MONTROSE – Montrose City councilmembers want to keep a piece of the taxing pie for the city's benefit, they said during their regular work session on Feb. 6. But they won't be asking for a sales tax increase during this April's election.
The city council was expected to vote on a resolution that would put a proposed 0.3 percent retail sales and use tax increase to be used for capital improvement projects on the ballot.
The ballot wording had to be approved by Feb. 6, but councilmembers decided not to bring the question to voters this election, citing concerns that the city was lacking a sound capital improvement project plan.
“My concern was having one project to wrap around,” councilmember Gail Marvel said. “But what you've presented tonight doesn't seem to be firmed up.”
Public Works Director Jim Hougnon presented council with cost estimates for four capital improvement projects – the Rio Grande widening and extension into South First Street; the East Oak Grove widening and missing links; the paving of unpaved streets and a widening of 67.00 Road and filling in missing links – with a total price tag of approximately $30 million.
The proposed tax initiative would not have let the city's debt exceed $20 million, with a maximum repayment cost estimate of $38.5 million.
“I knew we couldn't do those four project for $20 million,” Hougnon said.
Marvel said she had anticipated firmer numbers, which Hougnon said he could not produce.
For starters, the Rio Grande project involves negotiations with the railroad, which could take years, before its cost can be contemplated. To address this fact, Hougnon suggested that any proposed ballot language should allow the city flexibility, in using resulting funds, so that if the railroad negotiations stalemated, the money could go toward the other three projects, Hougnon said.
“I think there are more important things we need to address right now,” said Councilmember Bill Patterson said, than the four “major projects.”
The initiative was taken off the regular council agenda, but council then voted “no” on a measure to change the city's capital improvement fund provisions. Since 1987, provisions have required the city to appropriate $800,000 annually into its capital fund; the proposed ordinance would have required that figure to be adjusted annually, starting in 2014, to accommodate inflation, based on the Denver-Boulder-Greeley Consumer Price Index. The measure failed 2-3, with councilmembers Carol McDermott and Marvel and Mayor Kathy Ellis declaring themselves unwilling to support the measure while the city's economic condition remained uncertain.
The same 3-2 split occurred again, when council approved a Request for Proposal document for the city's sanitation and recycling programs. The city, with direction from council, has been exploring the possibility of privatizing its sanitation department, which for three years had included a free curbside recycling program for residents within city limits that ended on January 1 of this year. The RFP will help the city, whose citizens did not support charging for recycling, explore whether or not the private sector could provide sanitation services at a more affordable rate.
Councilmembers Patterson and Thomas Smits voted against the RFP, saying the city is rushing into the process and opening itself to possible litigation.
The other three disagreed, saying it was time to give the citizens a look at what their options may be.
“I'm not afraid of litigation,” Ellis said, voicing confidence in the process, to date. “I think we've reviewed it over and over again.”
The RFB should be advertised by Feb. 9, said Hougnon, who expects a three-week response period, then review by the city's evaluation committee and its recommendation to council.
“The numbers won't tell the whole story,” Hougnon said. “We are asking for curbside, but not specifying how they'll do that, so [the committee will] look at those details and how it will serve our customers, because they still are our customers.”
The RFP allows the city to reject any or all proposals, and does not require moving forward with privatization, in the event of a lower bid.