Year in Review
Under Durango’s Home Rule form of Government, our city’s charter specifies a council-manager form of government. Citizens elect five city council members to serve four-year terms, during which they are to develop goals, set policies, and appoint a city manager to see that council’s goals and policies are carried out. No policy or action is undertaken without approval by a minimum of three councilors. In 2020, Durango City Council has confronted, responded, and adapted to an unprecedented series of challenges. Here is a recap of some of the most impactful policies developed by Council in 2020, and the programs the City of Durango created and implemented to carry them out. This is not a complete list, but it captures many of the highlights. In addition, this is a moving and fluid compilation, so numbers may have changed slightly by the time you receive this.
COVID- 19 RESPONSES
*Council and the city regularly updated the community with the most current and relevant local Covid developments and the latest statewide executive orders. Council and the Mayor met often with local health officials and the city manager, and kept the community informed via Community Update postings and video on multiple social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and the City of Durango websites (www.co-durango.civicplus.com or www.durangogov.org).
*Bump Out for Business Program allowed restaurants and retail businesses to create functional outdoor dining and retail spaces in response to reduced indoor capacity, in order to provide for social distancing and healthy, open-air options. The city helped with planning, providing physical barriers and bike racks, and the quick processing of applications for permits. In addition, the city responded with warp-speed to re-stripe Main Avenue, narrowing 4 lanes to two for vehicle traffic, with a center turning lane, so that commercial activity could safely expand outdoors onto the sidewalk, and in some cases into the street. Approximately 60 Main Avenue parking spaces were repurposed for restaurant and retail use.
*Emergency Mask Order was adopted by City Council on November 23rd, in collaboration with local public health officials. Although clear enforcement options were established, educating and encouraging the public to voluntarily comply with mask enforcement was recognized as the city’s most powerful first line of defense against the spread of Covid.
*Business Relief Fund was put in place in November to utilize CARES ACT funds to provide financial relief to small businesses and non-profits. The city received close to 200 applications and distributed over $620,000.00 to local businesses. $200,000.00 in additional funds is available for distribution in round two. Potential funding possibilities from the County are also under consideration.
*The Durango Cares! Campaign was initiated in December to encourage cooperation with public health orders, with an emphasis on the importance of masks, and to create awareness of city efforts to support small businesses.
*A Third-Party Fee Reimbursement Program was implemented in December to reimburse restaurants for fees they had to pay in excess of 15% of the bill to third party companies (such as Door Dash and Uber Eats) to deliver take-out orders. Council will further consider an ordinance to place a temporary 15% cap on the delivery fees in January, since the state is now allowing local municipalities to implement such measures. The city has encouraged take-out dining as a way to support local restaurants when revenue is dangerously low, but when 3rd party deliverers charge as much as 30% of the total bill, profit to restaurants is minimal at best.
*5 Star State Certification Program support by the City of Durango. The 5 Star Certification is a program set up at the county level that encourages businesses to implement safety measures beyond what is already required by health orders and guidelines. In so doing, certified businesses can accelerate their reopening and are eligible for less restrictive capacity limits. Council and staff sent a letter of support for the 5 Star Certification Program to Governor Polis and partnered with the Business Improvement District, the Chamber, San Juan Basin Public Health and the County to help with inspections for program implementation.
*A Utility Bill Forgiveness Program will be further discussed in January. This would provide utility bill forgiveness for commercial accounts when occupancy has been reduced by a public health order, resulting in a revenue reduction of 25% or more. Discussion began in December and action is anticipated in January.
*A Residential Rebate Program will be considered in January. Staff is in the process of reviewing possible modifications to the rebate program for council consideration that will also provide some relief for residential account owners.
*Other efforts that remain in effect to aid small businesses include the designation of on-site parking areas for outdoor commerce. If a restaurant or retail business has its own parking lot, a portion of the space may be repurposed for doing business. The city also relaxed requirements to allow temporary signage to make businesses more visible and more relevant. In addition, the city designed a streamlined outdoor dining review process and allocated free, dedicated downtown parking spaces for picking up to-go orders or purchases.
