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Fountain Voters to Decide Street Tax Initiative Nov. 5

 

October 30, 2019



Proponents of a sales tax increase to fix some of Fountain’s deteriorating roads are hoping voters will say “yes” to 2A, the city’s initiative to increase the local sales tax rate by .35 percent over the current rate.

“There’s $53 million worth of need,” 2A supporter Ken Lippincott said.

Meanwhile, opponents insist the previous decade of a similar tax has resulted in insufficient results to warrant another attempt – and argue there must be another way to get the job done.

“We will always play catch-up, and if 2A is the only idea brought forward then I stick to the comment of finding new staff that is well compensated to help find better solutions or balancing the general funds to provide the necessary infrastructure,” resident Laura Gennitti said.

The decision will be made during Tuesday’s General Election. The ballot initiative asks for a sales tax of .70 percent – which means 7/10 of a cent of every dollar subject to sales tax in Fountain.

The tangible increase is actually less – .35 percent – because an existing .35 percent of the street tax approved in 2009 will expire, or sunset, after this year. The increase would account for the expiring portion and add another .35 percent, again expiring in 10 more years.

Fountain shoppers currently pay a 7.88 percent sales tax. That includes 2.9 percent for state, 1.23 percent for El Paso County, and 3.75 percent for the city. If approved, the total would be 8.23 percent.

For example, a bill of $50 now has a sales tax of $3.94; that would change to $4.12.

Mayor Gabe Ortega said the city is not taking this request of voters lightly.

“This is a tax-cautious community, but at the end of the day in order to build upon what we do and what we

have, we need everyone to pitch in,” he said.

Ortega said there is a common misconception that the city can just pull from other funds.

“The reality is costs like fuel, construction costs and materials all go up,” he said. “To pull from one fund to

benefit another just moves the problem area. … We do go after grants and require developers to pitch in where

they affect growth, however, and most often those are one-time monies and really don’t provide for the long

term needs of our community.”

Surprisingly, some of 2A’s biggest supporters are “ultra conservative” and generally dislike taxes. One of those

is Suzanne Foster, who has helped with planning and publicizing of 2A.

“We tried to be conservative but increased it a little bit more,” she said, noting that quality streets are vital to

attracting businesses and maintaining and increasing property values.

Officials say revenues from the tax approved in 2009, known as Moving Fountain Forward (MFF), were

significantly lower than projected some years due to an economic downturn when the tax first began.

Combined with much higher work and materials costs over time, that left some planned projects unfinished.

The new funds would allow for those specific items to be completed, and allow for neighborhood street repairs

citywide. Certain street sections need to be replaced completely.

“It’s supposed to focus on neighborhood streets, plus it’s helping them work on traffic control – meaning that if

traffic becomes so heavy in certain areas, it would go for widening and that sort of thing,” Lippincott

said.

Lippincott has lobbied for the funds to be used equally across Fountain’s various zones, but he acknowledged

some areas are more noticeable than others. He said contractors in certain subdivisions, such as Cross Creek,

got away with poor quality street work.

“It’s like asphalt laid on virgin prairie,” he said.

Equitable share of street funds is something that concerns 2A opponent Dawn Harnick, who said residents in

certain areas feel neglected. She claims many on fixed incomes or struggling to make ends meet would prefer

the city to prioritize other needs.

“Some care more about having a grocery store that they can walk to than have roads that this sales tax increase

still won’t be enough to fix,” she said. “Fountain used to be a place where families with lower income could

afford to live, and with each passing year the city continues to ask for more affecting every income level.”

Harnick noted residents want roads fixed in their own neighborhoods.

“Instead, residents see main roads being worked on over and over again,” she said. “Many want to see better

maintenance of roads and question if the roads are properly maintained to prevent such deterioration.”

Harnick said 2A opponents simply want the city to live within its means, even if it means making hard choices.

“We are asking for the city to redistribute the pie and give a larger portion of the budget to streets,” she said.

“Will it be easy? No! Will other areas of the city be affected? Likely! But if residents have to cut the waste and

fat from their own family budget to make do, then the city needs to as well. Enough is enough!”

Ortega said 2A allows for the tax burden to be shared with non-Fountain residents, and that 2A is “the most

viable means to provide badly needed funding to address numerous problems with streets and roads in

Fountain.”

“By utilizing a sales tax as the revenue source, it allows the city to pull in funds from outside the city’s

residents,” Ortega said. “2A will allow visitors and non-residents that buy goods in Fountain to help share the

cost of funding street projects in Fountain. If 2A passes, the overall sales tax rate that Fountain collects will

remain lower than current rates in Colorado Springs.”

A number of residents have questioned the city’s use of past MFF revenues, and whether all the MFF funds

were used for streets or perhaps some other unknown projects.

Officials refuted those ideas at the Oct. 22 City Council meeting.

“That’s a lie, and it’s illegal,” Mayor Pro Tem Phil Thomas said, lamenting the level of divisiveness 2A seems to

have caused in the community.

Staff members explained that the funds appropriated for specific uses like street repairs may be used only for

such, and noted that independent auditors routinely oversee the city’s records and have given nothing but

good reports since MFF began.

Furthermore, any employee or elected official found misappropriating such funds would face termination,

fines and possible prison time.

“No one would be dumb enough to do it,” City Attorney Troy Johnson said.

Council member Sharon Thompson referred residents to the audit reports available on the city’s website,

fountaincolorado.org, under the tabs Residents, About Fountain, and Moving Fountain Forward. The site also

lists all street projects planned under the existing tax, as well as notes on which were completed.

Still, opponents have mistrust.

“We have seen city staff grow and, although we want to offer a competitive wage, sustainable revenue has not

consistently grown with city salaries,” Harnick said. “To many, the perception is the city is ‘top heavy.’”

Gennitti said her concern is more about there “never being enough funds” than passage of 2A specifically, and

about the level of trust and accountability the city has with its residents.

“The idea of not having money to fix much needed streets but yet, let’s build a rec center, a building for

electric/water company’s fleet, is the bigger issue of mistrust,” she said.

Proponents said they did a lot of research and conducted numerous surveys to obtain resident input before

offering up 2A for consideration.

“Bottom line, this is an important ask of our community,” Ortega said. “There are many variables to consider when it comes to city government and the ability to maintain its infrastructure. Fountain is not alone in this challenge, as many communities across the United States are currently struggling with addressing this problem.”

 

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