What: Boulder City Council meeting
When: 5 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Boulder Municipal Building, 1777 Broadway
More info: To read about possible November ballot measures and see the entire agenda, go to bit.ly/11z5M93.
One of several sales taxes that support open space should be reassigned to support transportation and general-fund needs like police and fire protection, Boulder City Councilwoman K.C. Becker said.
Becker made the proposal in an email to her fellow City Council members in advance of a discussion next week about possible November ballot measures.
Among other measures, the City Council will consider whether to ask voters to renew two sales taxes -- one for 0.33 percent and another for 0.15 percent -- that support open space, as well as whether to ask voters to approve a new transportation maintenance fee or tax.
The open space taxes aren't set to expire until 2018 and 2019, but the department will not be able to issue new bonds to finance land purchases if it can't guarantee a future revenue stream.
Renewing just the smaller tax would provide enough money to fulfill the department's $90 million "vision plan," according to an analysis by city officials. The department would even have a fund balance in 2039 of $40 million.
If the 0.33 percent tax is renewed, the department would have a $200 million fund balance in 2039.
Another option proposed in a memo to the City Council is creating a new 0.20 percent tax instead of renewing either of the existing taxes. That would provide enough money for open space to operate its mountain parks, and the city could stop transferring $1 million a year from the general fund, freeing up that money for other uses.
The city is also considering a fee or tax on utility bills to raise between $2.5 million and $5.6 million a year for pavement maintenance. Officials say the city is falling behind on road maintenance as sales tax revenue has declined and costs have risen. The amount of the tax would vary based on calculations that connect building type to typical vehicle use. Some City Council members also want that tax to fund transit improvements.
Becker's proposal calls for renewing the 0.15 percent tax for open space but asking voters to rededicate the 0.33 percent tax. Instead of going to open space, half of the roughly $9 million raised by that tax would go to transportation and half would go to the general fund for a variety of city needs, including police and fire. The police department has proposed hiring eight new officers over the next five years, but no funding has been identified to pay their salaries.
"These are core city functions," Becker said of police and roads. "This is a pretty good compromise where we start addressing some of the deferred maintenance that we have been neglecting."
In her email, Becker said the proposal has the advantage of providing much-needed revenue for other city goals without raising the total city tax rate of 3.41 percent. She noted that open space, which also has a 0.4 percent permanent tax, gets roughly a quarter of all city sales tax revenue.
That might help the city pass a future capital improvement bond program for Civic Area improvements, as well as make it more likely that the Boulder Valley School District, Boulder County and the state can pass taxes they want, Becker said.
Becker's proposal found support from several council members, including Mayor Matt Appelbaum.
"This is a good approach, certainly worthy of some community discussion," he said. "And I think it's in keeping with a long-term city goal of getting us on a financially sustainable path."
Councilman George Karakehian said open space purchases can't come at the expense of other city needs.
"The open space people would like full funding of everything forever, but at some point, we're there," he said. "We've bought what we'll buy, and we'll need to switch to management."
Karakehian said it took "guts" for Becker to propose moving money away from open space.
"The sacred cow that we call open space, it's pretty amazing that she would tackle this," he said.
Appelbaum said open space advocates need to explain how they would use so much additional money if they want to renew the higher tax.
Councilwoman Suzanne Jones said she was open to discussing Becker's idea, but only if open space needs are met first. Jones said it's important for the open space department to have enough cash flow and bonding capacity to buy important properties as they become available.
"I would definitely want to make sure we have enough money to accomplish our vision plan first," she said.
Councilwoman Lisa Morzel said open space is being asked to take on new responsibilities, such as providing land for urban agriculture, and the city may need to buy up mineral rights for existing open space properties to prevent fracking there. The cost of that initiative -- whose necessity Appelbaum questioned because he believes the city can stop fracking through local regulation -- is unknown.
Morzel called Becker's idea "not ready for prime time." Morzel would prefer to renew the higher 0.33 percent tax, allow the 0.15 percent tax to expire and look at other funding sources for transportation.
"We have a lot of needs in open space that still need to be met," she said. "Open space increasingly is being asked to support urban agriculture, which it never has before. We have a moratorium on fracking, but that's a temporary measure. We're trying to complete regional trail connections. We're putting open space in a position where they haven't been before."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 or firstname.lastname@example.org.