Tax committee hears public comments
RIFLE – While no private citizens stepped forward to speak during a public comment period by the Interim Severance Tax Committee Tuesday afternoon, government officials and representatives of local agencies had plenty to say.The 112-hour public comment period concluded a two-day visit by the committee, which included a tour of local oil and gas sites on Monday and an all-day session at the Garfield School District Re-2 offices in Rifle.The purpose of the visit by the 11-member committee of lawmakers was to study the impacts of oil and gas development on communities and how best to distribute energy industry tax revenues, including severance tax, among state and local governmental entities.Presentations were heard from municipal officials from Rifle and Parachute as well as county officials, representatives from the oil and gas industry and citizen watchdog groups of the oil and gas industry.”The Western Colorado Congress believes that the first priority for severance tax allocation must be to address the impacts of the energy boom on affected communities and the environment,” said Duke Cox, chair of the WCC and former president of Grand Valley Citizens Alliance. “To do any less would mean that those communities are being forced to subsidize energy development in Colorado.”Greg Schnacke, executive vice president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, urged the committee to use caution in their evaluations.”It’s clear from the testimony we’re hearing that people don’t understand ad velorum tax and tax credits and how it works,” he said.Former Mesa County Commissioner and Grand Junction City Councilman Jim Spehar told the committee that no matter how the funds were divided up or redirected, everyone agreed the formula for doing so needed to be revisited.”It’s local versus state roles,” he said. “Who should pay? The teachers, nurses and EMTs? Should they be liable for impacts they didn’t ask for or the people causing those impacts?”Leslie Robinson, director of United Way, pointed out that the impacts of the industry were also felt in the health and human services field.”We ask that the committee consider a severance tax to help resolve the human problems our community faces,” Robinson said. “All we get is the trickle down, if that, from the severance tax.”Rebecca Frank, who serves on the committee’s working group, questioned whether the oil and gas companies and their employees contributed to human services, to which Robinson agreed that they did.”But I need millions of dollars,” she said. “We are the last people in line (for severance tax funds), and there’s no money left to help mitigate the health and human services impacts.”Other social aspects, such as affordable housing, are affected by oil and gas development and the increased number of workers.”We also have impacts on affordable housing, and the land costs are so high, people are priced out of the market,” said Ann Marie Jensen of Housing Colorado, who said many people were forced to drive long distances from where they could afford to live to where they could work.”The ‘driving ’til you qualify’ phenomenon creates air pollution and kids and parents are in different communities,” Jensen said. “I spoke with the Glenwood Springs police chief, and he said only three of his officers actually live in Glenwood Springs.”Jensen suggested to the committee that some of the severance tax money be used to buy some land to build affordable housing in the area “before it becomes unaffordable.”The committee agreed to take the comments into consideration and will meet again to discuss the issues in the future.
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