Douglas County could have an additional $12.5 million per year for road improvements after commissioners voted to revise a November ballot item during a Sept. 3 meeting.
If approved by voters, the 0.18% sales tax revenue would be moved from the county’s justice center fund to the transportation budget. The reallocation would not require a tax increase for residents.
While a similar ballot question was added in June, the new question will instead ask voters to approve a greater reallocation of the county’s sales tax.
“From my perspective, this is a victorious day for Douglas county,” Commissioner Abe Laydon said in the meeting. “As we see 33 people per day being added to our community, the opportunity to deliver on traffic solutions is significant to me.”
Money from the 1% sales tax is divided among roads, the justice center and open space: Roads receive 0.40%, the justice center 0.43% and open space 0.17%.
In December 2020, 0.13% of the justice center sales and use tax is set to expire.
In a June 11 meeting, commissioners approved the similar ballot item, which would have asked voters to renew the 0.13% and move it into the transportation fund.
It also would have asked for approval to issue bonds for transportation infrastructure.
In the Sept. 3 meeting, commissioners rescinded these questions and approved the new one unanimously.
The commissioners decided to remove the bonding question because they do not have a specific list of proposals that would immediately call for a bond, Commissioner Roger Partridge said.
“Right now, we don’t have an ask or a need for a big project,” he said.
While Commissioner Lora Thomas said she is pleased with the revised ballot item, she opposed the June decision to ask for 0.13% reallocation because she felt that it would not be sufficient.
Thomas remarked that “0.13 just wouldn’t get us there, and we know that transportation improves the quality of life for our families, for our citizens, for our business. And this isn’t taking anything away from public safety.”
The additional 0.05% commissioners are proposing to reallocate from the justice center to roads is currently supporting staffing and maintenance of justice center facilities. That includes salaries of dispatch, deputies and specialists.
These costs would have to be funded by the general fund if not by sales tax, Partridge said.
“We will not see a change in public safety support,” he said.
If the additional 0.18% is approved, roads would receive a total of 0.58% from the 1% sales tax, effective January 1, 2020. A portion of the county’s property tax also goes toward transportation projects.
While the additional funding would help improve roads, it could also go toward other transportation projects, county spokesperson Wendy Manitta Holmes said.
During the Sept. 3 meeting, all three commissioners spoke about how residents have asked them to work on traffic.
“We do surveys about every two years and we consistently see very high numbers on the point of certainly ‘invest in transportation, do what you can to make sure that my commute, whether its work, home or play involvement, is minimized,’” Partridge said.
The Sept. 3 vote is the latest in a contentious two-year discussion on improving traffic in the county.
In 2017, Thomas proposed a 0.23% reallocation of funds from the justice center to roads. The proposition was strongly opposed by the sheriff’s office, which said it needed the funds for planned projects. Thomas’ idea was shot down by the board at that time after a two-night-long meeting including hours of public testimony.
“It’s the commissioners’ responsibility to budget appropriately,” Undersheriff Holly Nicholson-Kluth said about the Sept. 3 vote. “This was a decision they made.”
The sheriff’s office will remain neutral and wait for voters to make the final choice, she said.
In June, Nicholson-Kluth called the 0.13% reallocation “a good compromise.”
Residents will have the chance to cast their vote either in support of moving the funding to roads or keeping it the same in the November 5 election.
Mail-in ballots will be sent out beginning Oct. 15 and polling locations will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day. Residents can register to vote by visiting GoVoteColorado.com.
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