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Our View: Spend excess revenue on new purposes

It’s a good problem to have roughly $1.2 million, the equivalent of two years’ worth of excess lodgers tax revenue, to either refund to residents or keep and spend. City Council has asked for direction on the best use of this windfall collected in 2021 and what is projected for 2022. We urge the Council to spend the money on new purposes.

The three main options: Refund the money; spend it according to how it was originally allocated under the 2021 lodgers tax ballot measure; or reallocate the money toward new purposes. State law requires excess money be refunded or a vote taken for the city to keep and spend it on city services.

We’re embracing option No. 3 – new purposes. Before we reveal our wish list, a gentle reminder to readers what came before.

Voters narrowly approved a 3.25% lodgers tax increase in April 2021. The ballot measure allocated 55% for sustainable tourism marketing; 20% for transportation; and 14% for culture and arts. Councilors can determine how to use the remaining 11%.

City survey results, so far, make clear what citizens prioritize for “other purposes.” Affordable housing, workforce housing, more funding for arts and transportation, parking. Council can actualize what Durango citizens say they want and need. Or, at least, seed some money and put a dent in pressing problems, and jump-start projects critical to the future of Durango.

Our list of preferred projects match survey results, along with some new ones.

- Affordable housing. Let’s stop the hemorrhaging of exceptional professionals, families and citizens. We’ll leave the details to the professionals but we need housing. Now.

- Workforce housing. Our economy will suffer if we don’t take seriously this demand for skilled, enthused workers.

- Open the library on Sundays. More locals could better utilize our gorgeous library with an extra weekend day. If your students are like ours, they’re more apt to cram to complete schoolwork on Sunday rather than on Saturday. The library would be the place on Sunday.

- Bus service between Aztec and Durango. How about a three-month test run to see whether this route would benefit New Mexico residents wanting to work in Durango? It could alleviate some parking, too.

- Durango Mesa Park, formerly Ewing Mesa. Further this plan with progress we can see for a bike park, fairgrounds and more to enrich what we already have here in Durango.

- Pickleball courts. We have an abundance of riches with two possible sites, the Smith Sports Complex and Schneider Park. But, hey, why choose? Let’s have both. The Smith Sports Complex has the groundwork and infrastructure in place. The Schneider Park site is accessible, right along the Animas River Trail, and scenic. We could accommodate more players, as this sport gains traction with youth and seniors.

New purposes make for a lengthy ballot. It’s a quick turnaround for Council to act immediately after the vote. But Council is asking for input. Equally, we are asking Council to really hear what citizens say.

We understand the gravitas in any decision. We also realize the easiest route, as recommended by city staffers, would be the Council pursuing a utility bill credit as “the best option to meet a 2021 deferred collections refund by Dec. 31, 2022.”

But this excess lodgers tax revenue is a chance to pause and consider, what do we want Durango to become? How do we get there? It’s enough for us to go a little easier on tourists on those days when they seem to outnumber residents. And parking is tough to find.