Climate plan could heighten budget worries

Jul 5, 2016 | Uncategorized

Fort Collins city leaders may be setting themselves up for big budget problems in a few years.

The calendar and unbridled enthusiasm for some extremely expensive public policies are on a collision course.

The calendar issue concerns the expiration of a revenue source. In 2010 voters passed a .85 percent sales tax measure called Keep Fort Collins Great. In the middle of the so-called Great Recession, voters decided to keep city government whole with this 10-year tax.

With time winding down on the tax, city leaders are pondering how to renew, make permanent or replace it with other fees and taxes.

Ideas getting the most attention include a tax on services, a local income tax and a transportation “fee.” Each option has merits and considerable flaws, but credit city leaders for looking ahead.

If they really want to burnish their bona fides, however, they will also explain their process for considering cuts. Revenues should be only half of the discussion.

Another caution involves the topic of imposing fees. If the City Council tried to impose a fee on all households or businesses for something like transportation without a vote of the people, it would get the same push-back as the city’s attempts to take over waste hauling and the once-proposed fee on plastic bags.

The second issue is an unrestrained appetite for big, expensive public policies such as the Climate Action Plan.

Adoption of a climate action framework was rushed through the City Council prior to the last council election. It was an incomplete, hastily prepared document that we were told was just a framework, a place to start a conversation.

No, not really. Based on the new staff hires and thousands of hours of time being spent on CAP, this is much more than just a framework.

It has been hard to pin down costs for all of the CAP policy ideas, but $600 million has been mentioned, and it is likely to be much more expensive than that.

This is where the two issues intersect. At the same time city leaders will approach us to renew the expiring Keep Fort Collins Great tax, the massive costs of CAP will start to become clear.

To have credibility with voters, CAP advocates have important questions to answer such as:

What has been done so far and at what cost?

Going forward, what is being proposed, what are the expected results, how will those results be measured and how much will this really cost?

Will these recommendations actually benefit the climate or are they just symbolic?

Who will pay for the recommendations and in what form? Fees? General fund? Special taxes? Utility rate increases? Forcing costs onto homeowners and businesses with new regulations?

What will happen to utility rates?

How will these recommendations affect housing affordability and transportation mobility?

While Fort Collins residents want well-funded local government and support environmental programs, they expect accountability. Lack of transparency and honesty on CAP will significantly undermine the city’s credibility to ask for more revenue.

David May is president and CEO of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce. Reach him at [email protected].

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