Yellico column: The power of taxes

Jim Yellico
Jim Yellico

Taxes have an oppressive nature, which is why they are naturally resisted by Americans. It’s in our blood to oppose taxes. Yet taxes can also signify the commitment of a community to get something done.

Where is the balance?

In Colorado the balance lies within each of us. We make the decision to be taxed, or not. Our taxes, like our elected officials, are voted in by us, for the benefit of us. Our local government leaders are not able to unilaterally impose taxes on the people, although sometimes it seems like they would like to … LOL (or not).

For the citizens of Garfield County the issue of taxation is front and center. Last November, we voted on several property tax increase measures to fund everything from schools and fire districts, to RFTA and CMC. Currently in Glenwood Springs, we are being asked to impose a ¾-cent sales tax on ourselves for the purpose of securing $56 million to repair/replace the 43 miles of streets and infrastructure of our city.

Raising Taxes Should Be a Last Resort

When government is struggling to fulfill its obligations, asking the citizens to pay more in taxes may be appropriate. When government is financially strong, experiencing year after year revenue growth, and completing major infrastructure and capital projects, asking the citizens for more money is irresponsible.

Let’s take a look at the financial strength of the city of Glenwood Springs. The following section is taken directly from the 2019 Budget Book, (an interesting read, especially if you like good news stories)

• Forecasted revenues of $65.5 million, and operating expenditures of $55.7 million

• A balanced General Fund with projected available reserves equal to 34.7 percent at the end of 2019 ($5.6 million)

• Issuance of $22.2 million in debt in the A&I Fund for capital projects;

The city has budget line items of $23.8 million in 2019 that will be allocated between these projects: 27th Street bridge and roundabout, South Midland improvements, Sixth and Seventh Street redevelopment plans, South Bridge and the Eighth Street connector to downtown.

And there is also good news for the future. From the 2019 Budget Book:

The passing of a 2016 ballot initiative gave approval for the city to issue up to $54 million in Acquisition and Improvement (A&I) Bonds without further voter approval.

Leveraging our financial resources will increase our capacity to move forward on projects that City Council deems critical. We expect to issue approximately $22.2 million in debt in 2019, preserving the remaining ($31.8 million) bonding capacity for projects that may include South Bridge and/or development of the confluence area.

Our city is far from struggling. In fact, our leaders are doing a very good job of preparing us for success now and in the future.

So why ask for an increase in sales taxes?

I had a good conversation with one of our City Councilmen, and his most compelling arguments are:

1. Estimated $56 million needed to complete this “project” will be more expensive if we wait;

2. Tourists pay 70 percent of our sales taxes; and,

3. We need new streets and infrastructure.

I may agree with each of those points, but am I willing to raise my own taxes to make it happen now?

Considering all of the financial capabilities of our city right now, the amount of street and infrastructure projects already happening, and the ability to bond for more money without this new tax, I am not voting for this sales tax.

Our community is generous to government, at a cost

In 2016, we voted to extend the ½-cent sales tax that we approved in 2005. Last year, we voted to raise property taxes paid to the city of Glenwood by 24 percent, increasing our mill levy from 6.513 to 8.615.

We also approved a new tax/mill levy for RFTA, an increase in tax rate for Re-2 School District, Carbondale, Glenwood and Grand Valley fire districts, and gave CMC the ability to permanently raise our tax rate when their revenue drops because of a lower residential assessment rate. In 2015, we passed a huge mill levy increase for Roaring Fork School District.

Each tax increase may not be much, but when you add them all together, it is plain to see how government can severely impact the cost of living in our community.

Jim Yellico of Glenwood Springs is the elected Garfield County Assessor.

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