The Gunnison County Commissioners have decided to forgo asking citizens in November 2022 for a needed tax increase to fund the growing operational needs of the Gunnison County Public Works Department.
At their May 24 work session, the commissioners discussed the prospect of asking county taxpayers to increase funding for road and bridge construction, maintenance and repairs to the county’s extensive road system.
In their strategic plan, increasing funding for the county’s roads and bridges program, was identified by the commissioners as an urgent as well as overdue need.
“We finalized our update to our strategic plan, and one of our strategic goals is that we must find additional funding for road and bridge and we put that in our strategic plan with a deadline of 2023,” said County Commissioner Jonathan Houck. “We’ve said strategically that’s our goal, but after numerous conversations since the finalizing of our strategic plan, we have decided not to pursue the funding question for road and bridge this year.”
Overall, the county has healthy revenues in other areas, but by law the commissioners are not allowed to spend general fund dollars, generated by property taxes, on roads and bridges, while sales tax can be used only for capital expenses such as equipment.
“I feel like we need to have more discussions and outreach to the community about why funding for road and bridge can’t be funded without opening up another stream of revenue,” Houck said. “Clearly, this November is not the time to do it. There still are people in our community who are struggling, whether it’s housing costs, food insecurity or other kinds of economic issues.”
The November 2022 ballot might have multiple requests for tax increases with discussion among the Gunnison Watershed School District, the City of Gunnison and the Gunnison Fire Protection District ongoing.
“My thoughts were let’s take the time to make sure we have good dialogue and discussion with the community so people can understand the situation, understand that we’ve done the best we can with every dime that we have, let the community understand how the funding for road and bridge funding works and once we’ve done that kind of outreach that’s the time to go to the polls,” Houck said.
The funding stream for roads and bridges comes from the Highway User’s Tax Fund, which according to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is primarily funded by the state and federal gas tax, neither of which have changed much over the last 30 years.
According to CDOT, Colorado’s gas tax of 22 cents per gallon hasn’t increased since 1991, and does not increase with inflation. In the 90s, CDOT spent $125 per person on transportation. Today, CDOT can spend only $69 per person, a figure that is expected to drop to $41 per person 20 years from now, according to growth projections.
“If you take the gasoline sales part of the highway users tax fund, people are buying more fuel efficient cars, and they are using more alternative means of transportation,” Houck said. “Fuel sales have not increased and the funding is tied to the number of gallons sold.”
Over the last few years Marlene Crosby, outgoing Gunnison County public works director, has made the argument that there’s no more stretching left to do, that the days of all we have to do is sharpen our pencils some more and use the money more wisely have come to an end.
“What are a lot of counties in our position doing?” Houck asked. “They are cutting back on services, telling their constituents we’re not blading that road, or not plowing it in the winter, or not putting mag chloride on it in the summer. If you go to some of those counties that are making those decisions and you find washed-out, washboardy roads. We are trying to do better than that.”
(Paul Wayne Foreman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)