A few days before ballots were mailed to Cortez residents, Mayor Karen Sheek asked the Montezuma County League of Women Voters to help promote a sales tax question in the April municipal election.
The League held a public meeting in City Hall on Saturday morning to discuss Ballot Question 2A, which will ask Cortez residents to vote on whether to continue the Recreation Center sales tax, at a reduced rate, past its planned sunset date in 2021. Sheek gave a presentation on the potential benefits of the tax, answered questions from attendees and asked the League to spread the word to voters about the ballot question. The meeting was the first of several events the League has planned for March, including candidate forums for the Mancos, Cortez and Dolores elections.
Along with the eight candidates running for five City Council seats, Cortez voters will decide this April whether to approve the continuation of the sales tax, which helps fund the rec center’s maintenance in addition to paying off the city’s debt for its construction. If approved, Ballot Question 2A would reduce the sales tax rate from 0.55 percent to 0.35 percent, and would allow it to continue indefinitely.
League member Eleanor Kuhl said the event was designed to be an informational meeting, and her nonpartisan group has not taken a position for or against the ballot question. But Sheek asked meeting attendees, including those who live outside Cortez, to tell their neighbors about how its passage could help them.
“This is not a new tax,” she said. “We’re technically reducing one that’s already in place.”
She said the city government wants to reduce the tax because the rec center’s construction will be paid off at the end of 2021, so tax revenue won’t need to pay for it anymore. But she said entry fees don’t cover all the center’s expenses, which are estimated to cost more than $960,000 per year. A fact sheet she handed out at the meeting estimated the center would have to raise its fees as much as 150 percent to generate the same amount of revenue as the proposed tax.
Members of the League and the public questioned Sheek about several aspects of the ballot issue. One man asked whether revenue from the tax could be used for anything other than the rec center, and whether there was a chance it would be raised again.
The ballot question specifies the sales tax revenue will “continue to be used for the operations and maintenance of the family recreation center,” as well as capital improvements and additions to the building. Sheek said the 0.35 percent rate takes into account possible future projects, and she doesn’t believe it would need to go up again.
The meeting was sparsely attended, but a few people traveled a long way to get there. Mancos resident Tulli Kerstetter said she came because she was curious about the tax, which everyone who shops in Cortez has to pay – and because she wanted to see the new Cortez City Hall.
“I don’t even use (the Recreation Center), but a lot of my friends use it, and I think it’s a lovely facility,” she said. “I’m proud to say that in our community, we have something as nice as that.”
The League of Women Voters has three candidate forums scheduled for later in the week, during which they will ask questions of candidates running for city council in Cortez, Dolores and Mancos. Cortez’s candidate forum will be held at City Hall at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Dolores and Mancos’s forums will be held Friday, at 6:30 and 7 p.m., respectively.
Ballots were scheduled to be mailed to Montezuma County voters on Monday. Cortez, Dolores and Mancos will all be holding mail-in municipal elections on April 3.
Approved by City Council on Jan. 23, the ballot question will appear as follows on Cortez voters’ ballots:
“Shall the city of Cortez continue to collect a portion of the sales tax which was approved at the November 6, 2001, election after the bonds authorized at such election are paid in full on or before December 31, 2021, provided that the rate shall decrease from .55% to .35% (thirty-five one hundredths of one percent), which represents 3½ cents on each ten dollar purchase) with the revenues from such tax to continue to be used for the operations and maintenance of the family recreation center or to be used for any capital improvements or additions to the family recreation center; and shall the city council be authorized to amend Ordinance No. 954, series 2001 to implement the decrease in the rate and the purposes for which the revenues may be used; and shall the revenues received by the city pursuant to this ballot measure be collected, kept and spent notwithstanding any revenue limitations of Article X, Section 20 of the Colorado Constitution or any other law?”