Towns, districts weigh in on the cost of 60, 61 and 101
Nobody can calculate the true cost of amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, should voters approve them on the November ballot, but Grand County governments and taxing districts are preparing for the worst. As they start framing budgets for the upcoming year, managers are trying to calculate how much it would cost their districts if these measures pass, in some cases creating two or three budget scenarios. Meanwhile, representatives from both sides of the issue are sharpening arguments in preparation for 11th-hour debates, and almost every town and special district in the county (aside from Kremmling) has passed a resolution opposing these ballot measures.”This is really about frustration with federal government, and people are going to take it out on local communities,” said Winter Park Town Manager Drew Nelson. “Most of the communities in this state do a very good job of managing their dollars. (This) is only hurting local communities. This is not going to change the way the federal government does their business.” “Do we go back to dirt streets? Tall grass in the median? Closing parks? – It’s a community choice,” said Fraser Town Manager Jeff Durbin. “If a community wants to come out and cut back on these things, we can do that. But we can’t solve federal problems by changing our state rules.”Supporters of the measures say they are willing to do with less. “Nobody wants to be the bad guy and say, ‘I’m tired of paying for all this,'” said Town of Kremmling Trustee Grant Burger III. “There’s a certain amount of services I’m willing to pay for. But, we’re not the City of Denver. We don’t need a 10-story ladder truck. The brand new school, the sage field that’s now a grass helicopter park, the new track and skate park – all that costs money to maintain. Where does that come from? It gets hard sometimes to swallow the increases.”Proposition 101Across the county, special districts and towns are predicting first-year losses of $50,000 to $500,000 from Proposition 101, which would gradually reduce state income tax by about 1 percent; reduce or eliminate taxes and fees on vehicle purchases, registrations, leases and rentals; eliminate all state and local telecommunication fees (except 911 fees) and require voter approval to increase vehicle and telecommunication fees. While the total loss in funding county-wide would tally in the millions, a poll conducted by Floyd Ciruli of Ciruli Associates in August predicts that Proposition 101 is the most likely to pass of Colorado’s three fiscal ballot issues. In the first year alone, the Legislative Blue Book analysis figures average households could save $300 to $550. “It speaks to people’s emotions and their pocketbooks,” said Trustee Burger, who admitted that he is seriously considering voting in favor of Prop 101.”It’s just the sheer fact that I feel like all the money attached to (vehicle registration) has been done through backdoor channels because they knew they couldn’t get it approved as a tax. I’m just tired of being ‘fee’d’ to death. I just want to make a statement, saying: ‘You know what – stop.'” But, if 101 passes, the hurt would be felt across the county, according to Grand County Director of Accounting Scott Berger, who said Proposition 101 could reduce county revenues by $500,000, cutting support primarily to Grand County’s road and bridge department. The full combined effects of 101 impact Grand Lake by an estimated $46,455 in the first year while the Town of Winter Park predicts that it will lose almost $198,000 in the first year alone from Prop 101, according to a report complied by Finance Director Bill Wengert. Winter Park might not have to shut the doors, but putting that first-year total in perspective, Grand Lake’s total road maintenance budget in 2010 is $45,000, according to Grand Lake Town Manager Shane Hale. And for towns like Granby, income from franchise fees alone, which amount to $35,000, are the equivalent to the wages of one town employee, pointed out Granby Town Manager Wally Baird.Hale calls the measures a “race to the bottom.””Let’s see how quickly this state can get under states like Arkansas for the least favorable public perception,” he said.Because it is a proposition, Prop 101 could be changed by the legislature and the governor, so even if it passes it may never be fully implemented.Amendment 60Possibly the most confusing and budget-damaging of the three measures, Amendment 60 would reduce property taxes by requiring many districts to roll back taxes to 1996 rates, would impose stricter limits on property taxes and allow non-resident property owners to vote on property-tax issues.”It’s like Tabor on steroids,” said Kremmling’s Burger, who said he plans to vote against the two amendments.Town Manager Durbin said there’s added confusion when it comes to enterprises like water districts that, according to Amendment 60, would have to start paying property taxes. Because of this, Town of Grand Lake officials estimate they would have to make customers pay an extra $32 a year in water fees to make up for the new reality.”Of the three, Amendment 60 would have the biggest impact on us, but I’m not sure what exactly that impact would be,” said Fraser Valley Metropolitan Recreation