Town, county continue to mull over sales tax increase


Staff Writer

Discussions continue between the Town of Pagosa Springs Town Council and the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners concerning a proposed one cent sales tax increase that could appear on the November ballot.

The two entities have discussed the proposed increase in a series of joint meetings between the boards, as well as amongst each board.

Most recently, the boards met in a joint work session on June 6, with the BoCC following up with its own discussion June 10.

At the June 6 joint meeting, the entities discussed possible uses for the additional revenue, with recreation and roads dominating the conversation.

To begin the meeting, Bentley Henderson, county administrator, and David Mitchem, town manager, each gave updates on the progress of each agency since the previous joint meeting.

Beginning discussion between elected officials, the town’s Tracy Bunning asked if the county had given any consideration to or done anything to determine if recreation was the county’s top priority.

In response, commissioner Clifford Lucero said some constituents he had spoken with wanted more work on roads, but that the commission needed to have more discussions and a game plan to dispel fears of a bait and switch, which some believe happened in the past with the county.

“We can talk in the hall, but we can’t have meetings,” Lucero said of the county’s progress on the matter.

Following a comment from mayor Don Volger about the importance of the county’s choice on how to spend any additional sales tax revenue, councilor David Schanzenbaker noted a suggestion he received that the town and the county could each do a separate ballot question, with each ballot question asking for a 0.5 percent sales tax increase in order to give voters more options.

Shortly after that statement, Schanzenbaker noted that the town had come up with a laundry list of possible recreation projects totaling $13.6 million.

At that point, councilor Kathie Lattin surfaced the topic of a new recreation center initiative for a smaller (perhaps $10 million or $11 million) center with a smaller debt term.

“People want a rec center, no doubt,” Lattin said, stating that a lot of myths came out during the last election on the matter.

Volger suggested that a rec center would be a county issue if done again, while Lucero was quick to reiterate that the No. 1 priority with constituents was roads, with that concern pre-dating the rec center.

Lattin clarified that she was not wanting a new rec center proposal tailored to the proposed sales tax increase, but it can be an option for down the road when the entities prove they can use the funding wisely.

Commissioner Steve Wadley then suggested that a rec center be built in a manner similar to how the local hospital was built — with money in hand, versus going into debt.

“I can’t tell you what’s second on the list; it’s roads,” Wadley said of the priorities of county citizens, adding that he wanted to work on trails to invest in the community.

Additional discussion at the meeting concerned the need to discuss creating a possible recreation district to manage the county’s and town’s recreational amenities.

Commissioner Michael Whiting, however, suggested holding off on any ballot initiative due to concerns over the timing of creating the ballot initiative, while Lucero said several businessmen serving on the two boards had put together several big deals in a short amount of time.

Whiting also expressed concerns over the tax itself, noting the tax on a loaf of bread is the same no matter how much the person buying the bread makes per year.

During a subsequent discussion during its June 10 weekly work session, the BoCC again discussed what the proposed tax should be used for on the county side.

During that discussion, the board and Henderson discussed the possibility of splitting the revenue on the town’s side between roads and recreation.

Lucero added the topic of possible raises for county employees into the mix, with Wadley and Henderson noting the need for infrastructure work due to deferred maintenance.

Also during the discussion, Wadley stated that part of his motivation behind the county seeking a sales tax increase was to secure that the county and town would continued to share the sales tax revenue (currently, each entity receives 2 percent) — a notion Whiting disagreed with.

Whiting later called Wadley’s motivation “preemptive taxation against the town.”

The next joint meeting of the town and county is currently scheduled for June 24 at 8 a.m. at the Archuleta County Courthouse.