By Chelsea McNerney-Martinez
MONTE VISTA— The Monte Vista City Council presented a resolution and a draft ordinance at the Aug. 15 meeting regarding an additional one cent sales tax, raising the previous sales tax from two percent to three percent. The resolution placed the matter on the ballot for city residents to vote on this November and the draft ordinance provided clarification for how the funds will be used. Both passed unanimously (Mayor Dale Becker was not present), but the ordinance will not reach a second reading until after the election, if the increase is approved by voters on Nov. 5.
The draft resolution noted that the city has heard the concerns of citizens, “WHEREAS, the City Council has received input from Monte Vista citizens requesting additional police protection, as well as the need for road repairs, replacements and upgrades, and improvements to the facilities at Ski Hi Park and has concluded that an increase in the City’s sales tax will be necessary to meet such expenses;” and noted the council determined this was a more equitable method to share the cost to residents and non-residents who visit the city “…instead of seeking a mill levy increase upon the residential and business owners of real property located within the City.” The proposed language for the ballot question reads:
“SHALL THE CITY OF MONTE VISTA’S TAXES BE INCREASED $475,000 IN 2020 (FIRST FULL YEAR OF SUCH TAX INCREASE), AND BY WHATEVER AMOUNTS ARE RAISED ANNUALLY THEREAFTER, BY IMPOSING, COMMENCING JANUARY 1, 2020, AN ADDITIONAL SALES TAX AT THE RATE OF ONE PERCENT (1%) TO BE CREDITED TO THE CITY OF MONTE VISTA’S ONE CENT PROJECTS FUND AND DEDICATED SOLELY FOR THE PAYMENT OF CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS AND OPERATING EXPENDITURES FOR (I) STREETS AND SIDEWALKS, (II) POLICE DEPARTMENT AND PUBLIC SAFETY AND (III) SKI HI PARK PURPOSES AS APPROVED AT THE DISCRETION OF THE MONTE VISTA CITY COUNCIL FOLLOWING CONSIDERATION OF THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF A ONE CENT FUND OVERSIGHT CITIZEN’S COMMITTEE; AND SHALL THE REVENUES FROM THE
SALES TAX INCREASE, AND ALL MONEYS CREDITED TO THE ONE CENT PROJECTS
FUND, INCLUDING ANY INVESTMENT INCOME THEREON, BE COLLECTED AND SPENT BY THE CITY AS A VOTER APPROVED REVENUE AND SPENDING CHANGE, WITHOUT REGARD TO ANY SPENDING, REVENUE RAISING OR OTHER LIMITATION CONTAINED IN ARTICLE X, SECTION 20 OF THE COLORADO CONSTITUTION OR ANY OTHER LAW?”
City Manager Forrest Neuerburg explained Ordinance 895, presented as a draft for first reading to council, outlined exactly how the money would be divided. Following the first reading the ordinance would be tabled until after the election and if the increase is approved by voters, council will then review it for a second reading and potential approval in November or December. Neuerburg explained the other purpose of reviewing the ordinance was to have a specific explanation of the funds for citizens to review before they voted on the measure so they can be sure how the funds will be divided. Based on projections by Finance Director Jennifer Signs the city anticipates at least $400,000 in annual revenue, which the city will not include in the city budget until late 2020 for the 2021 budget to ensure they meet this projection. Neuerburg explained they believed $475,000 is a reasonable amount to anticipate potential excess sales taxes and remain in compliance with TABOR, which requires funds over that amount be refunded back to the citizens.
Out of the anticipated $400,000 a year, $160,000 will go to Ski-Hi Park projects. According to an informational pamphlet provided by City Clerk Unita Vance, the funds would go to long-term maintenance of the facility to keep costs to users low and will help the Friends of Ski-Hi Park organization with their goal of “…planning and funding a replacement for the existing multi-purpose building and that would involve demolishing of the old buildings. Part of the revenue from the One Cent Tax Fund would be utilized to assist this project in happening and making sure that city recreation priorities can be part of the building project.” The draft ordinance states “i. If a new building is unable to be built then some funds from the one cent project fund may be utilized to make the best possible improvements to the existing multi-purpose building. ii. If a new building is constructed some funds from the one cent project fund may be used to provide seed money and matching funds for additional improvements to Ski Hi Park.”
