EDITORIAL: A House Subdivided Against Itself, Part Seven

Read Part One

And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.

— Book of Mark, Chapter 3

When I began this editorial series last week, the central topic was “subdivisions”… and differences of opinion. In particular, the topic was a proposal from the Fairway Land Trust and developer Jack Searle that the County government allow the sale of a 16-acre parcel without requiring the sale and plat to go through the normal subdivision process.

Durango attorney Jeff Robbins arguing in favor of plat language proposed by developer Jack Searle, for the creation of a new subdivision parcel just south of the Pagosa Springs town limits.

The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved that process at yesterday’s (Tuesday August 15) meeting, on the condition that a bit of additional language be added to the plat map, preserving the County’s ability to enforce any and all easement dedications required by the 2009 Development Agreement with the Fairway Land Trust.

In other words, the two sides came together and found common ground. You might call it, a “win-win.” (In fact, I believe Commissioner Michael Whiting used that exact phrase during yesterday’s public hearing.)

About an hour earlier in the same meeting, however, two members of the three-member Board of County Commissioners voted in favor of a tax increase ballot measure that has already caused division in the community, and is pretty much guaranteed to divide the House of Pagosa even further, in the coming weeks before the November election.

Here, we are listening to Commissioner Ronnie Maez:

“Mr. Chair, I make a motion to approve Resolution 2017-40, setting forth ballot language and establishing bonding authority for Archuleta County, with Exhibit A as amended with ‘Ballot Measure Blank’ inserted between the words ‘Exhibit A’ and the ballot question.”

Commissioner Michael Whiting:

“I second the motion, for discussion purposes.”

During the following discussion, we had a chance to hear from Commissioner Whiting, explaining why he was going to vote ‘No’ — on this proposal to place before the voters a multi-million tax increase for the purposes of expanding the County’s ‘justice system’ facilities.

Exhibit A
Shall the County of Archuleta taxes be increased $2,950,000 (first full fiscal year dollar increase) annually and shall the County of Archuleta debt be increased by an amount not to exceed $20,550,000, with a maximum repayment cost of $26,550,000; such debt to consist of sales tax revenue bonds or other financial obligations issued solely for the purpose of constructing, maintaining improving and equipping justice system capital improvements, to include but not be limited to a new detention center and new Sheriff’s offices…

Commissioners Ronnie Maez and Steve Wadley — both Republicans — took the opportunity to explain why they were voting ‘Yes’ on this already-divisive issue.

The wording of the ballot language insures that, if approved at the polls, the people of Archuleta County would pay at least 7.9 percent sales tax for at least the next 12 years — perhaps for as long as 15 years — instead of the current 6.9 percent.

In other instances, the ballot language creates loopholes that two of the three commissioners may find useful in the future. More about those loopholes, later.

The two commissioners could have taken a different route, during this lengthy and often flawed government process. They could have worked, for example, hand in hand with a citizen advisory panel, so that we had people from outside the County government offering suggestions and opinions. Instead, Commissioner Steve Wadley and former Commissioner Clifford Lucero spent two years excluding the public from the planning process. For two years, all decisions were made, essentially, by two people: commissioners Lucero and Wadley.

That same type of decision-making process — which excluded all significant public participation — continued following the election of Ronnie Maez to fill the vacancy left by Clifford Lucero.

The two commissioners — Maez and Wadley — likewise excluded the Pagosa Springs Town Council from the decision-making process, even though Commissioner Wadley repeatedly promised the Council that its support of the tax increase was one of his high priorities.

Lip-service, apparently? When the Town Council voted unanimously on August 1, asking the BOCC to make use of general obligation bonds instead of sales-tax-funded revenue bonds, commissioners Maez and Wadley ignored that input.

Later in this editorial series, we’ll share some detailed information about the difference between revenue bonds and general obligation bonds — based on the explanations given at yesterday’s meeting by the BOCC’s bond counsel, Penfield W. Tate III. Mr. Tate is a partner in the law firm Kutak Rock LLP, and he had been invited to attend yesterday’s meeting to answer questions from the audience, as well as questions from the commissioners. His information was, I believe, very helpful in understanding what we might be getting ourselves into.

From the Kutak Rock website:

Kutak Rock LLP is a national law firm of more than 500 lawyers with offices from coast to coast. Our firm serves local, regional and national clients in a practice that spans a wide range of disciplines. We encourage our attorneys to take advantage of the national resources and broad range of expertise the firm offers in order to provide the best legal services possible to our clients.

On that same website, you can view the numerous tax increase measures that Mr. Tate has helped Colorado governments get approved.

Lest our readers be left with the impression that Daily Post editor Bill Hudson is opposed to all tax increases — no matter what their intended purpose — please note that I was one of the few local proponents of the biggest tax increase proposal ever placed before the Colorado voters: the controversial (and ultimately unpopular) ColoradoCare Amendment. In spite of our numerous Daily Post articles promoting that amendment, Archuleta County voters — and Colorado voters — overwhelmingly rejected that amendment.

During the public comment portion yesterday’s BOCC hearing on the ‘justice system’ tax increase, however, I questioned the wisdom of using revenue bonds — funded by sales taxes — for a capital project with a fixed cost.

I was not the only one questioning the BOCC’s $27 million tax increase proposal. In fact, when chair Steve Wadley opened the floor for public comment, no one from the public spoke in support of the tax increase.

Perhaps the most eloquent (and passionate) critic of this expansion project — as currently proposed — was local businessman J.R. Ford.  Which is a curious situation, considering that it was Mr. Ford himself who arranged the donation of 5 acres in Harman Park as the location for the proposed expansion project.

We will be quoting Mr. Ford at some length in tomorrow’s installment, because he offered some pertinent and coherent comments and questions about the excessive size of the project.

But we will end today’s installment with a brief quote from Mr. Ford. Mr. Ford was reminding the BOCC that the state of Colorado has established legal limits on the amount a County jail — such as, for example, the oversized La Plata County jail — can charge for housing overflow inmates from a neighboring county.

“It costs over twice that much to build and house those inmates locally. So why don’t we scale the project to the size we need, knowing that it’s a little oversized to take care of the next ten years, and knowing that we can add on to it later if we need to, and then — if we get in a jam — take the inmates who are not felons, and put them in van and send them to Durango? Because it’s half the price!

“Instead, your proposal is to build an [oversized] facility and pay on it for the next 12 years, for the benefit of the people who might live here 30 years from now? That makes no common sense to our community, that barely has enough money to grade its roads.”

Read Part Eight…

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Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.