RIDGWAY – The Ridgway Town Council gathered for a work session last Wednesday, Nov. 18, to discuss strategies for raising $2 million in matching funds for a recently awarded $10.5 million RAMP grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation to pay for downtown infrastructure improvements.
The main issue up for discussion was whether the town should ask the community to approve a bond initiative in its regular election next spring, and if so, how much money the town should ask for.
The RAMP (Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships) grant represents a one-time funding opportunity for the town to partner with CDOT to leverage $2 million of its own money to get over $13 million worth of downtown infrastructure improvements on Highway 62 and within the town’s historic business district.
The grant award, announced in late October, was initially predicated upon the Town of Ridgway successfully raising $2 million in matching funds through a bond question on the November 2013 ballot. Council was poised to put a $2.7 million bond initiative on the ballot – enough to pay for an alternate funding scenario to implement a portion of the downtown infrastructure improvement project if the RAMP grant did not come through.
However, after a coalition of local business owners vehemently protested the proposed property tax hike, council moved to strike the question from the ballot at the eleventh hour.
Then, just a few weeks later, town officials received the ironic news that CDOT had awarded the $10.5 million RAMP grant to Ridgway, anyway, and that CDOT officials were willing to give Ridgway more time to get a bond measure passed to raise the $2 million in matching funds.
At last Wednesday’s work session, Town Manager Jen Coates told council that this amount could very likely be offset by a $500,000 Department of Local Affairs/Energy Impact grant for which she recently applied. If the grant comes through – and she feels optimistic that it will – the town would then only be on the hook to raise $1.5 million in matching funds through the bond initiative.
The only problem is, DOLA will not announce the grant award until after the ballot language has been set for the April 1 election.
Thus, council finds itself in a position of having to decide whether to hedge its bets by asking the community to pass a $2 million bond, or gambling that the DOLA grant will come through and asking the voters for only $1.5 million.
Mayor John Clark advocated for the $1.5 million figure. “We must be willing to take some risks to get the community behind us,” he said, arguing that the community would be less likely to support a bond for $2 million, which could put the RAMP grant in jeopardy.
At a community meeting attended by about 75 Ridgway residents last Monday, Nov. 18, Regional Transportation Director Kerrie Neet and Program Engineer Ed Archuleta warned that the RAMP grant money for Ridgway’s project will be reallocated to another project in the region, if Ridgway can’t raise the matching funds.
Council also discussed possible additional/alternative funding options for the project, which would help pay off the bond more quickly, ultimately decreasing the cash liability to which Ridgway’s residents and business owners would be exposed.
Two ideas that were floated as additional funding sources included a “good old-fashioned donation bucket” – which would allow people who support the infrastructure improvement project who live outside of town limits to help fund it; and activating the latent River Park Special Improvement District, levying a special tax on all property owners in the River Park subdivision to offset the cost of the Railroad Street improvement component of the downtown infrastructure improvement project. The Town of Ridgway required the SIP as a component of the River Park subdivision when it was first approved, but has been waiting to activate it.
During a lively Q&A session following CDOT’s presentation last week, some community members questioned why the Town was not willing to earmark all or part of the Town's .6 percent sales tax that was passed in 2005 for capital improvements to the RAMP project. The sales tax currently brings in about $100,000 per year.
“This has been discussed since the very beginning of the process, and the Town has continually stressed that there are many capital improvement projects in our long-term plans which keep us from committing a large portion to the downtown infrastructure improvements exclusively,” said Mayor John Clark in a letter to the community last week. “It's my feeling now that we need to revisit the discussion at Council and see if there are things we might be able to shelve in lieu of these critical improvements.”
At Wednesday’s work session, council members wrestled with the issue. Some were in favor of earmarking more of the sales tax revenue for the RAMP project; others were concerned about the impact this would have on other infrastructure improvement projects throughout town, as outlined in its five-year and 10-year Capital Improvement Plans.
Re-allocating all or part of these funds toward more quickly paying down the RAMP bond would likely sweeten the deal for those in the community who were initially opposed to it. But doing so would create a “Robbing Peter to pay Paul” scenario, some council members argued, defunding some of the other projects outlined on the town’s CIPs.
Even so, the majority of council agreed that committing a significant percentage of the capital improvements sales tax toward the RAMP project was an important way to win community support for the project.
All of these questions must be resolved in the very near future. The Town faces a tight timeline for accepting the RAMP grant and committing to raising matching funds through a new ballot question in the spring. If it does not sign a letter of commitment with CDOT by Jan. 6, the grant funds will be reallocated to another project.
Ballot language for the April 1 election is due in January. If the bond initiative is approved, the Town of Ridgway would then enter into an intergovernmental agreement with CDOT next summer. Construction would start in 2016 and conclude in 2017.
Highway 62 improvements that would be paid for through the RAMP grant partnership project extend from Laura Street to the Highway 550 intersection. They include a three-lane highway through a portion of town, bike lanes, concrete crosswalk intersections, curb and gutter improvements, new sidewalks on both sides of Highway 62, surface and subsurface drainage improvements and more. The project would also encompass a variety of infrastructure improvements in the town’s historic business district, as spelled out in Ridgway’s Streetscape plan.
A video of the Ridgway/CDOT RAMP Transportation Project meeting at the Ridgway Elementary School auditorium on Monday night, Nov. 18 has been posted at youtube.com/watch?v=XiMuq95SzdE.
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HOW MUCH WOULD THE RAMP BOND COST?
For a $2.0M bond issue at 5.5% interest for 20 years, there would be a total payback of ~$3.4M (including interest payments) and the following property tax increase numbers are estimated (please note the second figures for each category are different at $300k for residential and $500k for commercial):
– cost per $100k ($47/year or $4/mo.)
– cost per $300k ($142/year or $12/mo.)
– cost per $100k ($172/year or $15/mo.)
– cost per $500k ($860/year or $72/mo.)
(Information provided by Ridgway Town Manager Jen Coates)