Last week, Durango property owners approved the expansion of the franchise-fee electorate to include renters. The vote was almost 2-to-1.
It is not often that one electorate welcomes another, which dilutes its influence, but perhaps those owners who welcomed renters recognized that Durango is a heavily rental community, and they were feeling egalitarian.
A four-year college, a youthful population, modest wages and the somewhat mobile nature of residents in a recreational environment make it so.
The expanded electorate would likely not have come about if voters earlier this year had not opposed – narrowly – a renewal of the 20-year franchise fee tied to La Plata Electric Association’s use of city alleys and streets. That fee, paid by those who have an electric meter and based on what they use, has generated about a million dollars annually for the city’s general fund.
Without the fee, LPEA is paying easement or right-of-way charges based on construction; the total amount going to the city is much more modest.
The franchise-fee election that failed caught many Durangoans by surprise, and there were questions: Some did not know it existed and others thought that paying it was LPEA’s responsibility.
Or, that if it failed LPEA, would no longer provide electricity to the city. And some renters were indignant that they could not vote; their rent, after all, was determined by their landlords’ costs.
Thus, plenty of debate took place and is continuing.
This week there will be city-hosted conversations about going to the voters again (owners and now renters), and this time applying some characteristics to the fee that are appropriate for a community that is conscious of its energy use.
There are suggestions that the future fee apply only to the energy portion of LPEA’s billing, not the base rate. Thus, electric conservation will be reflected in a lower fee amount.
And there is the suggestion that the fee not be attached to the green-power component of a bill, part or all.
We like the direction that this conversation is going.
What emerges may well be a fee that better matches Durango’s lifestyle, and therefore is one that is more appealing to the voters next time.