Ballot issues 2I and 2J – Community, Culture, Resilience and Safety tax extension, bond issuance

Image by Christopher Burns via Unsplash

Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021 (Updated Tuesday, Oct. 12)

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What the ballot language says

??WITHOUT RAISING THE CURRENT TAX RATE, SHALL THE EXISTING COMMUNITY CULTURE AND SAFETY SALES AND USE TAX OF 0.3 CENTS, SCHEDULED TO EXPIRE DECEMBER 31, 2021, BE EXTENDED TO DECEMBER 31, 2036, AND BE KNOWN AS THE COMMUNITY RESILIENCE AND SAFETY TAX, WITH THE REVENUE FROM SUCH TAX EXTENSION AND ALL EARNINGS THEREON BE USED TO FUND CITY CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS SUCH AS:

MAINTAIN AND IMPROVE ROADS AND MULTI-MODAL PATHS; REPLACE CRITICALLY DETERIORATED SIGNAL POLES; REPLACE CENTRAL AVENUE BRIDGE; IMPROVE THE BOULDER CREEK PATH CORRIDOR ; IMPLEMENT THE BOULDER CIVIC AREA PHASE 2/CENTRAL PARK IMPROVEMENTS; COMPLETE FIRE STATION 3 CONSTRUCTION; RELOCATE OR RECONSTRUCT FIRE STATION 2 OR FIRE STATION 4; PURCHASE EMERGENCY VEHICLES FOR BOULDER FIRE RESCUE TO PROVIDE ADVANCED LIFE SUPPORT; RENOVATE EAST BOULDER RECREATION CENTER; ACQUIRE STREETLIGHT SYSTEM AND CONVERT TO LED LIGHTS; REFRESH PEARL STREET MALL;

AND FUTURE CITY CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS SUCH AS THOSE IN THE FOLLOWING CATEGORIES:TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM RESILIENCE – MAINTAIN AND MODERNIZE BOULDER’S TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM TO ALLOW FOR SAFER AND MORE EFFICIENT FLOW FOR ALL MODES OF TRANSPORTATION INCLUDING PEDESTRIAN, BIKE, AND VEHICLES; PROGRESS TOWARD CLIMATE GOALS – RENOVATE AND RETROFIT THE CITY’S AGED FACILITIES TO INCREASE RESILIENCE AND REDUCE CARBON EMISSIONS; SAFE AND PREPARED BOULDER – MAINTAIN AND REPLACE CAPITAL INFRASTRUCTURE THAT SUPPORTS FIRST RESPONDERS; ACTIVE AND HEALTHY BOULDER – MAINTAIN AND MODERNIZE FACILITIES NEEDED TO PROVIDE RESIDENTS THE AMENITIES AND OPPORTUNITIES TO RECREATE AND MAINTAIN HEALTHY AND ACTIVE LIFESTYLE; COMMUNITY FOCUSED TECHNOLOGY IMPROVEMENTS – MODERNIZE AND CONSOLIDATE THE CITY’S DATA INFRASTRUCTURE AND OUTREACH TOOLS FOR MORE TRANSPARENT, FASTER, ACCESSIBLE, AND USER-FRIENDLY RESIDENT AND VISITOR SERVICE;

AND USE UP TO 10% OF TAX REVENUE TO FUND A GRANT POOL FOR NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION/PROJECTS THAT SERVE THE CITIZENS OF THE CITY AND RELATED COSTS INCLUDING GRANT PROGRAM ADMINISTRATION COSTS IN COMPLIANCE WITH TERMS, CONDITIONS, AND TIMING ADOPTED BY THE CITY COUNCIL;

AND IN CONNECTION THEREWITH, SHALL THE TAX REVENUES AND ANY EARNINGS FROM THE REVENUES CONSTITUTE A VOTER APPROVED REVENUE CHANGE AND AN EXCEPTION TO THE REVENUE AND SPENDING LIMITS OF ARTICLE X, SECTION 20 OF THE COLORADO CONSTITUTION?

