Clear Creek Road & Bridge expects a deficit of at least $30 million over the next 20 years, and county officials are looking at all funding options from a local improvement district to a specific …
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Clear Creek Road & Bridge expects a deficit of at least $30 million over the next 20 years, and county officials are looking at all funding options from a local improvement district to a specific ownership tax.
However, staff has suggested that the most viable options — the things that will make the biggest impact the quickest — are increasing its transportation mill levy and/or sales tax.
Nothing has been decided yet, as the county commissioners have asked staff for more information on how much revenue a sales tax increase in unincorporated Clear Creek would produce, among other items.
During a March 9 work session, Commissioner George Marlin also asked for more refined future revenue projections. Staff has projected revenues to be flat to determine the Road & Bridge budget deficit.
Regardless of whether the county has a ballot measure for a mill levy adjustment, new sales tax, both or neither, Marlin pointed out that almost every other special district in Clear Creek is considering a ballot measure as well to cover funding shortfalls.
Thus, he suggested polling voters about Road & Bridge funding once it has a more formal proposal assembled.
Mill levy adjustment
According to County Manager Keith Montag, Clear Creek’s current mill levy is comparative to other small, rural counties. However, statewide, it’s on the higher end.
The county’s total mill levy is 35.2 mills, and 5.75 mills of that specifically funds Road & Bridge, he clarified.
Marlin and Commissioner Sean Wood pointed out that every county is unique and Clear Creek has a large county road system with challenging topography and, as Wood described, “We have to fund (it) somehow.”
Montag and other staff members said the county should at least consider a mill levy adjustment, whether it’s temporary for certain projects or whether it’s permanent.
Montag added that having a specific list of projects would help in campaign efforts, saying, “So the voters could see they were going to get something done in their area.”
Commissioner Randy Wheelock stated that, at a time when internal costs are increasing, it might be appropriate to have a permanent mill levy. Clear Creek could still have its list of highest priority projects that the mill levy would fund, as well as backfilling day-to-day operations.
He also suggested having two mill levy adjustments — one that’s permanent and one that sunsets after a certain amount of time.
“A mill levy is called for, but has to be very well communicated,” Wheelock continued. “ … If we want better roads and better maintenance, we have to put more money into that.”
Sales tax increase
Wheelock and Marlin said they like the sales tax idea, as it’d catch more payers, namely visitors, who also use county roads. However, the biggest downside would be the impact to municipalities, as sales tax is their biggest revenue source.
Montag was unsure whether the county could have a sales tax in unincorporated Clear Creek only.
If not, Marlin said the county would need the support of the mayors to increase the sales tax in the municipalities.
Overall, he thought a mill levy increase made the most sense.
“I look at our list of (Road & Bridge) projects, and it’s not a bunch of improvements — it’s the desire to continue to maintain,” he continued. “ … I think we have to assume our voters are smart and care about the conditions of the roads.”
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