Opinion: Vote ‘yes’ on 1A to maintain funding for programs you already voted to support
Summit County commissioner
Summit County is a pretty wonderful place to live, right? I know, I know, the rest is, “… if you can afford to live here.”
You, the voters, have responded by approving special programs, with property tax funding, to ensure that Summit stays a pretty wonderful place to live and to address the needs of local, working families.
These programs will all be cut by 10% to 15%, every two years, because of state-imposed cuts mandated by the Gallagher Amendment. Currently, it’s a 13% cut to every one of these programs. This means 13% less open space, 13% less wildfire prevention, 13% less mental health services, 13% less recycling, 13% less preschool and child care, 13% less land for workforce housing, 13% less water quality protection, 13% less for the 911 call center …
Our library system, our roads and snowplowing, our nonprofit donations to The Summit Foundation, Summit Community Care Clinic, Summit Advocates for Victims of Assault, the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, will all be cut by 13%. Every two years.
This is why we referred the 1A “services stabilization” question to you all.
It allows for only one thing: preventing this 13% cut. It does not allow for any additional funding. It only allows current funding to remain stable. It does not prevent your property taxes from dropping when actual values decrease. That’s happened, folks. After the Great Recession, we had a 17.1% drop in property taxes in 2010 and an additional cut of 5.5% in 2012.
Three numbers calculate your property tax: The actual value of your home, multiplied by the Gallagher-set residential assessment ratio, multiplied by the local mill rate voters approved for schools, fire departments, county services and special programs.
The calculation of that second number, the residential assessment ratio, is locked into an ever-decreasing value by the combined effect of the Gallagher and TABOR amendments. Together, these require that any increase, or even maintaining existing funding, must have your affirmative vote.
So we’re asking you for that affirmative vote. We’re asking you to vote “yes” on 1A. Yes, 1A is long and confusing. TABOR dictates how questions are worded. Because of this, 1A starts with “Shall taxes be increased …” even though we aren’t asking for an increase, only permission to maintain current funding. The rest of 1A allows the third number, the mill rate, to adjust upward just enough to offset the second number, the residential assessment ratio, going down.
Voters in Summit have already approved this provision for Colorado Mountain College, Summit Fire & EMS and Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District. Summit County is now asking for that same provision.
Some have asked about the first number, the actual property values, going up. Doesn’t that increase revenue? Yes, but that increase won’t offset the decrease from Gallagher. This cycle, we estimate an overall property value increase of about 7%, but the Gallagher decrease is 18%. Residential property collectively would have to be increasing by about 20% simply to break even against the Gallagher cut.
What about accountability?
First, the county books get audited every year. It takes months, and it’s very thorough. The audit report this year is 142 pages long. The auditors look at everything, especially how we calculate our revenue and how that money is spent. For 31 consecutive years, we’ve been awarded the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting. It means that we are carefully tracking your tax dollars, year after year, and doing it very accurately.
Second, we’ve taken action this year to curtail costs. We’ve frozen salary and wage increases, we’ve put projects on hold, and all departments are preparing budgets with decreases. We really do tighten our belt in challenging times, just like most everyone.
Third, citizen committees watch our voter-approved programs and how revenue is spent. We have many smart locals here that volunteer to study, advise and oversee these programs. You don’t need to solely place all your faith into just three county commissioners.
Finally, realize this: Approximately 75% of all our property tax revenue is paid by second-home owners. The services you all have voted “yes” to create and fund are used to offset the impacts on our environment, and on our local working families, that come from these second homes.
So if we want to keep Summit County a pretty wonderful place to live, if we want to stop the state-imposed cuts to all of the programs that we voted “yes” to create, we need to vote “yes” on 1A.
Our future depends on it!
Thomas Davidson is a term-limited commissioner in Summit County’s District 2, which represents Dillon and Frisco.
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