The Pueblo West View

PW metro board pushes road tax

CHIEFTAIN PHOTO/BRYAN KELSEN
Motorists drive in the 600 block of West McCulloch Boulevard on Thursday afternoon in Pueblo West.
CHIEFTAIN PHOTO/BRYAN KELSEN Motorists drive in the 600 block of West McCulloch Boulevard on Thursday afternoon in Pueblo West.

Clear, dark nights, perfect for star gazing, and breathtaking prairie scenery are two of the many benefits of life in Pueblo West. However, the community’s residents live with two constant reminders that life is not always perfect:

Wind.

And fellow residents complaining about the roads.

While there may be nothing residents can do about the wind, Pueblo West’s civic leaders think they’ve come up with an answer to the crumbling roads and resultant complaints.

The solution, they propose, is a 1 percent sales tax on all items but groceries, prescriptions and gasoline. Items that would be taxed include liquor and marijuana.

The sales tax issue will be included on the ballot for Pueblo West’s elections, set for May 6 this year, after the Pueblo West Metropolitan District board of directors approved language that would allow it to be put to a vote at its regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 28.

Final language of the sale tax initiative will be OK’d by the board at future meetings.

“Board members wanted to tighten the language on the initiative to make it as exact as possible,” said metro district Manager Jack Johnston.

In addition to the ballot initiative, voters also will elect individuals to fill three of the five seats on the metro district’s board of directors.

The big issue, however, is the 1 percent sales tax for road improvements. Pueblo West’s road woes are acute and getting worse. The community has 245 miles of roads, 161 of which are paved. Another 57 miles are chip sealed. A total of 128 miles are gravel.

Every mile needs maintenance of some kind, whether it be paving, chip-sealing or grading. There never is enough funding to do it all at once. But with a constant flow of money, a regular maintenance schedule could be established, proponents say. The proposed sales tax would create that source of funding.

Proponents estimate the tax would generate about $900,000 per year that would be dedicated solely to improving Pueblo West’s roads. The money would be controlled by the metro district and could not be used to purchase equipment or replace money from the general fund.

The sale tax funds would be used in addition to funds already provided by Pueblo County and the metro district for road work in the community.

The beauty of the sales tax, proponents say, is that the cost of repairing local roads would not be borne by Pueblo West residents, alone. Boaters at Lake Pueblo, tourists using the park, or others just passing through, would pay the tax, too, every time they shopped in Pueblo West.

Currently, the only sales taxes levied in Pueblo West are by Pueblo County and the State of Colorado. The metro board is seeking to follow suit through Colorado Revised Statute 32-1-1106, which allows metro districts, like Pueblo West, to assess a sales tax of up to 1 percent for a variety of items, including road improvements.

The list of needed repairs is “mind-boggling,” according to metro board chairwoman Christine McCarthy. Various studies have estimated Pueblo West’s road repairs at between $40 million and $100 million.

In the scheme of things $900,000 isn’t a lot of money. It costs $20,000 to chip seal a mile of road. It costs $120,000 to rebuild one mile of road. So, the size of the repair projects each year would be small. But every year the tax is in place there would be a list of road woes targeted for repair.

That’s a constant many Pueblo West residents could deal with.

And for those who oppose that tax, the board is discussing a sunset provision of five to 10 years (most likely six years) for the sales tax, where it would either end or have to be renewed by another vote.

“I think it’s important to have a sunset provision on the initiative,” McCarthy said.

Once the metro board decides on the initiative’s final language, it will be up to a citizen’s group or groups to campaign for its passage. Supporters already are planning presentations to explain the proposal and shore up support for it.

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