Preliminary forecasts suggest Jefferson County could lose as much as $29 million in property tax revenue in 2022 because of anticipated reductions in the property tax assessment rate, County …
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Preliminary forecasts suggest Jefferson County could lose as much as $29 million in property tax revenue in 2022 because of anticipated reductions in the property tax assessment rate, County Commissioner Casey Tighe warned during a telephone town hall held on Aug. 31.
Those possible losses would result from possible reductions in the county property tax rate triggered by the Gallagher Amendment, which requires that property taxes never add up to more than 45% of state property tax revenues, and means that property tax revenues must be reduced when property tax values are rising faster than commercial tax.
“We are watching that closely,” Tighe said.
However, those concerns could become moot if Colorado voters vote for Amendment B, which would repeal the Gallagher Amendment, in November.
Those longer-term questions come as the county is trying to come up with around $8.8 million in more cuts to make to its budget for 2021. Doing so will allow the county to maintain the $16.1 million in cuts, including around $8 million in ongoing cuts, that the county had to cut from its budget because of limits on how much the county budget can grow under Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights law. TABOR contains an escalation provision that allows county revenues to increase only by about 3% a year.
“But the county has had an increase in expenses to provide services of about 5% per year and that resulted in that gap between what the revenue was and what the expenditures and means each year we have to find savings to make up that gap,” he said.
Tighe said the commissioners are currently talking with elected officials, program leaders and other county staff about where cuts can be made to the budget to find that $8.8 million in savings.
That process has also been complicated by uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic that has left the county’s budgeting and accounting teams constantly trying to account for constantly changing conditions as they move through the budgeting process.
Tighe said that uncertainty results from the reality that some programs the county cost less than they were budgeted for as a result of the pandemic while others cost more either because of direct expenses resulting from the pandemic or changes in circumstances resulting from it. Some expenses related to COVID-19 were also covered by the CARES Act funds the county received from the Federal government.
“They’re constantly looking at a changing field when it comes to how our budget dollars are being spent in 2020,” said Tighe. “And, of course, that is going to impact our 2021 budget.”
As the county considers where to make the $8.8 million in cuts, Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper said Jeffco is focusing on trying to think about what the essential services are that only a county government can provide.
“There’s no big one place where we can identify in one foul swoop $8.8 million in budget cuts,” said Dahlkemper. “But we can think creatively and innovatively about how we might do business differently, where we can trim further and really think hard about what do we as a county need to focus on?”
Dahlkemper said the services the county puts into that category include roads and public safety.
Commissioner Libby Szabo said that prioritization of public safety is part of the reason the county has reduced the amount it is targeting to cut from the Sheriff’s Office budget in 2021 from about $3 million to $500,000 as it tries to find the $8.8 million in cuts.
Last year, $3.2 million was cut from the Sheriff’s Office budget as part of the $8 million in ongoing cuts, after the county originally considered cutting as much as $7 million. Those cuts are part of the $8 million in ongoing cuts mentioned by Tighe.
“We have figured out better ways to budget and better things that could be trimmed in our budget so that we wouldn’t be letting more people out of jail,” said Tighe. “A core function of government is keeping our community safe.”
However, Dahlkemper said that as the county is emphasizing its commitment to public safety in budget discussions, it is also taking action to end discrimination. She said the county is currently review its policies to close gaps in health care, housing, hiring and other areas that deny people of color equal opportunity. The county is also adding a diversity, equity and inclusivity manager position and establishing a Cultural Diversity Council. The total cost of adding the coordinator position is estimated to be about $100,000, including salary and benefits.
“We continue to work on this consistently and will provide more information on this important topic in the near future,” she said.
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