*Plans for Bump Outs in 2021 are in process. In addition to maintaining the new downtown Main Avenue two vehicle lane design, with a center turning lane, plans include re-launching bump outs as early as weather permits in March/April 2021, and revising bump-out program guidelines for businesses in order to include functional design, safety, and accessibility requirements. The city also intends to invest in additional municipal safety features.
*City Council unanimously appointed Jose Madrigal as Durango’s new city manager in September. Amber Blake had previously served the city as Interim City Manager. Jose has already hired three new qualified professionals to fill important department head positions, including a new Finance Director, Human Resources Director, and Communications Director.
*The 2021 Budget was approved on December 15th with unanimous Council support. Council acknowledged a projected decrease in revenues of 8.5% due to the pandemic. Council authorized spending in the amount of $81,409,322 for Operations and $29,155,654 in the Capital Improvement Funds. Careful attention was given to ensuring that reserves were adequate to fund operations and save for emergencies.
*2021 Budget Process Improvement policies were established by Council and implemented by city staff to increase budget transparency and make the budget easier to understand, per City Council goals. Improvements included the elimination of Capital Project ‘carry-forwards’, with carry-forward projects henceforth required to go through an annual re-approval process. Additional budget process improvements will require the separation of Operations and Capital Projects into two distinct categories, and the separation of General Fund revenues and spending from dedicated sales tax expenditures, per Government Finance Officers Association best practices.
*A Revised and Corrected 2020 Budget was approved by Council in April, after Council mandated that city staff retroactively address and resolve the remaining irregularities noted in the budget. The budget was reviewed and corrected by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. Fund balances were reconciled in the 2019 CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report). Amendments were made to estimated revenues and proposed expenditures, and Council authorized $90,488,390 for Operating Funds and $21,053,924 for the Capital Improvement Program.
*Colorado Bureau of Investigation completed its investigation into the misappropriation of funds by the former City Finance Director, Julie Brown. Charges were filed and Mrs. Brown pled guilty to embezzlement and theft of less than $1 million. Sentencing is scheduled for January of 2021.
*New accounting firm, Adams Group, was hired to perform accounting services for the city and advise the city on recommended changes to the financial reporting system and internal controls, in order to follow best practices. The city terminated the contract with its previous audit firm.
*Eide Bailly Accounting Firm was hired to conduct a thorough forensic audit to determine the depth of fraudulent activity during the tenure of Durango’s former City Finance Director, Julie Brown, and to prevent any fraudulent activity going forward.
*A Black Lives Matter Memorial was granted permission by the city, through a temporary ‘Work of Art’ regulatory exception, to remain on site overnight at Buckley Park through November 27th.
*Durango Police Department Co-Response Teams Pilot Program was announced by the DPD in response to efforts to “re-image” policing in Durango. The DPD will partner with Axis Health Systems to create two person teams, with a sworn officer and a licensed mental health clinician, to respond to calls related to mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness, or other mental health related issues. Program implementation is anticipated in the first quarter of 2021.
*Diversity, Equity and Inclusion goals were added to Durango City Council’s previously established goals, to promote respect for and acceptance of diversity within the city. City of Durango employees and several councilors attended GARA (Government Alliance on Race and Equity) workshops focused on promoting racial equity to advance opportunities for all.
IMPROVEMENTS, UPGRADES, CAPITAL PROJECTS
*Camera System Installation on Main Avenue was completed by the DPD and City of Durango to enhance crime reduction efforts in the Central Business District and to increase the level of safety for special events by providing surveillance of certain stretches of Main Avenue.
