One of the most common arguments I hear between cyclists and non-cyclists revolves around the idea of who pays for the roads. I’ve heard motorists claim that licensing fees and gas taxes cover road expenses and that bicyclists should therefore be required to pay similar licensing fees. Bicyclists, on the other hand, often reference studies and articles that claim that motorists aren’t paying their fair share and that bicyclists are actually paying more in taxes than their road use would require. But these studies and articles are often written about other cities. Since each city pays for its roads differently, lets take a look at how road maintenance costs are covered here in Fort Collins.
Fort Collins has a proactive road maintenance program that focuses on resealing streets before they get bad. We still have some pot holes around town, but hopefully there’s fewer than there would be if maintenance was deferred more frequently. Curbs, gutters, and sidewalks are also improved as streets are worked on (usually one year in advance of the road work). So we’re not just looking at auto and bicycle use here, but pedestrian use as well.
In the above map, the dotted lines indicate curb, gutter, and sidewalk work and the solid lines show where the pavement on the streets will be treated. The dotted and solid lines are in green and purple, depicting the funding sources for each segment of street that will be receiving attention. Work shown in purple is funded through the “Keep Fort Collins Great” tax. (Whoever came up with the name for that tax deserves an award. Who would vote against a tax that sounds so positive?!) Work shown in green is funded through a quarter cent dedicated sales tax.
Keep Fort Collins Great
The Keep Fort Collins Great tax is a .85% sales tax that was passed by voters in 2010 (sunsetting in 2020). This tax is used to fund road maintenance, but it also pays for some Parks and Recreation services, Police services, Fire Authority services, and other needs. The goal of the tax was to keep City services going that were at risk of being cut due to a shortfall in City income at the time.
Quarter Cent Sales Tax
The quarter cent sales tax is simply lumped in with other City sales taxes. Although it seems to be a dedicated tax specifically for road maintenance, I was unable to find a breakout listing of how sales taxes are used by percentage of sales. I suspect this is because not all items (like food) are taxed equally.
Fort Collins’ overall sales tax rate is currently 3.85%. Of that, .85% is the Keep Fort Collins Great tax that’s listed above and .25% is the quarter cent dedicated sales tax dedicated for road maintenance.
So Who Pays for Fort Collins Road Maintenance?
Anyone who shops within the city limits of Fort Collins helps to pay for the maintenance of our local roads. That means that folks coming down from Wyoming, up from Loveland, over from Greeley, or down from the mountains to shop in the Choice City are helping to pay for roads that they may rarely use. (We help pay for county roads through other taxes thought, so don’t get too teared up over this seeming imbalance.) Likewise, people who live in Fort Collins but tend to shop at the big box stores along I-25 or at Centerra are paying for roads in Loveland or Timnath or some other community despite enjoying well maintained roads in their own Fort Collins neighborhood.
Given that bicyclists are more likely to shop within biking distance of their house, it’s safe to assume that bicyclists are paying sales use taxes for the roads that they’re using. Most motorists are as well, though it’s more likely that a motorist than a bicyclist will shop outside of the Fort Collins sales tax zone, thereby paying less for the roads they use.
Either way, it’s clear that both bicyclists and motorists are paying for the roads they use in the city of Fort Collins. The next question, then, is how equitably are these taxes being used to provide services for each type of user? That’s a question that I’ll save for an upcoming article.
For comparison, here are some of the sales tax rates for other cities in Colorado, just in case you’re curious.
Colorado Springs 3.12%
Denver 3.65% (4.7% on food or drink for immediate consumption, 7.25% on short term auto rentals)
Fort Collins 3.85% (2.25% on food for home consumption)
Winter Park 7%
To see the whole list, go to Colorado Sales/Use Tax Rates.