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What doesn’t the town have? A capital improvements fund

Locations: News Published

Mill levy would create one

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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Carbondale voters will be asked on Election Day, April 5, to approve a new property tax to pay for capital improvements around town.

The proposed tax would assess an additional three mills to all real property within the town limits, which would amount to roughly $119 per year on a house valued at $500,000 by the Garfield County assessor.

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For commercial properties, the tax hike would amount to about $870 per year on a business valued at $1 million, according to calculations by town officials.

According to town officials, the new tax would generate perhaps $425,000 a year or so, which could be used to leverage grants and other sources of income to multiply the ability of the tax to pay for costly improvements.

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The tax is needed, town officials have decided, in order to create a pool of money for capital improvements, which in the past have been paid for largely by using a combination of money from the town’s general fund and payments from the Federal Mineral Lease Fund (FMLD) maintained by Garfield County, with some other resources.

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Free money

The FMLD is used as a disbursing platform for money that the county receives from energy companies doing business within the county’s borders, and has at times amounted to grants of hundreds of thousands of dollars for Carbondale projects.

But the FMLD money is expected to diminish in the coming years, as the energy industry continues to be hard-hit by low prices for oil and natural gas and a glut of petroleum products on the international market and companies doing business in Garfield County cut back on drilling and other activities.

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The trustees concluded last year that the town’s traditional funding sources, mostly sales tax revenues, were not sufficient to pay for improvements to streets, sidewalks, bike trails, property acquisition, parking and facility construction, which typically fall under the general description of capital improvements.

In fact, the town has a list of planned capital projects that represent a total of up to about $7 million, in what is known as the Five Year Capital Improvement Summary and Plan.

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According to documents generated by the town staff, those capital improvements are scheduled for the period between 2017 (the year the property-tax hike would take effect, if approved by the voters) and 2021.

The projects are categorized under “safety,” “maintenance” and “expansion” labels, which cover a range of activities.

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Under the “safety” list, for example, are:

• a transportation study to examine what it would take to develop a town-wide, mass transportation plan;

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• and a study of the intersection of  Dolores Way and Highway 133 to see what improvements could or should be made, for a total cost of $25,000 for both studies.

Other “safety” items include rebuilding the 3rd Street corridor adjacent to the new Carbondale Branch Library and the Third Street Center in response to added vehicular and pedestrian traffic; construction of a sidewalk along 8th Street between the Rio Grande Trail and Cowen Drive, and along 4th Street alongside Town Hall; and rebuilding Colorado Avenue from 4th Street to 3rd Street and around the corner up to Main Street.

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The combined estimated costs of those “safety” project comes to more than $1.7 million.

Under the “maintenance” category are eight different projects, including reconstruction or improvements to such streets as Village Road, Meadowood Drive and Crystal Bridge Drive in River Valley Ranch; maintenance of the town’s trails and concrete panels on Main Street; drainage improvements and maintenance of Highway 133 (no estimated cost was provided for this item) and numerous paved streets around town.

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The total estimated cost of the maintenance items comes to $1.37 million.

Development driven

The four projects listed under “expansion” are all designated as “development driven,” including new sidewalk surfaces along Hendrick Drive as it extends into the proposed City Market shopping center (assuming it is approved) at a cost of $100,000; extension of 2nd Street across the Rio Grand Trail to provide access to developable properties north of the trail (estimated cost, $292,000); and extension of Industry Way to connect Highway 133 to North 8th Street (estimated cost, $1.5 million).

The overall estimated cost of all this work is $7.4 million, according to town documents, although there are many unknowns built into the estimates. Some costs simply could not be estimated for lack of information, and some are dependent on cost-sharing agreements with private developers.

The property tax question proposed on this year’s ballot is written to set the tax to expire on Dec. 1, 2026, after a decade of collection.

The town already has a couple of different property taxes in place, including a 1.5-mill levy to pay off earlier street improvements and costs of creating parking for local residents and businesses, as well as a separate mill levy (2.094 mills) that provides revenues for the town’s general fund.

There is also a 1.5 mill levy for streetscaping, according to town staff. It was originally enacted in 2000 and was reauthorized in 2010. It has a 10-year sunset clause and is due to expire in 2020. The general fund levy has no sunset provision, meaning it will continue indefinitely.

Published in The Sopris Sun on March 10, 2016.