While Durangoans failed to take avail of a public hearing Monday on the 2013 city budget of $54.8 million, City Councilors Dick White and Sweetie Marbury did not let the opportunity go to waste, putting in a last-minute plug for the La Plata Electric Association franchise agreement.
The voters will decide on the franchise today, which would provide with the city with $1 million of additional annual revenue over the 20-year life of the franchise.
A franchise fee would be applied to consumers’ electric charges at 4.67 percent a month, costing the consumers an average of $3.64.
This will be the second go-round for the franchise – the voters rejected an earlier franchise proposal in April by a 41-vote margin.
White and Marbury said the election will determine the fate of several badly needed services.
White said proposed budget has $500,000 proposed for capital improvements for streets, but “nothing (specifically) for street overlays, chip-sealing or street reconstruction. These are items that the council is very keen to catch up on because maintenance had been deferred during the budget cuts during the recession.
“You can do that on a short-term basis with the understanding that the business cycle comes around,” said White, noting the city has had a good year for sales tax, up 6 percent over last year. “We can hope that will be true in the future, but we can’t count on it. The franchise revenue is really crucial to our ability to move forward on these things.”
Marbury said the city could use a third code-enforcement officer to relieve the city’s two enforcement officers who must split their time between regulating special events and regular enforcement activities.
“Where the money would come (for the third officer) I am not exactly sure because we’re all holding our breath, waiting for the LPEA franchise free to be finalized,” Marbury said. “We’ve got a lot of decisions to make after the election.”
Tom Darnell, an opponent of the franchise, has joked that White and Marbury are the only people he knows who support the franchise. He has criticized the franchise fee as an unfair, regressive tax on those least able to afford it.
The city’s budget will have to be revised according to the outcome of today’s vote. The council has until mid-December to finalize the budget.
Without the LPEA franchise income, the proposed 2013 budget still expects spending to increase by 9 percent, or by $4.9 million, over this year’s budget. The city is transferring $4.1 million from its operating budget to its capital-improvements budget.
The city expects sales-tax collections to increase 2.5 percent from this year’s take.
The 2013 budget breaks down to about 35 percent for public safety, 11 percent for public works, 17 percent for parks and recreation, 18 percent for general government, 4 percent for capital improvements, 7 percent for the library and 9 percent for other departments.