Although I am not permitted to advocate for any county ballot initiative in an official capacity, I personally support the 1 percent sales tax ballot question for county Road and Bridge (County Issue 1A on the last page of the ballot).
We’ve talked enough about the need for this additional funding for R&B. A Q&A was included in the Election Blue Book that provides the basic information and several handouts have been made available at various forums. If anyone wants to discuss this in more detail, please phone me at 325-0480 or email your questions to email@example.com. However, while presenting this issue in recent forums additional questions and misinterpretations have arisen. Respected friends have asked:
Q: Why are you threatening to not open the jeep passes in the spring – don’t you know how important this is to tourism?
A: I assure you that the county does understand the importance of jeeping to tourism and no firm decisions have been made about plowing the jeep roads next spring. We were merely attempting to identify the possible range of service reductions which might result from lack of funding. This ballot question is not intended as a referendum on where the county should spend its limited resources. Prioritization of limited R&B funds will continue to be made at BOCC and Road Committee meetings. Passage of the sales tax initiative will reduce the severity of these difficult decisions.
Q: If R&B does not have enough money why not transfer funds from the county’s General Fund?
A: We customarily transfer the equivalent of one mil of GF revenue to R&B, around $200,000 annually, and we passed a resolution to continue this in the future. Due to increased cost of non-discretionary items, like fuel, and decreases in revenue related to the housing market problems, like building permits, we have cut the GF budget by nearly $300,000 for next year. Three staff positions in different departments have been cut or reduced in scope and our level of service from these departments will undoubtedly decrease. There is just no money available to make up for the R&B shortfall.
Q: Since the economic situation is cyclical why not have a sunset clause to end this R&B sales tax after a few years?
A: Unlike the cyclical economy, the R&B budget shortfall is caused by serious systemic problems in road funding at both the state and federal level which will only get worse until our legislatures make some fundamental changes in the way our highway infrastructure is funded. The county’s reliance on the trickle down of state HUTF “handouts” is at an unhealthy 45 percent which makes our R&B funding very sensitive to the vagaries of state power politics. Sunsetting of tax increases is very appropriate on major projects and bonding, but not where funding will continue to be needed in the foreseeable future to cover the cost of general maintenance on our county roads.
Q: I thought the county relied on property taxes – aren’t sales taxes the purview of the municipalities?
A: While it’s true that the county generally relies more on property taxes and the municipalities rely more on sales taxes, there has always been a healthy balance of revenue in both budgets. The municipalities actually collect a higher property tax rate (mil levy) than the county on businesses and residences within their jurisdictions. In return, the county currently collects a 1 percent sales tax on retail goods. Our land use code and intergovernmental agreements between the county and municipalities attempt to direct all commercial and business activity to the municipalities. Besides being good land use planning, this avoids any competition between the county and municipalities for tax collections. Just look at the sprawl of business development in some of our neighboring counties to see how this competition could affect us.
No one likes taxes at the best of times and a tax increase in today’s difficult economic climate surely seems like piling on. However, the need for this additional revenue is indisputable and to sit back and watch our roads rapidly deteriorate would be inexcusable. We have tried to structure this tax increase in a way that minimizes the impact on local residents and allows our visitors to help fund the roads they use. For the sake of preserving the county’s largest asset I urge you to vote yes on County Issue 1A.
– Keith Meinert, Ouray