This year’s election is rapidly approaching, with voters facing decisions that could change the direction of Archuleta County as it moves into the future — a road-specific mill levy being among the issues.
On the November ballot, which will be conducted as a mail ballot, Archuleta County will ask for a road-specific mill levy increase of 7 mills for a duration of four years, with the associated de-Brucing figure to allow the county to collect the revenue that exceeds TABOR limits — Ballot Issue 1A.
The county’s certified ballot language proposes to spend the approximately $2.26 million collected annually from the 7 mills (based on 2012 property value estimates) in accordance with the five-year road plan being created by consulting firm Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc. (SEH).
A preliminary plan from SEH is anticipated to be presented to the Board of County Commissioners on Oct. 5, and will be reported on in The SUN.
According to SEH’s preliminary figures, over $7.65 million would be needed on an annual basis to accomplish needed improvement and maintenance on county roads. Routine maintenance such as grading, snow plowing and weed cutting are not included in the estimate.
However, 50 percent of the proceeds collected from the town and any metro or improvement districts will be paid back to each entity for use on roads within that district.
The remaining funding would, then, “FUND ROAD CONSTRUCTION AND MAINTENANCE PROJECTS IN THE ARCHULETA COUNTY ADOPTED 5 YEAR ROAD IMPROVEMENT PLAN.”
If approved by the voters, the county would have one additional year beyond the four years in the question to spend the money (to account for any ongoing or delayed projects), or the money would be refunded to the taxpayers through a credit on the 2017 mill levy.
Monetary amounts have been estimated, but what do those amounts mean to residents and voters?
What can voters reasonably expect if the ballot measure passes? Or, conversely, if it fails?
SUN staff recently sat down with Archuleta County Commissioner Clifford Lucero and Administrator Greg Schulte to discuss the county’s ballot request.
The short answer provided by Schulte and Lucero on each question was that the projects funded on a yearly basis would be chosen at the discretion of the commissioners and would be guided by the SEH road plan, catering to the amount of funding available.
No firm answer lies to what residents might see on the ground, regardless of how the ballot vote goes.
Beyond that, Schulte noted that the county has invested in the county’s roads, especially over the last five years through the last Ballot Issue 1A and, should this year’s ballot measure pass, that investment would continue.
“That is money that will go directly into the community in road improvements,” Schulte said.
Lucero noted that he felt the county had gone two steps forward in terms of road improvement and didn’t want to go two steps back.
Schulte said that, within the road plan, there is the possibility of emphasis, such as a focus on preservation of investment in order to keep roads from deteriorating to the point of needing to be rebuilt.
The emphasis could be focused elsewhere, Schulte continued — such as on roadways in failed or poor condition, or on a more equitable distribution of resources throughout the county.
“It has to be a balance,” Schulte said.
So, then, if the ballot issue fails, what can voters and residents reasonably expect to see in terms of road work and maintenance?
“It’s going to be tough,” Lucero said. “We’re going to have to pick and choose what we do.”
Schulte said the SEH road plan will be a tool regardless of the outcome of the election and will help prioritize the roadwork needed in the county, though the list of needed work would just be spread over more years.
He added that the BoCC would have to be judicious in selecting the projects to move forward with and that the county may have to accumulate funding for larger projects over multiple years.
“It’s just less resources,” Schulte said. “Less work will be getting done.”
Current road funding
At present, Archuleta County road work is funded through a combination of sources.
Of the 18.345 mills the county currently levies for all purposes, including purposes required by statute, 1.693 mills is appropriated for roads — in 2011, the 1.693 mills totaled $718,000.
One percent of the county’s 6.9 percent sales tax is for roads and is restricted to capital expenditures. Of the 6.9 percent, 2.9 percent is a state sales tax, while the remaining 4 percent is split between the county and town, with the county’s portion further being split between roads and the county’s General Fund.
Highway User Tax Funding is a fuel tax collected by the state that is apportioned to counties based on lane miles and other roads-related factors. In 2011, the county collected $1.5 million through the HUTF.
In a previous presentation, Schulte noted that the portion of HUTF funding the county receives has not increased since 1992.
An additional funding source for roads has been the county’s 1A funding — a five-year “de-Brucing” initiative that allowed the county to keep revenue above TABOR-imposed limits.
That 1A ballot measure will sunset at the end of 2011, with 2012 being the final year the county will collect revenue from the voter-approved measure.
The 1A funding was appropriated by the BoCC in four categories each year — roads, facilities, technology and training, and parks and recreation.
Between 2008 and 2011, $3.205 million was appropriated to roads from 1A, with $3.153 million spent.
County staff anticipates that, due to a decline in property valuations and expected decline in property tax revenues in 2012, the county will only receive up to $300,000 to split between the 1A categories — a drop of about $900,000, according to Schulte.
The county has about 275 miles of county-maintained roads.
The Election Information Booklet, also known as “the blue book,” will be mailed to voters Friday, according to Archuleta County Clerk June Madrid, offering more facts on the ballot issues.
Additionally, The SUN will continue to provide information relating to the ballot measures.