Garfield County’s gas tax bonanza
It may come as little consolation to people living amid natural gas drilling, and those paying higher heating bills this winter due to the fuel’s increased cost. But the industry is pumping a whole lot of money into Garfield County’s economy at a time when it is sorely needed.
Oil and gas companies are the county’s largest taxpayers. Thanks to high gas prices, revenues from the natural gas industry could reach as much as $24 million this year, according to the county Assessor’s Office.
The increase also reflects the drilling boom the county has seen. In 2000, the county took in $5 million from the industry. That amount doubled the next year, and reached $12 million by 2003. It’s now poised to double again.
The tax bonanza is a little-mentioned aspect of the local drilling boom. Much of the attention appropriately has been focused on the difficulties drilling has created for homeowners who have little say over energy development on their own land.
Still, the importance of the revenue ought to be recognized. It’s been a long time since the region reaped the industrial tax base benefits of oil shale and coal mining. It has since become more heavily dependent on tourism and service-based industries that generate fewer taxes and often lower-paying jobs.
Then the economy soured and sales tax revenues softened. Gas tax revenues have come along just in time for Garfield County, not to mention cash-strapped downvalley school districts, fire districts and the like.
That being said, the taxes being paid by the gas industry don’t relieve it of its obligation to continue working to be a better neighbor to those living near its drilling operations ” better than drilling-friendly state laws require.
Likewise, the county must be careful not to become addicted to its newfound riches and fail to advocate on behalf of residents impacted by drilling. The county’s hiring of a liaison between the industry and residents, and more recently its decision to create an energy advisory board, suggests that county commissioners are doing the responsible thing rather than seeking to accommodate the industry just to keep the gas tax revenues flowing.
Those revenues look like they’ll keep pouring in, one way or the other. The money is welcome and appreciated, but it can’t be allowed to blind anybody to the price the industry exacts on our region in other ways.
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