The Voters Have Spoken – Now What?
Earlier this month we saw democracy at work here in Estes Park. Often municipal elections draw little interest, but at this year’s Town election, 53% of the registered voters came out to voice their opinions, and the voter’s preferences were very clear. All three ballot issues were decided by a wide margin. The sale of Lot 4 for the EPMC Wellness center passed with 61% of the voters voting for the sale, while over 64% of the voters supported the limited term 1% sales tax for the Town. So, what comes next?
As much as I’d love to tell you the road repairs will begin next week, it won’t happen that fast. The new 1% sales doesn’t go into effect until July 1, 2014. Because we are a statutory Town (rather than a home rule town) the State of Colorado collects our sales tax and they remit the funds back to us about 45 days after the end of the month. That means none of the new sales tax revenue will be coming back to the Town until mid-September, at the soonest. Of the new tax, 60% is dedicated to roads maintenance. We will use your investment to bring the average condition of our roads to a higher, fair standard. We will save the new revenue in its own account until enough accumulates that we can begin funding some of the road improvement projects. This won’t start until summer of 2015 at the soonest. We will be working on plans and priorities for next summer beginning this summer, when we start the 2015 budget process.
The 25% of the sales tax that is dedicated to the Senior Center/Community Center will be held in another separate fund. Over the life of the tax, it will bring in an estimated $5,000,000. As we stressed during the election, this isn’t enough to build the Community Center, but it’s a great start and will be used to match other grant funds. The Estes Valley Recreation and Parks District and its partners in the future Community Center, including the Estes Valley Library, the Estes Park Medical Center and the Town, will continue to refine the design. The Recreation District will be working hard to find other matching funds, grants and other revenue sources to make up the difference and make the center a reality.
12.5% of the tax is earmarked for trails and trail connectivity. We will be working with the Recreation District and their Trails Committee to take another look at the Estes Valley Master Trails plan. It may take a couple of years to build up this pot of funds to a level we can leverage with other grants, such as lottery funds through Great Outdoors Colorado (GoCo) and from the Larimer County Open Space Tax. Making lemonade out of lemons, we’re already looking at ways to capitalize on some of the funding that’s available for stream restoration, particularly along Fall River, and the potential for incorporating trail design into the stream restoration projects in some areas. Currently we have a $350,000 federal grant to further the Fall River Trail and hopefully we can stretch this further with some creative thinking and design.
The last portion of the new tax is set aside for improvements to our emergency operations and communications. We are already looking at options for a radio notification system for the community, and will include the first round of investment as we plan the 2015 Town Budget. Normally, I really abhor waste in government. That’s not why I pay taxes. One definition of waste is spending money on stuff you don’t need and don’t use. Given what we’ve been through with fires and floods over the last couple of years, frankly, I hope we spend money on emergency communications and notification equipment that we don’t need or use for a long time to come. I’d like nothing better than to report to you in five years we spent money on equipment we never used once for an emergency. That said, we do live in the mountains of Colorado, and the sooner we can upgrade our response capabilities to serve the community during a disaster, the better.
We at the Town know you work hard for your money, and we take the responsibility to be good stewards of your tax dollars very seriously. We will work as hard in our jobs as you do in yours to put your new tax to work as effectively and efficiently as possible, always concentrating on how to best add value to the community and to improve every citizen’s quality of life.