Clarifying costs for transportation funding

The guest opinion written by Angelique Espinosa and Elisabeth Patterson of the Boulder Chamber, published April 26 in the Boulder County Business Report, warrants a response and clarification relative to the potential transportation maintenance fee, or TMF, which is being considered by the Boulder City Council for placement on the November ballot.

In the piece, the authors wrote, “Based on the city’s proposed options, which range from $2.5 million to $5.6 million yearly, the commercial and retail users would pay the highest rate, $16,000 to $20,480 annually, and warehouses the lowest, $525 to $672 annually.”

This statement requires clarification. We know the chamber doesn’t intend to mislead the community. This response is not meant to point fingers, but rather to clarify the facts.

The table from which these figures were obtained was part of the April 9 study session materials prepared by city staff. The table provides examples of what commercial properties of certain sizes could expect to pay annually if a TMF was implemented.

The price range for retail would not equal $16,000 to $20,480 annually. Instead, these figures were associated with an example for a large multitenant mixed-use development that is 160,000 square feet. A mixed-use development of this size is comparable to the estimated size of the redevelopment project where the old Daily Camera building is located, and would contain several different retail tenants. This particular example is exponentially larger than the vast majority of properties.

Each retail tenant within a large multi-tenant complex would pay a fraction of that cost. For example, a retail store like GoLite on Pearl Street Mall is approximately 3,800 square feet, and the estimated annual cost to a store of that size would be between $380 and $836. This is a significant difference compared to the $16,000-plus figure stated in the previous column.

The cost for commercial properties under the current proposed methodology for the TMF is 10 cents per square foot for the smallest TMF option and 22 cents per square foot for the highest option. Property owners or retail tenants can estimate their potential TMF under the proposed methodology by doing simple math based on their square footage. In addition, the example used by the authors for a warehouse property is for a sample development of 42,000 square feet. The rates proposed for warehouses range from one cent per square foot to 3 cents per square foot at the low and high end of the revenue range.

The authors are correct that the University of Colorado, the federal labs and BVSD would be charged under a TMF. These organizations and their employees and students are part of this community, using and benefitting from the transportation system just like everyone else. A tax instead of a fee would exempt these organizations from having to pay. However, rates for everyone else would be approximately 12 percent higher in order to generate the same amount of funding for the system.

We understand that almost no one wants to pay more in taxes or fees. However, as we continue with our public process, we hear from most people that they understand the need. Costs for materials have increased significantly over the years and sales tax revenue hasn’t kept up. In fact, the city had 20 percent fewer dollars to spend annually on transportation in 2012 than it did in 2002, and the purchasing power of the city has dropped 39 percent over the same time because of cost inflation. Boulder’s award-winning multimodal transportation system plays a significant role in attracting businesses and employees and in making Boulder a special place to live and work. Our ability to maintain what we have, much less make improvements, is diminishing and we will continue to fall behind our maintenance standards. The city is trying to figure out, with the community’s input, the best way to increase transportation revenue. We encourage everyone to voice their opinion on this issue and get involved.

The chamber’s opinion is that it would prefer to see a tax instead of a fee so that community members could continue to have a vote on changes to the tax. This is an understandable concern and one that city council is also considering. No decisions about what will go on the ballot in November have been made yet. However, an informed conversation is the goal.    

Macon Cowles served on the city of Boulder’s Planning Board from 2001 to 2006 and has been a city councilman since 2007. Jessica Yates has served on the city’s Transportation Advisory Board since 2010 and the city’s Capital Investment Strategy Committee.

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