Boulder voters will likely weigh in on a sales tax extension in November that will, at least in part, go to funding open space needs.
The options council will consider putting on the ballot in November, with public feedback, will be: 0.15% for open space; 0.1% for open space and 0.05% for the general fund; and 0.1% for open space and 0.05% for transportation. It will also consider two lengths: 10 and 20 years.
If the full 0.15% is dedicated to open space, it would raise an estimated $5.3 million annually or $53 million over 10 years and would fund more strategies the Open Space and Mountain Parks department has outlined in its master plan and other department efforts.
Kady Doelling, executive budget officer, told council during its Tuesday study session that open space visitation has increased almost 34 percent between 2005 and 2018, and the overall cost to maintain the system has outpaced earlier projections.
However, she added: “They still can do things in our master plan. This is not the sky falling. They have prepared for a lot of these reductions.”
She also put the sales tax extension in the context of the city’s other unfunded needs. There are existing master plan needs in technology, library, open space and transportation funding, as well as future master plan needs in fire-rescue, facilities, police, parks and recreation, and human resources funding.
A staff memo to council notes, for example, that an assessment of transportation needs identified $22.7 million in unmet annual needs and $20.8 million in one-time capital expenditures; it will cost an estimated $22-25 million to relocate and replace Fire Stations No. 2 and 4; and the city’s facilities have approximately $6.4 million in unfunded maintenance needs.
Six of eight council members supported either 0.1% or 0.15% dedicated to open space. Two, however, cautioned that such a tax might hurt other city needs.
Councilman Sam Weaver said he would support no less than 0.1% dedicated to open space, noting problems like an estimated $40 in deferred maintenance and, for example, the Mesa Trail being 10 feet wide.
“I don’t know that the level of visitation increase was something we really appreciated,” he said.
Councilman Bob Yates, on the other hand, pointed to the city’s other needs.
“I would be concerned about doing something this year … and waking up next year and saying, ‘Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if we had a tax for transportation or libraries or affordable housing or these other needs,’ and we don’t have enough headroom,” Yates said.
He cautioned against a piecemeal approach and said it would be better to have a more holistic discussion next year.
“If we do this piecemeal, at some point in time we’re going to run out of headroom,” Yates said.
Councilwoman Mary Young said she worried this tax extension would sabotage an effort next year to pass a regional affordable housing tax that would bolster a county-wide goal of securing 12% of all residential properties as permanently affordable by 2035.
“I appreciate the concern for open space, but we just saw this list of all of these needs we have,” Young said. “There are equivalents of wide Mesa Trails in all of these other categories. The question is: Where do we want to put that effort?”
Councilwomen Mirabai Nagle and Lisa Morzel both supported the full 0.15% being dedicated to open space.
“This is our overarching, most important thing for humanity: to protect our environment and to protect the open space and the ecosystems that survive around us,” Nagle said. “I understand how important affordable housing is, but that to me personally is more on a micro level. We have to look at it as humanity.”
The matter, with the six variations on funding dedication and length of tax extension, is scheduled for a first reading Aug. 6 and a second reading and public hearing Aug. 20.