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Liddick: 1A measure needs more work

Morgan Liddick

Thanks, but no thanks. Summit County Referred Ballot Measure 1-A should be returned to the County Council from whence it came with “needs work” stamped across it in large, unfriendly letters.

There are three fatal flaws in measure 1-A, any one of which would be enough to cause the most serious trepidations. Together, they render the proposal toxic.

It’s not that 1-A proposes more than a 40% increase in revenue, from $3.0 million to $5.9 million; we all know that costs have been going up. Nor is the measure completely wrong-headed; if asked specifically, we would undoubtedly be willing to pony up a bit more for fuel so that the County Sheriff can continue to discharge his duties. Ditto for snowplows and other maintenance vehicles. And yes, I’m certain we would be willing to cover the increased cost of everything from asphalt to meals at the County Lockup. But.

Measure 1-A is an omnibus bill, a beast familiar to those who watch Congress: a “must-pass” piece of legislation larded up with pet projects by politicians who know it will pass, because every voter will find something he or she finds desirable enough to overwhelm their disgust for elements of the bill which would lead them to vote “nay” in the cold light of day.

Measure 1-A raises taxes to fund four general undertakings: purchasing land to use as “open space” and for trails; for wildfire protection activities; to increase the General Fund; and for “other public projects,” including funding for “energy efficiency and use of…solar in public buildings.” In an informational meeting, County Commissioners were forthright about the reason for this aggregation: Summit County voters have been staunch supporters of open space acquisition; when voted on, such initiatives have carried the day by as much as 60%. Thus, there is a built-in block for approval of the entire measure, open space carrying the other issues.

Leaving aside the question of this tactic’s legitimacy, there is another problem. Lest you be misled into thinking that approval of 1-A will bring boodles of money to your favorite cause, be it wildfire protection, affordable housing, trail maintenance or solar collectors for the County Commons, note the catch. Although an informational overview of the measure-and its certification for the ballot-indicate that seventy-five percent of revenues gathered by the tax increase will go to public projects such as these, there is no explicit division of revenue by project in the measure itself.

Instead, the text dealing with taxes not going directly to the General Fund (that’s gas for the county Sheriff and diesel for our snowplows) contains phrases like “…and other public purposes,” and “for other County needs.”

The Informational Overview also noted that the notional division of revenue applies to a “typical” year, but there is no indication of what constitutes “typical” in the text of the measure. In my experience, absent specific constraints there will be no such thing in the next twelve years.

In other words, our County Commissioners are voting themselves the power to allocate these new revenues as they jolly well see fit, and if you do not like their priorities, well…

You voted for it, didn’t you?

The two final provisions of the measure are the most noxious. The first notes that in 2022 the County Commissioners will be empowered to reduce the tax to the amount “…necessary to maintain any land or improvements…” acquired through the measure’s revenues. Sounds good, but when you consider that the millions of dollars collected in the interim could buy a lot of real estate which would then require maintenance, the thought that any reduction will occur is laughable at best.

Finally, the measure states-and you should memorize this-“…shall the revenues be collected and spent as a voter-approved revenue change without limitation or condition…” under the Colorado Constitution or state law. In other words, you will pay at least this level of tax as long as you own property in the county, be that until the crack of Doom. The sun will never set on this tax increase.

It is unfortunate that our County Commissioners so underestimate the common sense of the citizens of Summit County that they would resort to this sort of political ploy. It is curious that, at a time in which the need for scrutiny, precision and fiscal accountability would seem obvious, the County Commissioners would present a measure so full of ambiguities. And it is particularly odd that at a time of great financial uncertainty, they would present a tax which would violate the traditional precepts of periodic citizen review and re-approval. But there it is.

Measure 1-A. Sorry, return to sender.


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