Longmont May Ask Voters for a Permanent Street-fund Sales Tax

January 9, 2019
The South Pratt Parkway bridge construction project on Wednesday.

Longmont may ask voters next November to make permanent the collections of the city’s 0.75 percent street fund sales tax.

Voters may also be asked to change a provision in Longmont’s municipal charter that now puts a 20-year limit on rentals of city-owned properties.

At the suggestion of Councilman Tim Waters, council members voted unanimously Tuesday night to direct the city staff to include discussions of those two potential ballot questions on future council meeting agendas.

Making the street tax permanent could allow Longmont to issue bonds backed by that ¾ -cent sales and use tax — bonds whose repayments could be phased over more years than is now possible with a tax that up until now has lasted only a few years before voters must be asked to decide whether to renew it.

Bond financing of transportation projects could allow the city to proceed with such things as the expensive improvements that would be needed to create “quiet zones” at railroad crossings, Waters said on Wednesday.

This year’s city budget includes $380,000 for planning and designing quiet zones at some of those crossings.

But that falls far short of the $5.4 million to $6.3 million total the city staff has estimated it would cost to make the kinds of improvements the federal government would require at 11 crossings in Longmont in order to exempt those crossings from a 2005 Federal Railroad Administration safety rule — a rule that now makes locomotives sound their horns loudly while approaching those crossings in order to warn pedestrians and vehicles.

The city staff has said improvements that must be made to establish railroad crossing quiet zones often include: improved crossing arms; curbs and medians to prevent vehicles from going around gates; improved communications circuitry between the tracks, the train and the crossing arms, and, in some cases, localized “wayside” horns at the crossings.

The overall street improvement fund in the 2019 budget, which also gets revenues from a variety of sources, is projected to total about $25.16 million in spending this year. The 0.75 percent sales and use tax whose revenues are earmarked for the overall city budget’s street fund account is expected to generate $16,243,155 toward those covering those expenses, according to Teresa Molloy, Longmont’s budget manager.

The street fund pays for a number of transportation services, programs and improvements, including surface treatments, pothole patching, crack sealing, snow and ice removal, street sweeping, curb and sidewalk concrete repairs, road rehabilitation and reconstruction and the construction of road and bridge and intersection improvements.

Longmont’s street-fund sales tax is part of an overall 3.53 percent municipal sales and use tax.

When discussing the 2019 city budget last September, the council informally agreed to prepare for consideration this year of whether to ask voters next November to make Longmont’s 0.75 percent street fund sales and use tax — which generates revenues for a variety of transportation maintenance and improvement projects — permanent.

The council’s Tuesday night action directs the staff to put the resumption of that discussion on the calendar for a future council meeting.

Waters said Wednesday that he has questioned why Longmont “can’t be more aggressive” in responding to complaints about train locomotives’ horn noise — a 14-year-old federal mandate whose effect he said “has been significant” for people living in neighborhoods near the crossings.

A permanent street fund sales tax could also allow Longmont to proceed with financing the planning and construction of other projects, Waters said, and not just quiet-zones crossing improvements.

Longmont voters originally approved a street fund sales tax in 1986. They renewed it for additional five-year collection increments in 1990, 1994, 2000, 2005 and 2009.

In 2014, voters approved a 10-year extension of the tax that had been set to expire on Dec. 31, 2016, making its collections effective through Dec. 31, 2026.

As for the possible city charter amendment about rentals, Waters said a current provision barring Longmont from renting land or buildings to other entities for more than 20 years per lease could prevent the kinds of public-private partnerships that otherwise might make it possible to develop and operate facilities such as a new performing arts, cultural center, convention center and hotel complex.

Waters told council colleagues Tuesday, and also said on Wednesday that developers have told him that for them to be interested in entering such public-private development partnerships, their leases would have to extend longer than 20 years in order to amortize and get a return on their financial investments in such projects.

Removing the 20-year rental limit from the charter could open the possibility for public-private partnerships for projects city government cannot afford to finance on its own, he suggested.

The council did not specify when it wants the discussions of the street fund sales tax and the charter’s current limits on rentals scheduled.

John Fryar: 303-684-5211, jfryar@times-call.com or twitter.com/jfryartc

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