City, county and fire infrastructure needs stack up

La Plata County may cut library funding, increase fees

La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff addresses a crowd at the Durango Chamber of Commerce event on Wednesday at the DoubleTree Hotel. Enlarge photo

Mary Shinn/Durango Herald

La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff addresses a crowd at the Durango Chamber of Commerce event on Wednesday at the DoubleTree Hotel.

The infrastructure and funding needs facing La Plata County, the city and Durango Fire Protection District are vast and varied.

La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff, Mayor Dick White and Fire Chief Hal Doughty pitched the business community at a Durango Chamber of Commerce Wednesday on a potential marijuana excise tax and new fees on construction that would support community services, but might cost some business owners.

After a ballot question to increase property taxes to pay for roads and bridges failed twice in La Plata County, residents are likely to notice deterioration of roads and the commission is already getting complaints, Westendorff told the crowd.

“We are going to do our best, but we are not going to be able to do it the way we used to,” she said.

Among other cuts, it is likely the county will not fund branch libraries at Sunnyside and Fort Lewis Mesa elementary schools next year because of the decline in gas and oil revenues, she said. The county is working with Durango School District 9-R to find an alternate source of money to keep the libraries open, she said.

The county also plans to roll out an early retirement program and save money by not filling positions.

It is re-evaluating fees across departments and plans to implement increases in the short-term, Westendorff, said. For example, the commission expects to consider increasing rental fees at the fairgrounds in the next few weeks, she said.

The county may also ask voters in November to approve an excise tax on wholesale marijuana. A five-percent excise tax on marijuana could raise an estimated $1.3 million, based on current cultivation levels.

The county is also working on streamlining the land-use planning process for builders, and Westendorff expects that the rewrite for the land-use code to be finished in May 2018.

Fire districtThe Durango fire district also has seen revenue from oil and gas funding decline while its call volume has increased steadily and hit 5,080 calls in 2016, Doughty said.

The district is proposing impact fees on new construction to make sure the department can pay for the infrastructure required for a growing community. The district proposes $1,183 per new home and $1.72 per square foot for commercial businesses.

The city council and La Plata County and San Juan County commissioners would have to approve the impact fee, he said in an interview.

Doughty has talked to many groups about the need for the fee, and he is planning a final public meeting on May 31.

He expects the La Plata County Commissioners will be the first board to vote on the fee, if it’s not set back by County Manager Joe Kerby’s departure. Fees would have to go into effect across the entire fire district on the same date.

He had planned for the boards to approve the fee by January, but the process has taken longer than he expected. That means existing fire district residents will subsidize the cost of some new development, he said.

Developers in Three Springs, Twin Buttes and Edgemont Ranch are required to pay fire impact fees.

The district also is talking with the city about relocating Station No. 2, near the intersection of 12th Street and Camino del Rio, or rebuilding it in place. Potential new sites include one near the Durango Transit Center along Camino del Rio between Seventh and Eighth Streets or in the parking lot used by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Both sites are owned by the city.

A public meeting will be held June 13 to seek feedback on potential fire station sites, he said.

“We are going to show all the pros and cons we have with the three (sites),” he said.

New fire impact fees wouldn’t be used to pay for the $9 million rebuilt Station 2 because it is an existing need not driven by new growth. The district has saved $5 million for the project and the city has agreed to pay $3.2 million toward a new downtown station as part of its 15-year contract with the district, Doughty said.

City needsThe list of funding and infrastructure needs at the city is long, but city staff and officials have made progress achieving goals and introducing new programs over the last eight years, Mayor Dick White told the crowd.

“The wheels of government turn slowly because there are so many of them turning at once,” he said.

The city transit service is likely to face deficits as grant funding is scaled back, and the city is doing a transportation and housing linkage study that could show a need for a fee on construction to fund the city’s bus service, he said.

To accommodate growth, the city plans to revisit the La Posta Road area plan, which guides development along Koshak Mesa and the Animas Airpark Mesa. Koshak Mesa is between La Posta Road and the Animas River. The cost of infrastructure seems to be holding development back in that area.

In addition to rebuilding the sewage treatment plant, the city also has longterm plans to build a new water treatment plant at the base of Lake Nighthorse.

A water treatment plant would likely be built in partnership with the La Plata-Archuleta Water District and the city’s portion would be funded through water bills.

The city also needs to renovate buildings, especially the police department, he said. But there are no immediate plans to address city facilities.

He acknowledged that homelessness and panhandling have become acute problems that must be addressed in a collaborative way, but they may not be completely solvable without a change in the economy, he said.

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