For better or for worse, l have to enter into the editorial exchange between the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and Garfield County spokesman Dale Hancock concerning when a $2.8 million increase is considered a windfall and when it’s not.
My conclusion is that if you are spending taxpayers’ dollars, it is not a windfall, but if you are the taxpayer footing the bill, it would be a windfall.
Mr. Hancock stated that the county was under restrictions of the TABOR Amendment. Garfield County has not been subject to the TABOR Amendment for the past 10 years, after voters rejected it. There lies the problem ” no restrictions on spending limits.
He also stated the present mill levy was voter approved and cannot change without voter approval. The fact is that voter approval is only required if the mill levy is to be raised. Voters have had no voice in establishing the present tax rate.
Unrestricted taxing limits permitted revenues to increase from $4.6 million in 1994 to $12.6 million in 2003.
The sales tax percentage increased from 0.25 percent to 1 percent in 1997. This 0.75 percent increase produced additional revenues of $2.4 million in 1997 and increased each year thereafter, until in 2003 the revenue was $4.5 million.
This revenue from the 0.75 percent is distributed among several entities. The county’s share is approximately 40-45 percent. County commissioners could and should have lowered the mill levy during this period of unprecedented increased tax revenues, but chose not to do so.
A state statute requires a 5.5 percent revenue spending limit from one year to the next. However, this statute allows revenues to be allocated to capital improvements that are not subject to the 5.5 percent limitation.
In 1997, the county capital improvement account held $701,280. In 2001, the capital improvement account sheltered $2.4 million. The total revenue increase in 2001 was 33 percent versus TABOR and state limitations of 5.5 percent.
The most disturbing part of this process is that millions of your tax dollars are being levied at the discretion of the county commissioners.
This is how it works. Garfield County, to certify the mill levy, publishes a legal notice, holds a meeting almost nobody attends, then votes to keep the same mill levy, retaining funds in excess of the 5.5 percent limitation. One could say under this process that the commissioners are their own taxing authority.
A Glenwood Post Independent article published on Dec. 5, 2000, reads “County keeps $1.4 million in property taxes.” Part of the text states, “A couple of local residents attended the public hearing.”
Should property owners have to understand all of the above jargon and attend these meetings?
I think not. They should be able to place their trust in the hands of elected officials whose decisions should represent the will of their constituents.
The sign over the boss’s desk reads, “If you have a gripe, have a solution.”
In my opinion, there are only two solutions. One solution would be for the commissioners to voluntarily limit themselves to reasonable spending limits. If the commissioners continue to freeze the mill levy in the face of increased county valuations, then the only alternative the taxpayer has is to limit their spending by reinstating TABOR.
The voters repealed TABOR so that the county could retain X number of dollars based upon one year’s valuation. Ten years later and millions of dollars retained over and above reasonable operating revenues, would the TABOR vote be the same?
” Ken Call of Glenwood Springs is a former Garfield County assessor.
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