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Durango doles out lodgers tax dollars for cameras, restrooms, ice skates and more

City Council had about $500,000 in discretionary spending
A Durango Transit vehicle pulls into the Transit Center on Eighth Street to pick up passengers for its route. Durango Transit increased ridership in August when it offered free rides as part of a statewide emissions reduction program. At the Oct. 18 Durango City Council meeting, councilors approved $100,000 for more free rides in 2023. (Durango Herald file)

Durango City Council approved lodgers tax funding for a slew of projects that will result in public restrooms at Buckley Park, new housing partnerships, the replacement of dilapidated picnic tables and park benches, and more free public transit services in 2023.

Fifty-five percent of lodgers tax revenues funds tourism marketing, 20% is allocated to Durango Transportation and 14% benefits arts and cultural activities. The remaining 11%, currently $492,191, is left up to spending at City Council’s discretion.

The city had $522,191 for discretionary spending, but allocated $30,000 for Durango’s Independence Day drone show in July.

Scott Shine, assistant community development director, presented staff recommendations of what to do with the lodgers tax revenues earlier this month. The funds discussed are not related to ballot question 2A, which asks Durango voters if the city can keep excess lodgers tax revenue to put toward housing, transportation, parking and arts and culture uses.

City Council voted in support of the proposed uses 4-1, with Councilor Olivier Bosmans opposed. He said he supports many of the proposed uses, but he doesn’t think money needs to be allocated until firm plans are in place.

For example, staff proposed $17,000 to be allocated to Durango Police Department for the purchase of e-bikes that officers can use. Bosmans said the e-bikes can be purchased right away.

But staff also proposed allocating $225,000 to Durango’s housing division to cover fee waivers, infrastructure development and partnerships in the ongoing effort to address affordable workforce housing. Shine said while several projects are in the works, they weren’t at a stage that he could break down what specifically the $225,000 would fund. Bosmans said he prefers the funding to be allocated when a specific need arises.

In all, $492,000 was allocated to police, transportation, community development and parks and recreation, according to a breakdown of the allocations provided by Shine.

Durango Parks and Recreation received $30,000 for public restroom designs for Schneider Park and Buckley Park, $10,000 for new rental skates at the Chapman Hill Ice Rink and another $46,000 for new picnic tables and benches at various city parks, especially along the Animas River Trail.

The parks department and police department also received $54,000 for the installation of security cameras at high-use parks and facilities, namely the Skate Park, Rotary Park, Cundiff Park, BMX track and Durango Community Recreation Center.

Shine said the restrooms at Schneider Park could be built in tandem with the six pickleball courts planned for that location. He said the city is still working out how to secure Buckley Park, which is owned by Durango School District 9-R, but is otherwise prepared to add public restrooms to the park.

He said the Chapman Hill Ice Rink is marketed as a tourist draw for the city and gets regular use from locals and visitors; new skates for the ice rink were originally budgeted for next year, but Ture Nycum, Durango Parks and Recreation director, requested funding to get them as soon as possible because the ice rink is busy now.

Scott McClain, assistant parks director, said new park benches and tables will replace old or vandalized ones at various parks throughout the city.

Councilor Kim Baxter said earlier this month that city staff should also consider placing drinking fountains at parks along the Animas River Trail.

Shine said staff members are considering placing plaques or signage at new benches saying the amenities were bought with lodgers tax dollars “to highlight this is how that revenue is being used for the community benefit.”

“It could be a pretty easy addition to those new benches and parks. And maybe some of these other programs,” he said.

Durango Transportation had $110,000 allocated to it with the majority planned for more free public transit services in 2023. Also, $10,000 was marked for an employee parking program to encourage employees to park in lesser-used spaces with the aim of freeing up prime parking spaces downtown.

Shine said the average cost to provide free transit is on average $25,000 per month, so the proposed funding would cover four months of fare for free ridership.

Mayor Barbara Noseworthy said ridership increased on public transit when the service was free through the month of August.

“If we can get our tourists in the summer riding transit, we're going to improve the quality of life for everyone,” she said.

cburney@durangoherald.com

A previous version of this story incorrectly tallied Durango City Council’s vote to appropriate 11% of lodgers tax revenues and named an incorrect owner of Buckley Park.



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