Community Issues Forum informs City tax, drought, arts decisions

Samantha Ye

It might be election season but being a democratic citizen is not limited to the ballot, as the Colorado State University Center for Public Deliberation, partnering with the City of Fort Collins, brought out their semiannual Community Issues Forum.

This semester’s forum focused on the impending sunset, or expiration, of the Keep Fort Collins Great sales tax, planning for city water shortages and considering arts and culture development.

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The forum seeks to get residents informed and discussing local issues at a much deeper level, said Martin Carcasson, director of CPD.

“We have a lot of opportunity to give our individual opinions in our political culture,” Carcasson said. “We don’t have that much opportunity to have good conversations.”

The CPD is an interdisciplinary organization that aims to encourage community problem-solving through public communication, according to their website

Forum participants first learned about each issue from CSU or city staff, and then discussed them in small groups and did activities to get everyone thinking about their opinions. Groups were facilitated by bipartisan CSU students in CPD, and all group data was collected at the end to inform CPD and the city.

This event included materials in Spanish, translated by students in the CSU Spanish department as part of an increased effort to include the Latinx population in these forums, Carcasson said. There were also live translation services present for the first time for anyone who might have needed them.

Keep Fort Collins Great sales tax

Joey Lupo, a student from Colorado State University leading a group discussion along with other CSU students. Photo by: Mackenzie Boltz

The KFCG tax is a 0.85 percent sales tax (85 cent tax for every $100 spent) approved by voters in 2010. It funds a number of programs, from street maintenance to police services. It is due for expiration on Dec. 31, 2020.

City Council is considering getting ahead of that expiration with a ballot measure about what to do with the tax in the next local April elections, said Ginny Sawyer, city project and program manager. The forum participants’ discussion will go toward informing the Council about what that measure should be.

Potentially, Council could either renew the tax, turn it into different dedicated taxes, get a reduction in the tax or merge it into an increase in the base tax, which would make it permanent. Sawyer said they could also implement an amalgamation of the options.

Either way, any change in the tax cannot exceed 0.85 percent. City Council decided against taxing groceries or raising taxes in general regarding the KFCG tax, Carcasson said.

Residents came up with their ideal tax allocations through a worksheet activity, resulting in highly varied results.

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Student facilitator Joseph Lupo, senior communication studies major, said his group reached no consensus of what should be done.

“There’s no one magic bullet,” Lupo said. “A lot of people at my table seemed to support the KFCG tax but there were other people who wanted to see the money go elsewhere and I think (it’s) just getting those people to talk to each other.”

H2-Low: Planning for a Drought

It is no secret Colorado is short on water this year, as 94 percent of the state population is currently experiencing abnormal dryness or drought, according to the U.S. drought portal.

This, combined with the fact the city has not reviewed their water shortage plan since 2013, drove the city to this forum. Mariel Miller, water conservation specialist with city utilities, said Fort Collins is looking to prepare for the next, inevitable drought.

“It’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when,” Miller said.

The city wants to know how people felt about being asked to reduce their water use in a drought-scenario and who in the community should be reducing use, Miller said. They also want to know how to better educate people about water conservation.

Participants discussed the simple ways they already try to save water, but how it can be hard when water seems so cheap and the shortage feels otherwise distant. They played a scenarios game to test their willingness to reduce water and answered clicker questions.

“This gives us a starting point to understand what topics we need to focus on more specifically instead of just kinda throwing a dart at the board without knowing what our target is,” Miller said.

FoCoCreates: New Arts and Culture Master Plan

How does installing some mini-theater stages in local parks sound? More accessibility to local art areas? How about addressing safety through illuminated art pieces?

Those were a few of the ideas floated by participants about the future of arts and culture in the city.

Fort Collins is looking to create a new comprehensive arts and culture master plan called FoCoCreates and they want all the community input, said Annie Bierbower, senior coordinator of public engagement.

“We call it FoCoCreates because we want it to be a co-creation of the community,” Bierbower said. “It should represent a lot of voices and people in need.”

Based on first-stage feedback, the current FoCoCreates draft identified several community desires, including more performance and rehearsal spaces. People want Fort Collins to be seen as a creative city, Bierbower said.

Now, it is about getting the feedback to create a more tangible master plan, Bierbower said. Public input closes on Nov. 9, and a more final draft of the plan will be presented January 2019.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that a 0.85 percent sales tax represents $8.50 tax for every $100 spent. This article has been updated to reflect the correct sales tax, 85 cents.

Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye4.