And

SHALL CITY OF BOULDER DEBT BE INCREASED UP TO $110,000,000 (PRINCIPAL AMOUNT) WITH A MAXIMUM REPAYMENT COST OF UP TO $158,000,000 (SUCH AMOUNT BEING THE TOTAL PRINCIPAL AND INTEREST THAT COULD BE PAYABLE OVER THE MAXIMUM LIFE OF THE DEBT) TO BE PAYABLE SOLELY FROM THE EXTENSION OF THE COMMUNITY RESILIENCE AND SAFETY SALES AND USE TAX OF 0.3 CENTS (PREVIOUSLY KNOWN AS THE COMMUNITY, CULTURE AND SAFETY TAX), IF SEPARATELY APPROVED;

SUCH DEBT TO BE SOLD AT SUCH TIME AND IN SUCH MANNER AND TO CONTAIN SUCH TERMS, NOT INCONSISTENT HEREWITH, AS THE CITY COUNCIL MAY DETERMINE, WITH THE PROCEEDS OF SUCH DEBT AND EARNINGS THEREON BEING USED TO FUND CITY CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS AND NON-PROFIT PROJECTS THAT SERVE THE CITIZENS OF BOULDER PAYABLE FROM SUCH SALES AND USE TAX EXTENSION INCLUDING, AMONG OTHER THINGS:

MAINTAIN AND IMPROVE ROADS AND MULTI-MODAL PATHS; REPLACE CRITICALLY DETERIORATED SIGNAL POLES; REPLACE CENTRAL AVENUE BRIDGE; IMPROVE THE BOULDER CREEK PATH CORRIDER ; IMPLEMENT THE BOULDER CIVIC AREA PHASE 2/CENTRAL PARK IMPROVEMENTS; COMPLETE FIRE STATION 3 CONSTRUCTION; RELOCATE OR RECONSTRUCT FIRE STATION 2 OR FIRE STATION 4; PURCHASE EMERGENCY VEHICLES FOR BOULDER FIRE RESCUE TO PROVIDE ADVANCED LIFE SUPPORT ; RENOVATE EAST BOULDER RECREATION CENTER; ACQUIRE STREETLIGHT SYSTEM AND CONVERT TO LED LIGHTS; REFRESH PEARL STREET MALL; OR USED TO FUND OTHER CITY CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS AND PROJECTS OF NON- PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS OTHERWISE PAYABLE FROM SAID SALES AND USE TAX;

AND IN CONNECTION THEREWITH, SHALL ANY EARNINGS FROM THE INVESTMENT OF THE PROCEEDS OF SUCH DEBTS CONSTITUTE A VOTER APPROVED REVENUE CHANGE AND AN EXCEPTION TO THE REVENUE AND SPENDING LIMITS OF ARTICLE X, SECTION 20 OF THE COLORADO CONSTITUTION?

What it means

Should Boulderites (and everyone else who buys things in Boulder) keep paying a 0.3% sales tax for the next 15 years, with the money going toward big infrastructure projects (90%) and community arts and culture organizations (10%)? The latter will be distributed via grants by the city’s Arts Commission.

and

Should Boulder be allowed to borrow $110 million (which will cost approximately $158 million to replay) to finance these projects, to be repaid with revenue from the sales tax? 

Who is supporting

There is no formal group backing this measure, which was brought forward by city council. Boulder Weekly endorsed a yes vote on the tax extension.

Who is opposing

There is no formal opposition to this measure, though some arts groups have expressed displeasure about the amount of funding reserved for local nonprofits (see more below).

Why you might want to vote for this

This is not a tax increase. You’re already paying this sales tax; the ballot measure simply means you’ll keep paying it for the next 15 years. 

Boulder needs the money. The city has around $300 million in unfunded capital projects — paving and street maintenance, bridge replacements, etc. — things that are essential to keep a city running safely.

Without this tax, the city would have to find the money somewhere else. In fact, this tax extension — which will raise some $200 million over 15 years — won’t even pay for all the work that needs to be done. The list of projects will only grow as more streets, bridges and buildings age, and maintenance gets costlier due to inflation. 

The city has identified specific projects to be funded first and categories for future projects. This provides accountability to voters while allowing some flexibility in the future.  (Find a full list of projects with brief explainers below.

This specificity makes for an easier decision at the ballot: If you think the projects are important, vote for this tax extension. If you don’t, well, then don’t.

Why you might not want to vote for this

Although this isn’t a tax increase, it is a long-term extension of a sales tax. 

Boulder has the highest sales tax rate in the Front Range, and sales taxes are regressive (meaning they impact lower-income people more because those people pay a higher share of their earnings than do wealthier residents). 

