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Our View: Community costs in staying the same

Failed ballot measures in Cortez, Bayfield show voters aren’t ready to pay for upgrades

With the cost of living in the Southwest continually increasing, it’s no surprise that voters were reluctant to approve increases in taxes, whether on properties or sales. Still, we’re a little stumped by two measures that failed.

Ballot Issue 6A, with a bump-up in property taxes, would have benefited Cortez Fire Protection District’s budget by $1 million. And Bayfield’s Ballot Issue 2A, an increase in the town’s sales tax by 1%, would have bettered public recreation infrastructure through December 2043, right alongside its soon-to-boom population.

Baffling in Cortez was that the measure to repair or replace emergency response equipment – nearing the end of life spans – and offset salary increases was bare bones. Had 6A passed, it would have cost about $9 a month, not much for a response team that when you call for help, you need it to show up.

Any request for taxes would be met with hesitation. But the CFPD wasn’t asking for a fancy station with soaring windows in view of Sleeping Ute Mountain. It asked for updated equipment, a basic need. Don’t want leaks to a fire hose dousing flames on your home or business.

Also, CFPD had to pay competitive salaries. That increase in pay attracted more applications, more interest in the fire department. For our young professionals with family here looking to stay in the area, becoming a firefighter is an honorable profession. Instead of increasing this chance to reinforce a solid local workforce, we just discouraged it in that 53% to 47% vote.

Firefighters do so much more than extinguish fires. They respond to car accidents, drug overdoses, hazmat incidents and unusual situations when it’s unclear whom to call. Chances are, a distraught parent who accidentally locked keys inside a vehicle with a baby in a car seat might call the fire department. And residents wary of calling the police for any reason would contact the CFPD.

The area may be growing, but CFPD’s budget is not. The fire department has to rely on funding from the initial level that passed a decade ago. Think of every single thing – vehicles, milk, homes, child care (we could keep going) – that costs more now than it did a decade ago. Why snub the fire department? What’s $9 a month?

Nearby towns Rico, Dolores and Bayfield all approved measures to buoy local fire departments, with Bayfield adding an urgent care clinic to its fire station.

Now, instead of a looking at viable jobs and newer equipment, the CFPD has to reevaluate budgets and determine next steps. Not a reassuring thought.

One thing is certain, that backyard holiday fire is now a bad idea.

Ballot Issue 2A tanking in Bayfield was more of a quality of life choice about enhanced parks and programs than dire consequences that Cortez could face.

Again, asking for a tax increase is always tricky. But 2A failing is also a not-so-subtle rejection of the idea that Bayfield will soon become busier, more populated. Our interpretation: Residents aren’t crazy about multiple housing ventures in the works and want the community to stay as is, as long as possible.

2A would have increased the town’s sales tax by 1% through December 2043. A “yes” on 2A would have brought the town’s tax rate to 4%, with the total, including state and county taxes, to 8.9%. By comparison, Durango’s total sales tax rate is 8.4%. 2A would have raised an additional estimated $600,000 in the first year, making this historic agricultural town and its surroundings more self-sufficient, feeding its local tax revenue.

Tax revenue would have been “solely for parks, culture and heritage,” which would have given the town room to accommodate what residents have said they want. More trails and maintained parks would have eased the pain of dramatic growth. So that spread feels a little odd with 59% of voters rejecting the question and 41% supporting 2A.

Top recommendations from a community survey included upgraded vehicle access, ADA improvements, river access and trail connectivity, and improvements to accommodate more sports and programs.

Juxtapose voted-down enhancements with these upcoming housing developments:

  • Pine River Commons, a 66-unit townhomes project aiming to provide affordable housing to the area workforce.
  • MarLin Village, a tiny-home community with an eventual 14 units.
  • Orchard Subdivision, a mix of multifamily and single dwellings.
  • Clover 7, 54 lots, almost built-out.
  • Mustang Crossing, 88 units when completed. First phase is 19 units.
  • Cinnamon Heights, with 30 lots purchased by the town to be deed-restricted, affordable.
  • Bayfield East, a subdivision with residential and commercial properties that may include a grocery.

We imagine another version of this measure will surface again once newcomers are settled in their homes. The sports scene is expanding in Bayfield as it appeals to families. We imagine direct revenue streams to pay maintenance staff and referees on game days will eventually come.

“We don’t see growth slowing down,” Bayfield Mayor Ashleigh Tarkington said. “Everything is coming this way.”

Change is happening all over the Southwest. And we’re learning about what we can – and can’t – embrace at this time.