Summit County commissioners approve ballot question aimed at addressing future revenue shortfalls |

Summit County commissioners approve ballot question aimed at addressing future revenue shortfalls

Summit County Commissioners Thomas Davidson, from left, Karn Stiegelmeier and Elisabeth Lawrence

BRECKENRIDGE — Summit County voters will see a question on their ballots this November asking them to allow the county more control of its mill levies to keep property tax rates higher than the state currently allows.

In a special meeting Thursday, Aug. 13, the Summit Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to approve a resolution to add the ballot question, which aims to prevent Summit County from losing more than $5.5 million in revenue in 2022. 

Due to the economic fallout of the novel coronavirus pandemic, residential property values have risen higher than nonresidential values. As a result, the state’s preliminary residential assessment percentage has fallen from 7.15% to 5.88%, which is done to maintain the 45-55 ratio of residential to nonresidential property put in place by the Gallagher Amendment to the state’s Constitution. The anticipated decrease in property tax rates will lead to a revenue shortfall on a local level.

Because of the Gallagher Amendment, which caps the portion of residential property tax revenue in the state’s budget at 45%, the county is unable to make up the projected revenue shortfall. The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requires the county to put a change to its mill levy authority up to a vote, which is the impetus for the ballot question. 

“This measure that’s before you would authorize a very limited authority for the Board of County Commissioners to maintain our existing revenues and maintain our existing services, including those that have been voted on specifically by the voters over the years,” County Attorney Jeff Huntley said at the meeting. 

While the commissioners were in support of the ballot question, both Karn Stiegelmeier and Elisabeth Lawrence were concerned the wording of the question is too confusing. However, the wording is specific to requirements in the TABOR amendment. 

“This is a conservative ballot wording,” Huntley said. “TABOR, as we all know and love, is less than clear on many of its provisions and can be capable of various interpretations. So we’re taking a conservative approach here.”

Lawrence said the assessment percentage shows that the Gallagher Amendment is a “broken system.”

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“We are at the tipping point,” Lawrence said. “There are going to be many changes in the way that we run Summit County government and provide public services.”

While the commissioners supported the ballot question, there are some members of the community who feel it’s not the people’s role to make up for revenue losses at the government level. 

Summit County Republicans Chairman Mike Tabb said he believes “the county is jumping the gun” on the issue because a state resolution to repeal Gallagher is also on the ballot. 

“At some point, they need to do a better job at budgeting the resources given to them,” he said. 

Tabb said the increases in the general fund budget since 2018 show that the county instead should respond to the revenue shortfall by looking at changes that can be made at the government level. The expenditures budgeted for general fund in 2020 — $46.5 million — is about 37% higher than the expenditures in 2018, according to the county’s 2020 budget

“As a fiscal conservative, I’d say, ‘You dug your own hole. You pay for it by figuring out which budgets you’re going to reduce as the economy comes back,’” he said. 

Kim McGahey, Republican candidate for the Colorado House of Representatives, echoed Tabb’s sentiments. 

“It’s time to end the tax-and-spend routine in Summit County,” he said. “These Democrat commissioners, that’s all they do. They spend and increase taxes.”

Lawrence said that, in this instance, it isn’t a matter of the county being more fiscally responsible. 

“This isn’t, ‘Well, the county’s just going to have to tighten its belt and figure it out,’” she said. “I mean we’re talking ($5.5 million) estimated for the first impact and really major amounts, and that’s concerning. … I feel that we have no other choice.”

Ballot language

Shall Summit County taxes be increased zero dollars in tax collection year 2021, and thereafter shall Summit County be authorized to maintain existing county services, including those recently approved by local voters, by adjusting its mill levies for the sole purpose of sustaining services that will otherwise be lost due to state-imposed changes in the method of calculating assessed valuation, such as changes in statewide property tax assessment rates, so that the actual tax revenues generated by the county’s mill levies are the same as the actual tax revenues that would have been generated had the state of Colorado not imposed such changes, with all adjustments and expenditures subject to annual financial audit, and shall all revenues be collected and spent notwithstanding any limits provided by Article X Section 20 of the Colorado Constitution or any other provision of law?

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