OPINION: Vote ‘no’ on Summit County Referred Measure 1A
Summit County Republicans Chairman
A “no” vote is not about the value of various Summit County services. It is about finally holding our politicians accountable for a lack of discipline in prioritizing program spending. This ballot measure focuses on the feel-good aspect of government programs and ignores the very real contribution of local taxes to your cost of living. There is only so much taxpaying capacity for our taxpayers.
The language in Measure 1A and in the county’s discussion of the fiscal year impact is full of vague and misleading data with promises of “no increase in revenue.” No increase in revenue over what amount? The fiscal year spending estimate for 2020 of $77,253,629, the 2019 actual of $82,001,629 or the 2021 estimate of $80,829,000 without the proposed tax increase, which is an interesting label since this is being sold as not raising taxes.
The county’s argument to vote for Measure 1A describes the need to recover from “precipitous declines in local funding.” What decline are they measuring? Using the data in the TABOR Notification of Election, the drop from 2019 actual to the 2020 estimated is $4,748,000, or 5.7%. If one uses the drop from 2019 actual to the 2021 estimate, without the proposed tax increase, the drop is $1,172,629, or 1.4%.
The county states “this ballot proposal is very limited and specific in scope.” Limited? If passed, it is a permanent tax increase. Reductions in the mill levy applied to the assessed value of residential property due to the Gallagher Amendment is not a new issue for Summit County. Yet, as Gallagher has forced decreases in the mill levy, property tax revenue in Summit County from 2014-2019 increased from $19,865,453 to $37,278,013, an increase of 87.6%! Specific in scope? There is no requirement in the Measure 1A language for any specific purpose.
In addition, the county’s fiscal year impact statements mislead the voter by confused references to tax revenues and fiscal year spending. Rather than use these figures, the county’s 2019 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report shows total county revenue for 2014-2019 from all governmental activities increased from $54,938,412 to $91,323,551. This is an increase of $36,385,139, or 66%. So, what is driving the huge increase in revenue? It is not a dramatic increase in population. The Colorado demographer estimates Summit County’s permanent resident population from 2014-2020 increased from 29,331 to 31,289. This is an increase of 1,958 people, or 6.6%. So it is obvious, the county has been blessed with a growing tourism economy that has increased sales tax revenue year after year and has driven up demand for real estate with the resulting dramatic increase in assessed valuation driving up property tax collections.
From the same financial report for 2014-2019, total county expenses from all governmental activities increased from $49,667,059 to $67,310,369. This is an increase of $17,643,310, or 35.5%. Comparing this increase in expenses to the much larger increase in revenue, one might ask, “Where is the surplus?” As shown in the 2019 financial report, the county has accumulated an unrestricted fund balance of $30,064,474 and multiple restricted fund balances totaling $52,323,768.
Since 2003, county leadership has convinced voters of the need for numerous additional taxes beyond traditional sales tax and property tax revenues. From the county’s 2020 budget, the county expected to collect the following: per the 2003 election $1,590,000; per the 2005 election $1,123,761 for early childhood; per the 2008 election $3,020,669 for open space, $2,141,888 for public lands, fire mitigation, affordable housing and recpaths, and $1,719,354 for the general fund; per the 2014 election $5,373,823 for public safety; and finally, per the 2018 election, $10,455,489 for recycling, mental health, fire mitigation, pre-K funding and public facilities.
This has been a trying year for individuals and businesses, and everyone has had to set spending priorities. It is likely the economic downturn and resulting drop in revenue is a temporary event in the long-term future of the county. But the county’s Referred Measure 1A is a permanent tax increase. Real estate activity in the county has continued to be strong and the measure will result in a permanent mill levy increase that will ultimately increase everyone’s property tax.
Combined with prioritized spending cuts, the county should use the unrestricted fund balance of $30,064,474 and restricted fund balances of $52,323,768 to address the expected short-term drop in revenue. It is time to say “no”!
Mike Tabb is the chairman of the Summit County Republicans.