$140,000 of the anticipated $400,000 will be distributed to the Public Works department, with the first priority being street paving. The draft ordinance states: “Monte Vista has 28.89 miles of streets. 7.49 are classified as arterials and 21.40 miles are classified as local streets, of the 28.89 miles of streets there are approximately three miles of dirt roads. The one cent project fund would allow the following:
• Paving of the dirt roads may include, but not limited to: i. Pavement would be a 24-foot wide 3” asphalt mat. ii. Paving eliminates the need for grading and watering weekly. The time saved would then be spent on bettering the condition of our alleys. iii. Paving reduces the dust in the neighborhoods and as such in homes. iv. Paving also reduces wear and tear on your vehicles.”
The public works portion of the funds also establishes a $5,000-$7,000 annual sidewalk replacement fund to assist property owners, yearly overlay of already paved streets in the “poor to fair condition rating” with the pamphlet example of Third Street behind Safeway, in order to raise and keep them in a better rating and improving drainage with larger drainage pipes, improved storm inlets and “valley pans on those roads without curb and gutter.”
The police department will receive $100,000 of the anticipated $400,000, enough funds for an additional full-time officer which has many additional benefits to the department: “i. This will allow for the department to have a stronger presence in the school system; ii. Allow officers to utilize vacation and attend trainings; iii. Assist in closing investigations.” The department will also be able to purchase new equipment including Tasers, radios, tactical gear, live-saving equipment and fleet upgrades.
The sales tax increase will also be overseen by a citizens’ committee to ensure, if approved, the funds are being used in compliance with the mission set forth by the ballot question. Some citizens have expressed concern about this, as a previous sales tax increase had a similar watchdog committee. Neuerburg stated the projects the previous committee oversaw have expired and the committee for this potential increase is structured differently.
The new committee will be permanent and working with well-defined uses of the sales tax increase, which will be in a separate fund with no sunset. Towards the end of each year when the upcoming year’s budget is being analyzed, projects that fit within the purposes approved by voters will be presented to the committee for review. The committee will also “foster community input and involvement, provide lines of communication for all citizens and work with city staff and city council.” The committee will consist of “One volunteer from each geographic area of the City of Monte Vista, two at-large volunteers, two business owners or major employers within the City of Monte Vista and one city council member.” The committee will meet even if not all of these seats are filled, although Neuerburg stated the city will do their best to fill them all. Should sales tax funds fluctuate, the fund allocations will proportionately as well, up to the $475,000 maximum, with 40 percent going to Ski-Hi, 35 percent to public works and 25 percent to the police department; the citizens committee will help monitor this.
Neuerburg has been an advocate for increasing city staff salaries in a response to a study last year conducted by Wall, Smith and Bateman to show how much the city would have to increase their pay to stay competitive with other municipalities and similar entities. When asked if the funds in the sales tax increase would allow for that, Neuerburg explained the only personnel influence the sales tax increase has is the already defined additional police officer, with the long-term potential for some of the Ski-Hi funds to be used for an additional position later on after the facility improvements have been addressed. Half of the study’s suggestions were implemented this year, with the second half to be considered in the city’s future budgets based on the existing sales tax revenue, without any consideration in the new proposed increase. Neuerburg also expressed the city has to be careful to monitor the potential for an upcoming recession and the impacts on the city in implementing the other half of the salary increases.
Although city staff are not allowed to advocate for the measure, Vance and Neuerburg both expressed their desire for citizens who want to see the measure improve to organize and promote it to other residents, with Vance and Police Chief John Rosecrans jokingly telling active citizen Margot Alexander, one of a few audience members at the meeting and the only one to make a citizen’s comment, “You’ve been voluntold” while handing her a pamphlet. Citizens who want more information or want to be put into contact with other citizens promoting the sales tax increase are encouraged to contact Neuerburg or Vance at the city, 852-2692.