Considered “tax relief” by proponents, nicknamed the “Bad Three” by opponents, Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 will live or die according to the votes of populous counties on the Front Range, but stand to wreak havoc on services provided throughout San Miguel County, where they are expected to fail, interviews with government and district officials suggested.
Still, the measures would have such dramatic impact – San Miguel County alone estimates that it would lose $4.2 million annually in property tax revenues and road user fees upon full implementation of the three measures – that San Miguel County, the Towns of Mountain Village, Norwood and Telluride, the San Miguel County Public Library District No. 1, and the Telluride Fire, Hospital and School districts all recently approved a joint resolution opposing the measures.
If approved, Amendment 60 would essentially wrest control away from local governments by repealing their current, voter-approved authority to keep property taxes above their constitutional limits.
It would also establish expiration dates for future, voter-approved property tax increases, require publicly owned enterprises to pay property taxes, and reduce local property tax rates to offset the new revenue, among other changes.
At the Wilkinson Public Library “Its effects would be visible to the community,” said Library Director Barb Brattin, indicating that the Library District would see its operating budget ultimately slashed by 58 percent.
Since fixed costs like workers compensation and liability insurance would have to continue to be met, the cuts to the library would result in layoffs, the elimination of most programming and few if any of the new books, movies and DVDs the public has come to enjoy with regularity.
Considering the library spends $250,000 annually on collections, “We might set up one of those wish lists on Amazon[.com] where people can purchase for us,” to get new materials, said Brattin.
“There would be nothing new unless someone pitches in,” with a donation, she explained.
The amendment would repeal the 2004 voter-approved mill levy that funds 24/7 emergency medical care at the Telluride Medical Center.
“We’re talking about the entire funding for the ER being taken away, not a percentage but the entire thing,” said Executive Director Gordon Reichard.
“In the worst case scenario it means no board-certified ER physicians and probably means little or no staff.”
Reichard said that because the idea of completely shutting down the Emergency Department is simply unacceptable, nurse practitioners or physician’s assistants would probably take over for the emergency docs. Or primary care physicians could be pulled away from their patients in the case of emergencies.
“It probably would mean more transports to Montrose or Grand Junction,” resulting in higher costs to the individual patient, he said.
The now property tax-exempt Shandoka Apartments would be liable for property taxes under Amendment 60, meaning rents in the affordable rental complex that is home to so many of the region’s workers would necessarily increase, according to Telluride Finance Director Lynne Beck.
In return, however, property taxes throughout the remainder of Telluride would decrease in order to offset the additional revenue.
The Telluride Fire Protection District would see a 75 to 85 percent cut to its revenue, effectively eliminating the budget for its four full-time paramedics. While volunteers could potentially take over, it would mean longer response times that, in critical situations, could ultimately boil down to the difference between life and death.
The District’s firefighters are already volunteers, but the cuts would affect their ability to fuel, maintain and test equipment, said District Director John Bennett.
“Our budget would be immensely reduced, and services would be reduced in kind,” he explained.
While the amendment would require that local school district shortfalls be backfilled with state money, Telluride School District Superintendant Mary Rubadeau held little faith in that promise.
“That’s not going to ever happen,” she said, explaining that the state has too many other obligations (think higher education, roads and bridges and prisons to name a few) that it needs to fund.
“They can’t put every dollar into public education so they won’t,” she said.
In a district that has already had to shave $600,000 out of this year’s budget and foresees more cuts on the horizon even if the package of measures doesn’t pass, the effects could simply be devastating if they do.
“Arts, athletics, all of the things that we treasure…all that will have to be on the table again,” said Rubadeau, indicating that classes beyond core reading, writing, math, social studies and science could be at-risk for cuts.
Not to mention that if any of the three measures were to pass, “We would definitely be looking at layoffs,” she said.
Amendment 61 would prohibit all new state government borrowing after 2010, prohibit new local government borrowing after 2010 unless approved by voters – then limiting that borrowing to bonded debt – and limit the amount and length of time local governments could borrow to not more that 10 percent of their assessed real property values for not more than 10 years.
Because bonds are typically paid back over 20 to 30 years, the measure could put an end to major capital improvement projects because paying them back in one-half to one-third of the typical time would make them too expensive.
Bennett said the measure could result in the Fire District, “Consistently going back to the tax payer for approval for special purchases.”
In Mountain Village it would mean that an expansion to the existing gondola parking garage would be unlikely because the parking rates charged to repay the debt would climb too high.
“We’d just about have to get up to where we were charging $20 a day for skier parking,” beyond a point that is practical, said Town Manager Greg Sparks.
“That’s a big jump from zero to $20.”
Proposition 101 proposes reducing the state income tax rate from 4.6 percent to 3.5 percent over time and would reduce or eliminate taxes and fees on vehicle purchases, registrations, leases and rentals over the next four years.
It would also eliminate all state and local taxes and fees on telecommunication services except 911 fees and require voter approval to create or increase fees on vehicles and telecommunications services.
While the average vehicle and licensing for vehicle owners would fall from $81 a year to an appealing $10 a year in 2011, and the vehicle property tax, known as the specific ownership tax, would fall from an average $87 a year to just $1 or $2 a year when fully implemented after four years, San Miguel County would see the almost $946,000 in ownership taxes it collected in 2009 and distributed to the schools, county, towns and special districts reduced to just over $13,105 in 2014.
Similarly, the nearly $585,000 in vehicle license fees it collected in 2009 would decrease to just over $109,000 in 2011, according to data compiled by the Bell Policy Center.
As for how the proposed cuts taken in whole could affect local law enforcement, San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters was clear.
“Any semblance of the way we’re doing business now will cease,” he said.
That means extra traffic control at accident scenes, traffic enforcement and even response to some domestic violence calls may have to go by the wayside.
“We will only be doing exactly what is required of us in the statutes,” he said.
Masters said his current staff of 30, already down from the 39 positions approved by the County Commissioners, would likely drop into to the low twenties.
“Is there going to be lawlessness on the street, I don’t think so,” he said.
“But people will have to learn to be more self-reliant.”