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Elected officials for Durango, La Plata County receive progress report on library, airport

Local leaders also briefed on proposed annexation of La Posta Road south of city limits
Voters may be asked to consider the creation of an independent library district in coming years, which would be funded by a mill levy and give the library board financial independence. (Durango Herald file)

The Durango City Council and La Plata County commissioners held their first joint meeting of the year Monday to discuss a variety of issues that impact both governing bodies.

La Plata County Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton facilitated the meeting in the county administrative board room; commissioners Matt Salka and Clyde Church were in attendance, as were Durango city councilors Kim Baxter, Olivier Bosmans, Barbara Noseworthy and Melissa Youssef via Zoom.

The meeting’s agenda contained four items, all of which impacted or were of importance to both governmental bodies. Officials heard a presentation on the Durango Public Library and a brief check-in on La Plata County Senior Services.

The results of a survey on the senior center should appear on the agenda of an upcoming meeting, said County Manager Chuck Stevens.

Officials were also given updates on the Durango-La Plata Airport and the La Posta Area Plan and Annexation.

A district of its own?

Although no votes could be held, the most noteworthy progress made by the two governments contended with the Durango Public Library and the potential for an independent library district.

Grant Gager, a senior adviser at the Public Advisory Group, an Idaho-based firm hired by the city, presented on the results of public surveys which polled attitudes toward the library and asked respondents whether they would support the formation of an independent district.

Gager reported the 465 responses to the survey gave the library an overall favorability score of 4.6 out 5, meaning public opinion on the institutions falls somewhere between “somewhat favorable” and “very favorable.”

A large portion – almost 32% – of respondents indicated a preference for evening hours, while another 28% said they would like to see the library open on Sundays.

More important, however, was the question of creating an independent library district.

Currently, the library is funded through the Joint Sales Tax, which is collected by the county and used for joint projects. The fund receives 11% of the county’s 2% sales tax. However, with the passage of a ballot measure, the library could instead receive funding from a property tax on a library district. Three such districts already exist in La Plata County, but do not include Durango.

Gager told officials that a 3.65-mill rate would fund the library, a tax that would add about $180 annually to the property tax bill of a home valued at $700,000.

Over 70% of respondents said they would support a ballot question regarding the creation of a district and levy, although respondents also said they would be more likely to do so if the price tag was lower.

The creation of such a district would free up nearly $3.3 million in the JST fund for other projects. All three commissioners voiced support for the idea, as did Noseworthy and Baxter. Youssef was cautious in her endorsement of the concept but voiced support for forming an exploratory committee to gauge public opinion, while Bosmans said he saw little value in the additional tax.

“I see this about the future,” Porter-Norton said. “We have a growing community and a lot of infrastructure and wildfire needs, as well as housing and services for the homeless that is an issue that continues to be dominating, so I support this.”

The two governments will work toward forming a committee to explore the issue and writing ballot language for the formation of a district.

Airport expansion, La Posta annexation on track

Aviation Director of Durango-La Plata Airport Tony Vicari swiftly apprised councilors and commissioners of the plans to develop the airport’s aging facilities.

Traffic through the airport has more than doubled in the past 20 years, Vicari told the board room. After voters rejected a proposal in 2016 to use $40 million in property taxes to fund a major expansion, Vicari said the airport will proceed in a way that is compatible with the public interest but can also help meet the expanding needs of the airport.

The airport operates as an enterprise fund, meaning it typically does not receive taxpayer dollars and operates off its own revenue.

“What we’re talking about here is a development program ... that is intended to be fully funded through airport revenue streams,” Vicari said.

Tony Vicari, director of aviation at Durango-La Plata County Airport, told elected officials Monday that construction is expected to begin in April on phase 1A of the airport expansion. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Phase 1A of the project, for which construction is expected to begin in April, will add an additional boarding gate, restroom facilities, a nursing room and concession facilities. It will also involve some infrastructural improvements. The entire phase will cost an estimated $8.1 million.

Vicari said he hopes to be in a position to begin construction of phase 1B as soon as 1A is completed. The second part of the project involves the relocation of the TSA checkpoint and additional expansion for gates, baggage claim and pre-security facilities. He estimated the airport would need to finance approximately $8 million for the second phase, which is expected to cost $27.8 million in total.

The airport has several ways to finance the debt, including raising what it charges airlines to use the facility. Vicari said currently, DRO’s fees fall under the market rate.

The meeting concluded with a presentation from Scott Shine, Durango’s director of community development. Shine updated officials on the city’s progress toward annexing about 500 acres south of Durango.

Shine stressed that much of the work has involved hearing community input on how to balance development and the interests of existing residents.

The development of the area could prove critical in addressing many of Durango’s most dire needs. Shine highlighted that by changing the land uses, the city anticipates between 1,700 and 2,000 new residential units, 60% of which will be for purchase, rather than dense apartment units.

The city and the county are now working toward an intergovernmental agreement to shore up one another’s commitments to the project.

rschafir@durangoherald.com

This article has been corrected to reflect that a library district would be funded by a property tax.

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