Riverfront property

Open space, trail extension reflect good decisions by city and voters in the past

The City Council’s approval of the purchase of 43 acres of riverfront property about a mile north of 32nd Street was a smart and welcome move. It should be seen, however, also as a continuation of a pattern of good decisions made by the city – and city voters – over the years.

The purchase of that land makes possible a number of advances. Beyond the worthwhile preservation of wildlife habitat, it would also afford riverfront access for floating and fishing, take pressure off the put-in just north of 32nd Street and allow for extending the River Trail another 1.3 miles to the north.

Those are all good. They are also goals Durango residents have consciously chosen to pursue.

The 43-acre purchase will cost $1.225 million – from a $400,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (state lottery money) and $825,000 of city money. Why the city has that money and can spend it on the River Trail is important to understand.

City officials sometimes refer to “99” money and “2A” money. Those are references to a half cent sales-tax increase approved by the voters in 1999 and another half cent sales tax approved as Referendum 2A six years later. Revenue resulting from the ’99 vote is dedicated to the Community Recreation Center and the Animas River Trail. Money generated by 2A is split between capital improvement projects (the library, for example) and POST efforts – parks, open space and trails.

The $825,000 will come from the ’99 money. Another $23,000 for miscellaneous expenses will come from the 2A fund.

Had the voters not approved those two tax increases with binding directions as to what the revenue was to fund, there would be no money for any of those amenities and improvements. Not only would the taxes not have been collected, but with the economic downturn of the last few years any cash not legally dedicated would have been kept in the general fund.

Another decision looking good in retrospect is the City Council’s 2007 vote not to rush into building a regional park in Grandview. The plan had been to build a $20 million park on 77 acres donated to the city by the Tierra Group as part of its Three Springs development. But the $4 million that would have gone to the first phase (out of nine) would have accomplished little by the time the 2008 financial crisis hit and may have left the city without money for any of its other works. Putting that off was the right call.

Tax increases and spending decisions are always controversial. But as the Durango Community Recreation center, the Animas River Trail, the Durango Public Library and other projects funded with “99” and “2A” money demonstrate, done right they can also build, refine and improve a community.