved by area voters, the result would be an assurance of emergency services for residents, a reduction in governance from four boards to one, a reduction in costs under the streamlined structure, and the ability for the DFPD to engage in long-term planning. All without raising taxes.

All the governing boards currently running the show, the Durango Fire Protection District, the Animas Fire Protection District, the Hermosa Cliff Fire Protection District and the city of Durango, have all passed separate resolutions supporting these changes. And, no group has come forward opposing it.

The one issue brought up is the fact that under the new structure, city residents would not be able to be candidates for the new board or vote for board members.

These two measures carry the potential of putting several issues that plagued the area’s fire and rescue services since 2006 to rest.

Proposition AA - The Marijuana Tax

What should those wanting to join the recreational marijuana industry or be a customer of it have to pay to purchase? That’s the question to all Colorado voters this fall.

The proposition covers two taxes, a 10-percent sales tax, which is expected to pay for regulatory expenses, and a 15-percent excise tax, of which the first $40 million would go to pay for school construction costs. These two tax rates would be on top of local and state taxes, bringing the grand total to around 20 to 30 percent.

This tax does not apply to medical marijuana, only the recreational or retail industry created under Amendment 64.

Currently, both Durango and La Plata County have voted to delay implementation of recreational marijuana until late next year, although they did leave the door open to moving up that date.

Other communities in the state have passed outright bans on the industry; and others still, like Telluride, have embraced it.

The one key consideration in this ballot measure is the language that allows state lawmakers in the future to raise or lower the sales tax amount, which can’t exceed 15 percent, without additional voter approval.

If the recreational marijuana industry is as lucrative as some predict, these taxes could send millions to Colorado schools and lower the costs of regulation, even resulting in a tax decrease if enough revenue is brought in.

However, if these taxes turn out to be too high, it could backfire and send potential customers running back to the black market.

The top concern for Colorado, one of two states cracking the “legalize it” barrier, is not as much about taxes as it is about keeping it away from kids and cartels.