Members of our Community Editorial Board, a group of community residents who are engaged with and passionate about local issues, respond to the following question: Boulder County is considering asking voters to extend its 0.1% sales tax, which has been in place for about two decades and funds transportation projects across the county. Your take?
Boulder County is seeking a 15-year extension of the county transportation tax and we should support it. The county has received funding from this tax for the past 20 years, but it will sunset at the end of June 2024. The county receives its funding through property tax, vehicle registration fees, a gasoline tax and this sales tax. The county has done a lot with this relatively low tax — it is a penny on every ten dollars spent in the county.
The county has a transportation master plan that can be found on its website: bouldercounty.gov/transportation. For those who want to learn more details about the master plan and what the county has done with the tax money so far, there is also a video of a recent virtual public meeting that was held on June 14th of this year.
The county’s plan includes multi-modal transportation needs for cars, buses, bikes, pedestrians and hikers.
Ongoing services include Ride Free Lafayette, the bus rapid transit, the regional trail system that connects with other communities and transportation for vulnerable community members. A new service that began this summer is the Lyons Flyer, a bus that links the city of Boulder with the town of Lyons.
The county is mindful of the need for Infrastructure resilience to changing weather patterns due to climate change. Keeping the roads and trails resilient in the face of increased flooding, fires and heat waves are all part of the county’s Transportation Master Plan.
Transit services are designed to complement services by RTD or local services like VIA. All county transportation programs are implemented through partnerships. Locally as well as regionally.
In the past 20 years, Boulder County has used this tax money to expand and pave 97 miles of road shoulders and improve safety at 13 intersections. The county has added 23 miles of new regional trails as well as maintaining and repairing the existing trails and built 6 new pedestrian underpasses.
The tax is also used to obtain additional state, regional and federal funding because most of that funding is only available to a community that can provide matching funds.
The county’s plan for the next 15 years includes “Vision Zero” which is to eliminate serious injuries and fatalities from the county roadways by 2025. It wants to provide “mobility for all” which includes our vulnerable citizens who have transportation needs like everyone else but are unable to drive, bike, walk or use a conventional bus.
Fern O’Brien, firstname.lastname@example.org
Boulder County voters approved a 0.1% transportation sales tax beginning in 2001. The tax was extended in 2007, and it is set to expire in 2024. The tax funds have been put to good use, improving roadways, adding shoulders and road expansions for cyclists, funding transit projects, building underpasses for pedestrians and creating multi-use path connections between communities within the county. Boulder County is considering a ballot measure to extend the tax to 2039, and I support it. The reasons for the tax are just as valid today as they were in 2001 and 2007, and Boulder County continues to grow.
As often happens with successful programs, some have asked whether the tax should not just be extended but also increased. I question whether now is the right time to increase the transportation tax. First, there is a rocky road ahead (pun intended) for the nation’s economy, and the county has not made a strong case for an immediate increase. Second, two other tax increase proposals are expected to be on the ballot, both of which address urgent needs.
One of these is a proposal for a 0.1% countywide sales tax for funding wildfire mitigation efforts for strategic forest and grassland projects and to help residents make their homes more fire resistant through individual technical assistance and rebates. The Marshall Fire woke all of us up to the increased risk of fire in today’s environment, polling demonstrates overwhelming public support for the tax, and its urgency requires little explanation.
The other expected proposal is for another 0.1% sales tax, declining to 0.05% after five years, for the purpose of funding emergency response, including for search and rescue, fire departments in mountainous and rural areas, and wildland firefighting staffing, among others. The tax is front-loaded to address an immediate need for a building to host the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group (RMRG). RMRG is one of the oldest and most experienced mountain rescue teams in the country, it is Boulder County’s primary mountain rescue agency, and it is all volunteer.
On that last point, the county is required by Colorado law to provide emergency response services, and it subcontracts with RMRG to provide professional volunteers at no cost. The county hosts RMRG in a former vehicle repair shop, and RMRG’s needs for servicing a growing county have outgrown the building. A new building would be used for equipment storage, training and education, and it could be used by other County personnel. It’s a worthy proposal.
Andrew Shoemaker, Ashoemaker@sgslitigation.com
Even in the socialist paradise of Boulder, most people think our tax burden is high. A third of the people polled recently think our taxes are way too high. While the 0.1% county sales tax for transportation projects doesn’t sound like much, it is on top of the 1% we already pay to RTD. And this tax represents 10% of the total taxes received by the county via a sales tax. Also, this transportation tax extension likely won’t be the only tax proposal on the upcoming ballot. Proposals for wildfire mitigation and emergency response, both of which are more necessary than more bike paths, are being considered. Is this death by a thousand cuts?
So, what did this tax get us over the past twenty years? A hundred miles of paved shoulders and 23 miles of new trails — just a mile a year. Plus, intersection safety improvements, six pedestrian underpasses and some support for nine transit routes. More than half of the total cost for these projects came from federal and state funds, so this tax buys us improvements for fifty cents on the dollar.
It’s nice to be able to vote specifically on how our tax dollars are spent, but shouldn’t any worthwhile project be covered out of the general fund, where choices and relative priorities must be decided by our elected representatives? Such taxes only exist at the state level and below. We never make fine-grained revenue decisions at the federal level.
This transportation tax is akin to having a separate district to fund the library, a proposal I am against, but I’m more enamored of this tax for purely selfish reasons: I like trails and wide shoulders. This tax covers more than just cycling improvements, though. It makes me wonder if we should have even finer-grained taxes to protect funding for the projects that I hold near and dear. That’s a bit self-centered, though, isn’t it? More than a bit.
When voting on taxes like this, it is now the responsibility of the voters to prioritize what is most important. Living in Superior, I’m quite concerned about wildfire mitigation. As an outdoor enthusiast, I also value our emergency and rescue services. As a cyclist, I love our great network of bike paths. Come November, if you feel squeezed by the high tax burden, I encourage you to think hard about priorities when selecting which taxes to bless.
Bill Wright, email@example.com