Give it away or save for a rainy day? |

Give it away or save for a rainy day?

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Garfield County may end up handing out to property owners and senior citizens a large part of a recent windfall in energy impact money, rather than saving the money for a rainy day that some believe is coming soon.

Commissioner John Martin this week suggested giving all the county’s 38,000 or so property taxpayers $100 off their property tax bill, which could come to approximately $4 million in lost revenues for the county.

He also suggested the county should consider a special property tax break for senior citizens.

“When you’re on a fixed income, and you get $100 off your tax bill, that’s a big windfall,” Martin declared at a work session on Wednesday.

But he found no overt support from the others on the board of county commissioners, and more than a little resistance from commissioner Tresi Houpt, who argued that the money would be put to better use as a cushion against a predicted drop in property tax revenues over the next couple of years.

The money essentially would come out of more than $11 million the county recently received in combined mineral severance tax and mineral lease fee payments from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, more than the county has ever gotten as mitigation for impacts from energy development.

County manager Ed Green earlier this month recommended that the money should be simply deposited in the county’s reserve account, given his projections that the county’s current budget surplus of some $74 million could drop to minus $22 million by 2013.

The county’s current budgetary projections call for property tax revenues of $71.5 million for 2010, but anticipate a decline of 20 percent or more the following year.

Green told the Post Independent on Sept. 4 that, given the depth of the current recession and the slowdown of everything from the construction industry to the energy industry, revenues are expected to be down considerably in the coming few years.

Meanwhile, he said, the county must continue to provide needed services to its residents, although the various departments have been told to limit spending increases to two percent for 2010.

Given those budgetary expectations, Green said, “an extra $11 million will certainly help” keep the county from going into the red in the near future.

At this week’s budget work session, Houpt told Martin, “We can’t predict what’s going to happen” to county revenues or the need for services, noting that the state has warned that it may have to cut some of its services to county residents due to budget shortfalls of its own.

That is the state’s problem, retorted Martin.

“The state needs to put its budget in order,” he said, adding that county residents deserve the break on their property taxes.

He also indicated skepticism over predictions of fiscal decline, declaring, “I don’t think you’re going to see less revenue next year. I think that’s a panic alarm.”

Houpt and Samson both insisted that the county’s finance department and administration need to calculate the effect of Martin’s proposal before any decisions are made that might short-change the county’s services.

“In my mind, that is our first responsibility, to see that our services are meeting the needs of the people,” she said.

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