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Getting down to pressing City Council issues

Dick White

Many items deserve attention from the 2023 City Council candidates.

Civility. Contention among councilors detracts from both their effectiveness and respect from the community. Could the new Council begin its term with a public commitment to mutual respect and civil dialogue?

Capital and operational funding. Has the Council identified the right spending priories? What funding sources can the city tap? Which do the Council control? For some, such as renewal of the 2005 ½-cent sales tax or bonding for water system projects, the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights requires referendums. What election schedule would yield the greatest likelihood of success?

Public engagement. Funding choices involve inevitable tradeoffs. How will the Council assess citizen preferences within the spectrum of needs, knowing that some important needs may not command easy public understanding or ready support?

Climate change and sustainability. The city’s Sustainability Action Plan embodies a climate focus and provides a lens for examining all funding priorities. Where does it suggest win-win opportunities?

The following topics appear in the sequence followed at the Council’s Feb. 15 retreat.

Streets, bridges and alleys. Funding from the 2019 ½-cent sales tax expires in 2029. Should the city seek to renew it? Make it permanent? Increase it?

Facilities. The River City Hall site promises to meet the Durango Fire Protection District’s urgent need for a downtown fire station. However, it will not also accommodate the equally urgent need for a new police headquarters. Could the former Durango School District 9-R property meet this need and allow consolidation of city offices? Regardless, design of any new or renovated facilities must minimize or eliminate carbon emissions.

Housing. Federal and state grants help to meet the urgent need for affordable housing, but the Council must address long-term funding. Moreover, because of the longevity of building stock, upgrading the city’s building code to a higher minimum energy efficiency standard is imperative to minimize or eliminate emissions from new housing. Too often, the first cost of energy efficiency investments discourages implementation. Will the new Council require that analyses of affordable housing investments go beyond first cost to capture monthly utility savings for residents and incorporate the value of meeting climate goals?

Homelessness and housing. Homelessness is inseparable from housing when workers earn too little to afford a place to live. Permanent supportive housing development, such as the Espero Apartments, must continue. However, our unhoused neighbors also need the option of a managed camp located near the social services campus or a transit line. Will the new Council work with La Plata County to develop the most acceptable site, despite predictably loud opposition?

Parks and recreation (including open space and trails). The 2005 and 2015 ½-cent sales taxes support wonderful amenities, including maintenance costs for both existing and newly acquired assets, which contribute to meeting climate goals in several ways. However, should a renewed 2005 tax support only these needs or also other priorities?

Stormwater and drainage. The long-delayed Stormwater Management Plan should see completion this year. As climate change increases Durango’s risk from extreme precipitation, should a new storm water utility fee support implementation?

Transit. Public transportation, like the trail system, addresses both housing and climate needs. What source might add to parking and lodgers’ tax revenue to fill the budget deficit for transit operations and allow system expansion?

This long list includes neither additional city functions (community development, utilities, library and airport) nor other controversial issues, such as the downtown Next Step project. All candidates deserve thanks for their willingness to commit themselves, addressing the myriad challenges of public service.

Dick White is a former two-term City Council member and served as mayor of Durango.