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The Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners is expected to approve the placement of three questions on the November ballot on behalf of the county and the Town of Pagosa Springs at its regular meeting next Tuesday.
But, instead of those questions aiming to change taxes collected in Archuleta County and the Town of Pagosa Springs, the questions are to obtain information and opinion from the community.
More specifically, the questions ask if voters would consider a revenue increase in the future for certain parks and recreation endeavors of the town and county.
The questions were created by a committee comprising town and county staff and elected officials, then vetted at a joint work session of the two boards held Friday, Aug. 22.
At the end of the work session, the questions were as follows, as received by SUN staff from County Attorney Todd Starr Wednesday morning:
One of the basic assumptions put into the drafting of the questions, explained County Attorney Todd Starr, was that any funding would come through a sales tax increase versus a mill levy increase.
Starr said the committee “had good, spirited discussion for more than an hour” while drafting the initial version of the questions, which originally left out any specific amount of funding in the second question and did not specify the lack of a parks and recreation district in the third question.
At the beginning of Friday’s work session, the two boards discussed several iterations of the questions, as well as what amount of funding would be necessary for the parks and recreation endeavors.
Commissioner Clifford Lucero suggested that an exact amount needed to be included in the question, while fellow commissioner Michael Whiting said the cost of the project is unknown.
County Administrator Bentley Henderson explained that part of the committee’s discussion was that if too small of an amount was put in the question, the question would possibly be perceived as a “bait and switch,” though Lucero reiterated that the voters wanted an amount.
The third commissioner, Steve Wadley, agreed with Lucero that an amount was needed, especially for the Town-to-Lakes Trail, even though the costs of other projects is more “nebulous.”
Wadley added that he felt a full cent sales tax increase would be for the Town-to-Lakes Trail — something Lucero disagreed with, suggesting the funding could be leveraged to receive grant funding to complete the trail and that running the special district would cost more.
Mayor Don Volger suggested there are still several details to be decided, such as trail surface, which makes the cost “almost impossible” to calculate right now. Volger further suggested the town and county had not decided on a time frame in which to complete the trail, such as one year, five years or 10 years, and for how long the entities would be looking to impose a sales tax increase.
Lucero then suggested that a cost range be included.
Whiting then noted that the second question needed to be a sales tax increase in perpetuity to fund a district in the long-term, noting, “you’re either all in or you’re not.”
He added that the questions were to determine people’s inclinations without getting too specific.
Town councilor Kathie Lattin agreed with Whiting, stating, “We have to find out if people even want a sales tax increase.”
Councilor John Egan suggested putting a “not to exceed” figure in the question, and councilor Tracy Bunning suggested 1 percent.
Whiting said the public doesn’t know how much it costs to build trails or how much facilities cost, and putting a number in the advisory questions could “freak people out.” If any number were included, Whiting continued, it should be a percent.
Volger then reminded the boards that the advisory questions were looking at only one funding option and, if the voters said “no” to the questions, the town and county could still look at other funding options and timetables.
Lucero stated his support for the parks and recreation district, noting that he wanted to put bathrooms at Cloman Community Park, but that the county had no one to take care of them.
Councilor David Schanzenbaker then suggested it would be incumbent upon the boards to somehow educate the voters, stating that he didn’t know the pros and cons of creating a special district and he didn’t think the public would either.
Lattin said the questions were intentionally vague, and that the boards would have time to work with The SUN to disseminate information — something others agreed with throughout the discussion.
Wadley also noted the importance of keeping the ballot questions short and to the point to entice voters to read them in their entirety.
Other discussion surrounding the questions included limiting the third question to the Town-to-Lakes Trail or including additional recreation projects.
Lucero and Lattin both questioned limiting the question to the trail project during the work session, and if the question were expanded, how specific it should be concerning other projects.
Volger suggested adding “other recreational amenities,” while Whiting noted that the question was to see if taxpayers would be willing to fund a specific project for a short period of time, suggested something like “fund specific projects such as the Town-to-Lakes Trail.”
It was at this point in the discussion that the boards suggested adding the phrase “if a Parks and Recreation District is not created” to the third question to avoid the suggestion of double taxation for the projects, while Schanzenbaker noted that people may feel like they have to choose.
Schanzenbaker later asked for an estimate of what a 1-percent sales tax increase would produce, and estimates varied between $1.5 million and $1.8 million.
A similar question about the budget of the town’s parks and recreation department revealed that the department’s budget was about $400,000 for operations.
As discussion progressed and the wording of the questions was adjusted, Lattin suggested that putting the word “completing” in the third question didn’t leave room for new projects in the future, such as a recreation center.
Lattin further explained that taking the word “completing” out in terms of projects would allow for the town, county and people to get together and discuss future projects like the rec center, which she suggested could be downsized.
Lucero suggested that the voters would consider it a “bait and switch,” and Lattin asked what other parks and recreation projects were out there and not complete.
Lucero informed Lattin and the town councilors of Cloman Community Park and the in-progress Veteran Memorial Park.
Lattin then stated she would “love” for a fourth question to be on the ballot.
In the end, it was decided to limit within the question what the funding would be used for if asked for and received.
The BoCC will consider placing the advisory questions on the November ballot at its regular meeting, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2, in the commissioners’ meeting room in the courthouse.