1A would continue tax for local projects | SummitDaily.com

1A would continue tax for local projects

Christine McManus
Summit Daily/Reid WilliamsConstruction of the Summit County Justice Center (pictured) in1986 and the County Commons in 1995 was funded by property tax revenue. Voters will decide whether to continue the tax over the next 12 years.

SUMMIT COUNTY – Voters will decide whether to continue one of Summit County’s property taxes when they vote on county measure 1A for open space, recycling, a health care clinic and water projects.

If 1A passes, property owners would continue to pay a $10 portion of the $200-$300 per $100,000 of assessed property value. For example, $50 of a total annual property tax bill on a $500,000 house would go toward the open space and capital projects.

Every year this particular property tax brings in $1.6 million of the county’s $40-$50 million annual budget. The tax was originally established in 1985, was continued by voters in 1995 and is now up for renewal again.

Over the years, the $1.6 million collected annually was spent on open space and the construction of the Justice Center (1986) and the County Commons senior center, library and government offices (1995) among other capital projects.

During the next 12 years the annual $1.6 million would continue to fund open space and capital projects, as stated in the ballot language. After 2017, the mill would face another vote or be reduced to fund open space employees.

On the ballot, there’s no itemized list of specific projects and costs, but the areas where the $1.6 million would be spent include “recycling, water storage, community health care and other” county projects. Critics have said 1A should specify projects and costs.

“We’ve left it open ended so we don’t get locked in to specific dollar amounts or specific projects. We want the flexibility to do land acquisitions for open space and other projects,” said County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom.

Preparing for 1A, the county commissioners talked to local leaders of the Summit Recycling Project, Summit Community Care Clinic, local water project advocates and the county open space program. The leaders said they are sure they will see their biggest needs funded.

“There would be political turmoil if one of those projects didn’t get funded after 1A passed,” said Carly Wier, director of Summit Recycling Project. “This is not a blank check because the commissioners have done their homework, figured out the funding costs and talked with us. It would be political suicide to use the money for projects other than open space, recycling, local water storage and the health clinic.”

The following explanations detail what the money would likely be spent on.

Recycling expansion

The reason that few recycle trucks pick up residents’ aluminum, tin, glass, plastics, newspapers and paper is because the Summit Recycling Project is overflowing. The lone recycling site in the county wants a $1.8 million upgrade in equipment so it can process more recyclables, including paperboard and wood scraps that are currently not recycled.

A new recycle center at the Summit County Waste Facility landfill near Keystone would enable recyclers to better sort, bail and ship larger, standardized bales of recyclables to purchasing mills. A new center would save $50,000 per year, or one-fourth of the $200,000 annual budget, because small bales it produces now must be reprocessed in Denver before going to shipping mills, Wier said. Recyclers could sell thousands of dollars more worth of materials to mills at greater profits and minimize energy consumption, expenses, raw resources and pollution overall.

The new recycle center would extend the life of the landfill, which has an estimated 30 years left. Commissioners want to avoid the costs and political battle over a landfill here or in another area.

Right now the project sees 10 percent more recyclables every year, but the project might go by the wayside if inefficiencies continue, Wier said.

Reservoirs in Summit

Summit County commissioners want to get more use out of the old Dillon Reservoir, located on top of the hill between the existing Dillon Reservoir and Interstate 70. If voters continue the $1.6 million local property tax, the smaller, older reservoir will be expanded and connected to the larger Dillon Reservoir, said Lindstrom.

Another reservoir site the county and Breckenridge are considering is near County Road 3 at the Stan Miller Excavation Co. The county wants to help Breckenridge and other towns in the county use their full water rights.

Community Care Clinic

The Summit Community Care Clinic sees hundreds more patients every year as the numbers of uninsured continue to rise, said Lisa Brozovich, a physician’s assistant who works with volunteer doctors and nurses who staff the clinic.

In 2002, more than 900 patients made 1,500 visits; this year an estimated 1,400 patients will make 2,400 visits. That number is expected to increase as major public and private employers in a slowed economy reduce health insurance plans for employees.

“Voters should understand that, “Tomorrow this might be me with little or no insurance,'” said Brozovich. “The commissioners are very committed to making sure people have health care.”

Regardless of whether Centura brings in a hospital to the County Commons near Frisco, the clinic will need new space soon. The commissioners want 6,000 square feet of the medical offices reserved for the clinic beside the tentative hospital.

Five part-time, paid staff and medical and office supplies cost $150,000 in 2003, which was all funded by grants. Gov. Bill Owens declared Summit County a “medically underserved population,” thereby paving the way for potential government and other grants.

The clinic in Frisco is open 12 hours per week. Half of the patients need a Spanish translator, Brozovich said. An estimated 25 percent of the uninsured visit the clinic.

Open space funding

Since the annual $1.6 million open space and capital project tax passed in 1995, the county has preserved nearly 10,500 acres of open space. For every dollar the county spent on open space, the county used $5 from other organizations in matching funds, said Scott Hummer, chair of the 11-member Summit Open Space Advisory Council.

“The commissioners haven’t turned down one of our recommendations yet on how to spend the citizens’ tax dollars,” Hummer said. “But if county measure 1A does not pass, we’ll lose about half our funding.”

Three employees work in the county open space department, keeping administrative costs low, Hummer said. With all the acreage the county is responsible for now, soon it will need more employees to maintain lands and trails and enforce rules. Plus, the county wants to preserve additional open space and improve the Blue River Ballfields below the Dillon Reservoir dam.

The reason these projects are not in the regular budget, Lindstrom said, is because all additional taxes passed after voters approved the Taxpayers Bill of Rights in the 1990s must be approved (or in this case re-approved) by voters. The county “de-Bruced” the general-fund majority of its budget, but it could not possibly see $1.6 million per year in excess revenues required to do the projects, Lindstrom said.

Christine McManus can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or cmcmanus@summitdaily.com.

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