EDITORIAL: ‘There is No Plan B’… Part Three
We are going to be listening to Archuleta County Commissioner Steve Wadley, at a June 27 Board of County Commissioners work session. Sitting across the table from Mr. Wadley is Rod Proffitt, president of the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD). Mr. Proffitt has been leading the charge — for all practical purposes, a one-person charge — to increase local taxes to help pay for a future reservoir in Dry Gulch. Mr. Proffitt had brought along a copy of an application for a $2 million Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) loan that he wants local taxpayers to cover, but Mr. Wadley expressed no interest in seeing the copy.
“And you guys are putting a [tax increase] issue on the ballot this November?”
Rod Proffitt confirmed his board’s intentions to do so.
“Because we would sure rather that you didn’t. But I guess… The reason we’re concerned is… we haven’t made a final decision, but I think you can see from a lot of what’s going on, we’re very close to making a decision to go to the ballot in November.
“We’re concerned that, if there are two tax initiatives on the same ballot, the voters will turn them both down. And this county is in desperate need of a jail. And that’s why we were hoping that the San Juan Water Conservancy board would wait a cycle to go to the ballot.
“I realize you’ve got your own board, your own self-governance, and we have no authority to tell you what to do, but as community leaders, we’d very much appreciate it if you’d look at the [immediate] need in the community — at what we really need — which is a jail, to keep the people in jail, and not in ankle bracelets within the county. And I think the [SJWCD] decision puts our ballot initiative at risk.
“I can’t tell you what to do. I can ask you.”
Mr. Proffitt said he understood the BOCC’s position, but made it clear that he was not willing to consider a delay:
“We got this loan approved by CWCB, and my board voted to go forward with it. So that’s where we’re at…”
Basically, Mr. Proffitt was telling Commissioner Wadley: “We can’t wait.”
And that was pretty much that. The SJWCD, working on a project which is — at best — 15 years in the future, is not willing to step aside and allow the BOCC to have a solo shot at a tax increase in November. Which means, according to Commissioner Wadley, that the voters are very likely to reject both tax increases if they both appear on the ballot.
So, of course, the BOCC has the option of delaying their own tax increase proposition until 2018.
Would that actually be a sensible thing to do?
Considering that, here we are in July, and the BOCC still has no firm plan for how much the proposed jail will cost, nor what kind of tax increase the voters would be asked to approve? Considering that the whole jail thing seems rushed and not very well thought out?
And perhaps most of all, considering that the County already has a nice big jail that they are refusing to renovate?
It’s now 24 hours later — June 28 — and we are sitting in the Town Council meeting room at the joint Town-County work session.
Pagosa Springs Mayor Don Volger is trying to be nice, as he suggests to Commissioner Wadley — and the other two County Commissioners, Michael Whiting and Ronnie Maez — that the BOCC does not have enough time between now and November to successfully sell their new ($20 million?) jail to the voters.
“If I may… I think there’s any number of things that we all can agree on. Number one, there should have been a lot of stuff done, prior to this point. We can’t change the past. We’ve got to accept that. We’ve got to move forward from here.
“I think we can agree that Harman Park is an ideal location, as far as being the best location that has surfaced. I don’t need to go into that. All of us know that’s a great location. And another thing; it looks like the downtown remodel solves some problems. It’s downtown; it’s a renovation project that’s cheaper than building a new building. We can agree on that.”
The Mayor is here referring to the idea that the Courthouse west wing — currently occupied by the abandoned detention center — might be completely remodeled for expanded courtrooms and offices for the Colorado Judicial District. For some reason, the BOCC believes the west wing is perfectly suitable for a multi-million-dollar conversion into court facilities, but completely unsuitable to be remodeled into what it currently is: a jail.
But I’m getting off the topic. We were listening to Mayor Volger:
“The questions we have are… right now, traditionally and by agreement, we have shared the sales tax that’s generated within the county, 50/50. Okay, so now if we support a sales tax increase… It’s my understanding that, if you do pass an increased sales tax, there’s no requirement that 50 percent goes to the Town. But we all understand that the Town lives and dies on sales tax.”
The Town government receives practically no revenues from property taxes. About 90 percent of the Town General Fund budget normally comes from sales taxes contributed by the county sales tax rate.
“There are so many questions, and we have not yet sat down together, as a Town and County, to discuss some of those questions, to talk about options, get our heads together and do that.
“We have a very limited time frame. My question is, if we move forward now, and those questions have not been answered? If [the Town Council] has questions, then the public is going to have questions. I think we can all agree that tax increases in this county have been difficult to pass. Nobody wants their taxes raised.
“If in fact we don’t get our questions answered… if in fact we aren’t together on this… what are the chances of getting this ballot initiative passed?”
“I tend to agree. We’ve had a lot of questions on Town Council. ‘What about this? What about that? What is the Town going to get, if we support this and forfeit our 50 percent of a sales tax increase?’ We don’t even know if it’s going to be a sales tax, or a property tax.”
“The best I can tell you is, as soon as we have data, we’ll share it with you.”
“As soon as? That’s my question. Should this community move forward to try and get something on the ballot in November? There’s already going to be another tax increase on the ballot, with Dry Gulch, right? Now, that’s going to make an increase more questionable…”
“Here’s the thing. And I speak only for myself. We can’t wait. I would be remiss in my fiduciary duties if I didn’t do all I can to solve the Sheriff’s problems right now…”
And as the commissioner had so clearly stated a few minutes earlier in the conversation, there is no Plan B.