District Director Scott Ledin. “De-Brucing would expire, but would we have to recalculate our taxes from the date voters approved de-Brucing in 1996? Or would it just be going forward. I’m not clear on that. The fiscal impact would be huge.”East Grand School District Superintendent Nancy Karas fears 60 the most, she said. If it were to pass, administrative officials project the district will immediately lose about $2.1 million by de-Brucing, and another $1 million over the course of 10 years. Because of the way 61 is crafted, the state would be required to backfill an estimated $1 million of East Grand’s burden. “But I don’t believe the state of Colorado would be able to backfill the $1 million for East Grand County,” Karas said. On the other hand, Winter Park never de-Bruced and, “We don’t receive a lot of revenue from property tax,” Nelson said. “We are, in that way, fortunate – more so than some of these other organizations.” Where 60 would have the biggest impact on Winter Park would be by allowing non-resident property owners to vote on property-tax issues.”I’ve always been an advocate for local control,” Nelson said. “This strips away the ability to tax yourselves on issues of local significance. It does impact the pocketbook at the end of day, and I understand the feeling of people, I’m just not sure this is a proper response.”The Grand County Library District is bracing for a possible $1 million to $1.4 million effect to the district budget, with the proposed Amendment 60 poised to take the library district mill levy back to 1995 levels. “The function of libraries in the county will not look how it looks today,” said Library District Director Mary Anne Hanson-Wilcox. “If this happens (measure passes), then our board will have some very, very difficult decisions to make,” she said.For the county, the outlook of Amendment 60 also looks grim. According to the county’s accounting director Berger, depending on the way the amendment is interpreted, the county may see a shortfall anywhere from $1.5 million to $7.5 million. That could translate into county layoffs and a potential reduction in services, he said.Amendment 61The possibility of the passage of Amendment 61, which would limit government borrowing, encouraged Grand County recently to pay off its debt, but it also could limit the county from any borrowing in the future. “If the time comes to build something, then we’ll have a problem,” Berger said. The reason is the 10-year limit on loans, which opponents say makes borrowing unaffordable. “We won’t be able to borrow money over a long enough period of time,” Berger said.”We couldn’t have done the chip and seal project we did this summer without going to a vote of the people,” said Granby Town Manager Wally Baird, saying the wait every two years for a municipal election to gain voter approval for any government work could put some private contractors out of business.For fire districts like Grand Lake Fire Protection District, the amendment could impact the district’s ability to buy new trucks and equipment by requiring the district to gain voter approval first. Coupled with Amendment 60, the fire district could see a potential 40 percent hit to the budget, according to Grand Lake Fire Chief Mike Long – which could force the district to “lay off a majority of the paid staff.” If this were to happen, ISO ratings could be impacted, causing increases in homeowner insurance premiums. “That’s our understanding,” Long said. “Essentially we would become the fire department we were 10 years ago.””The real impact comes down the line with things like how would we build water treatment plants,” said Fraser’s Jeff Durbin. “We couldn’t have built the wastewater treatment plant we built without a loan. It just couldn’t have happened.”It’s up to voters”We’re already down to the bone,” said Granby’s town manager Baird, refuting proponents’ view that government has not been affected by the recession like the private sector has. The town has witnessed a $1 million decrease in revenue from 2007 to 2010, yet unlike the private sector, he said, the town still retains the same service base it had prior to the recession. “We have the same number of customers, the same mileage of streets we have to take care of, and the same acreage of parks,” Baird said, adding that citizens will also expect the same level of police coverage. It’s up to voters, he said, on what level of services they want.”It’s obvious if all three were to pass, education as we know it today would not exist,” said Karas. “It would really narrow the scope of programming we would be able to offer.””I think it’s a monkey wrench in the gears,” Grand Lake’s Hale said of the proposed measures being introduced this election round. “It’s not like microscopic surgery to remove some kind of ill. (Proponents) are not understanding the complexities. People don’t understand all of its reaches.”There is another way to limit government spending without further kneading the state’s constitution, according to Winter Park’s Nelson:”If you want to affect the way your local government spends money, then be engaged in the budget process, get involved in the meetings, ask questions,” Nelson said. “The local level is where we really get things done.”
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