*The Durango Renewal Partnership, an Urban Renewal Authority (URA), was formed to facilitate reinvestment in underutilized urban areas, to encourage economic development, and to promote private investment through the use of financial incentives, including Tax Increment Financing (TIF) which fosters improvements that might otherwise be too costly. The Durango Renewal Partnership identified “Midtown” as the first urban renewal area (between downtown and North Main), with the 9-R School District administration building as an anchor. Area Plan adoption is expected to take place in early 2021 with redevelopment opportunities available shortly thereafter.
*Durango-La Plata County Airport (DRO) construction projects were completed, including the airport commercial apron reconstruction project, a much-needed rehabilitation of the public restrooms in the terminal building, and an annual re-striping of the runway.
*Lake Nighthorse Recreation Area improvements included a swim beach with ADA access, a shade shelter, public restrooms, paved parking spaces, picnic tables, shade trees, sand and wave attenuation.
*Rotary Park Restroom was completed this summer, providing insulated and heated restroom facilities and a new parking area with 31 parking spaces.
*Animas River Trail reconstruction and maintenance projects addressed the section of trail between Iris Park and Riverfront Park. Improvements included new trees, new irrigation system, sod, LED trail lights, benches, and new guard railing.
*Animas River Trail North Connectivity Project advanced with the purchase of property on the north side of the existing 32nd Street bridge at East 3rd Street, allowing for connectivity from Memorial Park via an underpass. This will allow for connectivity to the completed ART North section of the trail to Oxbow Park in 2021.
*Safe Routes to School Needham Connect Phase 2 was completed with new sidewalks, ADA accessible curb ramps, and traffic-calming features on Columbine Drive to improve safety and accessibility.
*Wildland Urban Interface Fire Mitigation efforts took place to identify and facilitate a phased approach to mitigating fire risk. The City of Durango collaborated with the Fire Adapted Durango Partnership, and this year work was completed on Phase I of the fire mitigation plan in SkyRidge open space along the Powerline Trail.
*eBike Trial Twin Buttes, the City of Durango authorized a one-year trial in Twin Buttes open space with Class I E-bikes allowed starting at the beginning of summer. Evaluation of metrics analyzing the success of the trial will be reviewed in the new year.
*The Miramonte Affordable Senior Housing Project in Three Springs represents an exemplary collaborative effort between Volunteers of America (VOA), the City of Durango, Three Springs, and the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA). The City provided the 1.6-acre parcel through Three Springs and the Southern Ute Tribe; CHFA granted tax credits; and VOA and their team designed and constructed the building, including the 53 units of affordable senior housing. VOA and the city are hopeful that Phase Two on the remaining 1.4 acres to the immediate west will follow in the near future.
*Leases and easements for the Espero Permanent Supportive Housing Project on the city’s social service campus was approved to support and house qualifying homeless residents in the area. This project, when built, will allow homeless residents to transition into housing.
*An Electric Vehicle (EV) Readiness Plan, providing a roadmap to encourage increased utilization of EVs in the Durango area, was initiated in the fall by the City of Durango and LPEA. The plan will identify ways that the City and LPEA can accelerate and maximize the benefits of a widespread transition to electric vehicles, in line with shared carbon reduction goals. The EV Readiness Plan is expected to be complete in March 2021 and will recommend targets for increased electric vehicle utilization.
*Level 3 Fast Charging Stations are in the works. City staff have been working with LPEA, ChargePoint and the Colorado Energy Office to identify a location and strategy for the installation of a Level 3 Electric Vehicle Fast Charging Station in Durango. The project partners are working to evaluate options for the installation and ownership.
*The City of Durango and La Plata County adopted the Strategic Plan on Homelessness which outlined tactical strategies for securing housing for the homeless, including coordination among agencies and partners, and providing a temporary homeless camp.
*Purple Cliffs Homeless Camp was identified as the best current temporary location for the continuation of homeless camp, as a joint effort between the city and the county, through the winter of 2021. Funds were allocated for camp improvements, transportation, and access.