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BoCC approves advisory questions for November ballot

In a series of three motions, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday afternoon to place three advisory questions on the November 2014 ballot.

The questions all relate to parks and recreation endeavors within Archuleta County and the Town of Pagosa Springs and are, according to the agenda, “to ascertain the public’s opinion, in a strictly advisory, non-binding manner …”

Each question was approved as a separate agenda item, each with its own resolution.

Question 1

The first agenda item was “Consideration Of A Resolution To Approve And Authorize An Advisory, Non-Binding Ballot Question For The November 2014 General Election For The Purposes Of Determining Citizen Support For Combining Town And County Park And Recreation Efforts Through The Creation Of A Special District.”

According to the agenda, “The Board of County Commissioners desires to ascertain the public’s opinion, in a strictly advisory, non-binding manner as to whether or not Archuleta County should spend time and resources investigating the financial feasibility of bringing forward to the voters at a future election the formation of a Parks and Recreation District for the purpose of combining the Town of Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County’s park and recreation efforts and programs.”

More specifically, that question, as included in its resolution, will read:

“Would you be in favor of the Town of Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County combining their park and recreation efforts and programs through the creation of a Parks and Recreation District?”

The question is accompanied by two answers:

  • “YES – For Combining Park and Recreation Efforts and Programs Through the creation of a Parks & Recreation District.”
  • “NO – Against Combining Their Park and Recreation Efforts and Programs Through the Creation of a Parks & Recreation District.”

In presenting the resolution, County Attorney Todd Starr stressed that the questions are nonbinding and, even if the community voted overwhelmingly in favor of combining the endeavors into a new district, the commissioners could choose to not move forward with the actual creation of the district.

Michael Whiting was the first to speak during commissioner discussion on the topic, stating three things: that the county and town were working together in an “unprecedented” manner, that he doesn’t support tax increases unless all other options have been looked at, and that his professional priority was roads, even though he personally wanted more work on recreational amenities.

“I’m glad they’re not actual questions,” he said.

Commissioner Clifford Lucero was the next to speak after Steve Wadley declined to comment, with Lucero echoing Whiting’s comments about the town and county boards working together.

Lucero further noted that recreation is “huge,” that he would like to see a new district, and that, hopefully, a funding mechanism would be found.

“I think it’s a good time,” Lucero said.

Following a motion and a second, the topic was opened for public comment, with audience member Bill Hudson noting that it was great to ask the community such a question, but asked the board about the cost. Starr responded that funding for the district was addressed in the following question.

Question 2

The second question, under a heading similar to the first on the agenda, is closely paired with the first question and expounds upon a revenue source should a parks and recreation district be looked favorably upon and approved in the future.

That question, as stated in the resolution, will read as follows and be accompanied by yes and no answers.

“If a Parks and Recreation District is formed it has to be funded. Would you support a permanent sales tax not to exceed 1 cent as the sole source of funding?”

There was little discussion about the question among the commissioners, with Lucero stating, “Obviously, we beat this horse pretty hard at the meeting with the town,” referring to a joint work session of the Pagosa Springs Town Council and BoCC held Aug. 22.

Most of the discussion on the question came during public comment on the matter, with audience member Dave West asking if there was any guarantee sales tax would be balanced equally between the town and county, since the majority of businesses were within the town boundaries.

Starr responded that any district created in the future, if done as the advisory question outlined, would be funded from sales tax generated throughout Archuleta County and would be a separate governmental entity. Starr also noted that the district was only at a conceptual stage, with much more work required if the community shows interest.

Whiting again noted that he had a problem with raising taxes, but suggested that the advisory questions were a “rare opportunity to get two bites at the same apple” — a chance to give an opinion in a nonbinding way before possibly voting on a binding question.

Hudson asked what the county’s position would be if the voters said yes to a parks and recreation district but no to a tax increase, with Whiting noting that the town and county both expend significant amounts of taxpayer money for parks and recreation (about $400,000 for the town and $30,000 for the county), but added it would be difficult to run a district without taxing authority and noted that the county would work closely with the town to work within the budgets of the two agencies.

Lucero noted that the county gives the town only $30,000 per year, while 80 percent of the town’s park and recreation participants are from outside the town boundaries.

With that and the parks the county is working to develop (Cloman Community Park and the Veterans’ Memorial Park), Lucero said it would be beneficial to have a way to fund parks and recreation endeavors.

Question 3

The third question, while also about parks and recreation endeavors, differs from the first two because it does not involve a special district, but considers collecting additional sales tax revenue for a limited period of time to complete recreation projects, such as the Town-to-Lakes Trail — a project being completed jointly by the town and county.

According to the resolution, that question will read as follows and be accompanied by yes and no answers.

“If a Parks and Recreation District is not created, would you support a sales tax increase over a limited period of time dedicated solely to completing recreation projects such as the town to lakes trail?”

During commissioner discussion, Whiting noted that the question was included to help determine the threshold for increasing taxes — if people would rather create a district that would require a perpetual tax or focus on projects with a tax increase for a limited time.

Whiting also asked if adding the third question would create a second page on the ballot and therefore cost the county $6,000 or $7,000 more, but Clerk and Recorder June Madrid said the size of the ballot won’t be known until Monday.

During public comment on the third question, West asked if the county knew how the tax increase would affect existing and future businesses, suggesting that people would look more favorably at a half-cent increase than a one cent increase.

Starr responded that, if the idea of the tax moved forward, a list of projects would be developed that would include a cost and time frames, and would help determine what tax increase would be necessary.

Hudson suggested that the county follow the example of the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District by placing the question on the ballot only if it didn’t increase the cost.

“First of all, we’re not the PAWSD board,” Lucero responded, adding the BoCC does things how they think they should be done and that the question was going on the ballot.

After the motion placing the final question on the ballot, Kathie Lattin, town council member, thanked the commissioners and noted the good work of the two boards.

This story was posted on September 4, 2014.