The extension also includes a smaller share of funds for arts groups than past iterations of the tax did. The Community, Culture and Safety tax passed in 2014 sent 20% of revenue to area organizations, as did a 2017 extension. This would drop that to 10%, or $20 million over 15 years. Although the share is smaller, because this is a longer tax extension, the total amount of money going to the arts is greater.

City council decided the level and extent of infrastructure need was so great that to divert funds away would leave critical projects unpaid for. Arts groups counter that investments in arts and culture generate a positive return on investment. 

You also may disagree with how Boulder is spending the money (although there was a monthslong public process, including a survey during which feedback was solicited). Voting no could send a signal about that — or it could just leave the city with fewer options to pay for the infrastructure it does need.

List of initial projects

Transportation — $17 million

  • Maintenance and improvement of roads and multi-use paths (paving, potholes, etc.)
  • Replace Central Avenue bridge
  • Replace “critically deteriorated” traffic signal poles

Improve the Boulder Creek Path corridor — $7 million

  • A study and management plan will reveal more detail, but Parks & Rec staff have shared that the city will be looking to “identify or address new visitor areas, recreation areas, access points, ecological restoration, tree removal particularly Emerald Ash trees, water quality issues, and streambank stabilization” along Boulder Creek from Eben G. Fine Park to 55th Street

Civic Area 2.0 — $8 million

  • The Civic Area is the land between (roughly) the Boulder main library branch and the Dushanbe Teahouse. It’s where the library, municipal building, bandshell and Boulder farmers market are. The first phase of Civic Area upgrades — transforming a flat grassy expanse where unhoused residents used to congregate with landscaping, a bridge and lighting — was paid for by the original CCS tax. Phase 2 details are TBD, but according to staff, the intent is to “modify and/or enhance the park areas and hardscapes” to “create a large gathering space with important connections to the adjacent transit options, creek path, restaurants and businesses” and “better connections to and through the site to link various key destinations through path connectivity and visibility, public plazas for events and better circulation through the site. This translates into enhanced park amenities, pathways, open promenades along 13th Street  and Canyon Blvd., increased visibility and safety of the area and functional space layout.”

Fire Station No. 3 construction — $11 million

  • This facility is being relocated because it is in the floodplain. The original budget was $12.5 million, but due in part to the high cost of land ($9 million) the project is $11 million over budget. 

Relocate or rebuild Fire Station No. 2 or Fire Station No. 4 — $35 million

  • These stations are outdated and/or too small for the needs of a modern fire department. Like Fire Station No. 3, they will need to be renovated and/or relocated. This amount is likely only enough to replace one station, due to the high cost of land.

Add Advanced Life Support capabilities to Boulder Fire Rescue — $1.4 million

  • Boulder Fire Department provides basic emergency response services such as performing CPR or administering oxygen. More extensive procedures (giving medications, putting in IVs, using cardiac devices) are outsourced to a private company. Bringing these Advanced Life Support (ALS) services in-house will decrease response time and save lives.

Renovate East Boulder Rec Center — $13.5 million

  • A “deep retrofit” is planned to make the building more energy efficient and to renovate the interior for current and future recreation needs. The building currently has a “B” grade, according to the city’s rating system, though it scores the worst (“E”) on sustainability.

Acquire streetlight system and convert to LED lights — $5 million

  • Xcel owns the city’s streetlights. In other cities, the company provides energy-efficient LEDs if the city wants to upgrade. Boulder did not receive this benefit, as it was fighting for control of Xcel’s system in the city. Now we are buying the lights ourselves and will convert 60% of them to LED, saving energy — but not money.

Refresh Pearl Street Mall — $4 million

  • Details on the refresh are TBD. Chip, head of Downtown Boulder Partnership, said a major priority is replacing/upgrading the restroom facility at 13th and Pearl. 

Categories for future expenditures

Transportation System Resilience — maintenance and upgrades for cars, pedestrians, bikes and transit

Progress Toward Climate Goals — renovation and retrofits for city facilities to reduce their carbon footprint (solar panels, more efficient HVAC systems, etc.)

Safe and Prepared Boulder — maintenance and replacement of infrastructure that supports first responders (such as another fire station relocation or renovation)

Active and Healthy Boulder — maintenance and upgrades to facilities that provide recreational opportunities (like rec centers) 

Community-focused technology improvements — Updating and centralizing the city’s data infrastructure with an eye toward better community service (tools like Inquire Boulder, online payment systems, etc.)

More info 

On how Boulder spends its money and what it needs money for:

On the economic impacts of local arts and culture

— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle

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