The Manitou Springs City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a measure to authorize collection of a voter-approved arts and culture sales tax, reversing a decision by the past council that outraged some in the small foothills community.
The ordinance enshrines into law the 0.3% tax, known as the Manitou Springs Arts, Culture and Heritage (MACH) Tax, which passed by just five votes in November.
"Our feeling there was that that was probably as close as we could get to the intent of the voters," said Manitou Springs Mayor John Graham. "We felt we were doing the right thing. That said, there’s this huge chunk of work that follows – and that’s how to divvy the money up judiciously to the different groups."
The state, which collects sales tax for the city, will begin collecting the new tax in July.
"Honestly, I wish I were more excited. I think it’s really just the council correcting an error that was made by the last council," Natalie Johnson, executive director of the Manitou Art Center, said of the Tuesday vote. "It almost feels administrative, instead of this exciting moment that support arts and culture."
In December, the City Council was accused of going against voters' will when it voted 4-3 to reject a similar ordinance. Some of those who cast "no" votes cited concerns about the city not having a plan for how the money would be distributed among projects, despite the ballot measure outlining the allocations.
Graham and three new council members were sworn in this month.
Council members Susan Wolbrueck and Bob Todd, who both voted against the ordinance last month, OK'd the measure on Tuesday.
Todd, who originally worried about how the money would be allotted, said a recent council work session had resulted in a "viable path forward." The city will likely form three advisory groups to recommend funding for different areas, including city-owned facilities and "mini-grants to new and emerging nonprofits," he said.
"My main objection had been imposing taxes with only vague understandings as to how the money collected would be used — never a good way to go," Todd said in an email. "I believe this clear approach will enroll support from a large percentage of our residents and businesses which is essential to having a stable program."
Wolbrueck did not respond to an email requesting comment.
Issue 2D, which passed 1,035-1,030, increased the city’s sales tax rate from 3.6% to 3.9%, starting Jan. 1. However, the council did not pass the ordinance in time for the state to start collections at the beginning of the year.
The ballot measure also specified that 66% of the revenue generated by the increase was to be put into a special fund for “facility improvements and operations” at the Carnegie Library, Miramont Castle Museum, historic Hiawatha Gardens building and Manitou Art and Heritage centers. The remaining 34% was to be “allocated to a special fund, for distribution by the City Council through awards and grants to foster the arts, culture and heritage” within the city.
The tax is expected to generate $400,000 annually.