Durango City Council candidates tackled nine local issues Monday in the last public forum ahead of the April 6 election.
Six candidates are running for three open seats on City Council. One person, Lisa McCorry, dropped out of the race Friday. Voting started Monday, and residents have until April 6 to drop off their ballots. The League of Women Voters of La Plata County hosted the forum to give voters one last chance to weigh the candidates.
“We were all impressed with how well-prepared the candidates were, how thoughtful they were,” said Karen McManus, voter services committee leader. “We were running it tight because we wanted to get as many questions in as we could.”
About 140 people attended through Zoom and Facebook. Four Corners Broadcasting carried it live.
“The lodgers tax was a big area of interest,” McManus said, referring to questions submitted by the community. “They didn’t mind so much about the increase in the tax. They were concerned about the allocation, with 55% going to tourism.”
People were concerned about damage to natural trails and lands and wanted more funding for transportation if the tax were to increase, McManus said.
In their responses, all of the candidates supported increasing the tax on room rentals, private vacation rentals and commercial campsites from 2% to 5.25%.
Olivier Bosmans, a project manager and environmental consultant, said council discussions about the increase did not seem very scientific. Harrison Wendt, a youth camp coordinator, said Visit Durango’s marketing plan is not inclusive to everyone and transit and the arts need more funding.
Frank Lockwood, a former attorney, said recipients of lodgers tax revenue would be held accountable to their promises through annual contract reviews by City Council.
An attendee submission asked candidates if they would support an additional tax on those who buy second homes in Durango (with a yes or no response).
Seth Furtney, a former engineering contracts manager, Wendt and Bosmans said yes. Lockwood declined to answer. Two were against the idea: Jessika Buell, a local business owner, and Melissa Youssef, the only incumbent candidate.
Another question asked how candidates would address climate change.
Wendt advocated for banning single-use plastics and improved recycling services. Buell turned to community partnerships and weaving sustainability into all city goals.
Bosmans, Lockwood and Youssef prioritized trail connectivity, so people could walk or bike instead of driving. Lockwood added addressing methane gas leakage in the region and Youssef added fire mitigation efforts.
Furtney advocated for planting more trees, and because obtaining and using water is energy intensive, water conservation could help with water and energy issues.