RIDGWAY – The Ridgway Town Council holds a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18 at the Ridgway Community Center to discuss how to finance the town’s cash match for a $10.5 million RAMP grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation to conduct a variety of downtown infrastructure improvements associated with the Town of Ridgway’s Streetscape plan.
On the table for discussion will be the town’s allocated 2014 capital improvements, priorities and expenditures; and discussion of the content for a ballot question slated for Ridgway’s Regular Municipal Election on April 1, 2014, to provide matching funds for the RAMP project.
The RAMP 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 joint project would combine CDOT’s proposed “three-laning” of Highway 62 to incorporate a center turn lane from Laura Street to the new bridge, with a variety of infrastructure improvements along the highway corridor and elsewhere in the core downtown area including bike lanes, curb, gutter, sidewalk, storm water drainage, landscaping, irrigation, lighting and paving. Future phases of the project extend beyond the highway bridge to the intersection of Highway 62 with U.S. 550 and also include some improvements from Laura Street to Amelia.
CDOT announced the $10.5 million RAMP grant award for the Highway 62 project in October. It was initially predicated upon the Town of Ridgway successfully raising $2 million in matching funds through a bond question on the November ballot. The Ridgway Town Council moved to strike that question in response to business owners’ protests over the proposed property tax hike. CDOT officials then indicated they were willing to give Ridgway until next spring to get a bond measure passed to raise the needed funds.
Council unanimously voted last week to send a letter of commitment to CDOT to enter into the RAMP project. Now, it’s on the hook to raise the cash match, and must decide whether to ask voters to approve a $2 million bond initiative next spring, or to ask for a lesser amount, to be offset by additional/alternative funding options that would reduce the bond principal or its debt service, with the ultimate goal of decreasing the cash liability to which Ridgway’s residents and business owners would be exposed.
Many community members attending last week’s meeting urged council to consider earmarking all or part of the Town's 0.6% sales tax that was passed in 2005 for capital improvements to the RAMP project.
“I am very enthusiastic about the project moving forward,” said local business owner Tammie Tuttle, a vocal opponent of the previous bond question that the Town withdrew from the November ballot. “But you should find other resources to pay back the money; not just property taxes.”
Ballot language for the April election is due by the end of January. If the bond initiative passes, it would be issued in late 2014 and the project would get started in 2016 and wrap up by the end of 2017. If the bond initiative fails, the town’s commitment to participate in the project would be nullified, and CDOT’s portion of the funds for the project will be reallocated to another project elsewhere in the state.
Council also spent a great deal of time at last week’s meeting deliberating over its adoption of the Town of Ridgway Fiscal Year 2014-15 Budget, and whether to formalize within the budget resolution its willingness to shift some of the money allocated for capital improvement projects toward the RAMP project.
The Town of Ridgway’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan calls for a variety of budgeted expenditures in FY 2014-15, including $10,000 for banner poles for Hartwell Park, $15,000 for an information kiosk regarding the Main Street Program, a $7,000 match toward a Great Outdoors Colorado Grant to build a bouldering park in Hartwell Park, $50,000 for Town Hall and Community Center improvements, $15,000 to implement a master sign plan, and more.
Ridgway resident Andy Mueller urged council to “show the voters your commitment with their tax dollars for a very high priority project” by taking out various capital improvement items, thereby sending a clear message to the public that “you are going to reconsider allocations to Capital Improvement Project funds, because you are going to doom this election if you don’t.”
However, after lengthy discussion, council agreed in the end to pass the budget as presented rather than tweaking it at the eleventh hour, with the understanding that it has the flexibility to re-allocate CIP funds as needed down the road.
To make its intention crystal clear, however, council further agreed to pass an additional resolution that it is committed to reevaluating the allocation of capital improvement expenditures listed in the general fund, due to the realization that some of those funds will likely be reallocated to the RAMP project when it goes forward in coming months, and that all discussion regarding this matter will take place in a public meeting.
Ridgway resident Ned Bosworth applauded council for its thorough discussion on the matter. “I agree this is a very important perception item to the public,” he said. “It isn’t really about trust, but an obvious indication of intent.”
Council went on to unanimously adopt the capital improvement plan as presented, stressing that it is subject to revision.
Councilor Eric Johnson worried that only one faction of the community has been making itself loudly heard in regard to reallocating CIP funds toward the RAMP project at the expense of other budgeted capital improvement projects, while those in the community who might be in favor of pursuing those other projects have not been present in discussions thus far.
“As an economic development thing, we have to really balance out how we are making those decisions,” he said. “There has got to be a middle ground on all this stuff.”
He called on those in the community who embrace some of the other capital improvement projects slated for 2014 to come to Wednesday’s meeting “prepared to argue your case.”
“There will be people here, I guarantee you,” Councilor Rick Weaver said. “And whatever we do, it won’t be enough.”
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