Jefferson County voters will decide if the county government should be allowed to keep excess revenue from the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) as a possible solution to the county's financial …
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Jefferson County voters will decide if the county government should be allowed to keep excess revenue from the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) as a possible solution to the county's financial challenges.
“From what I've heard today, I think there's a clear message that we need to respect the language of TABOR and go to the voters and ask, can we keep some of the revenues,” said Commissioner Casey Tighe. He added that the impacts of not solving the county's financial challenges are not good for the community. “If it isn't this, we'll have to make some changes.”
TABOR, in brief, limits the amount of revenue that can be retained in a particular year from sources, such as taxes and fees. The county's website states that the amount over collected is given back to the tax payers the following year after over collection.
Though it may not be formal language, the term often associated with attempts to bypass certain TABOR restrictions is known as de-Brucing, named after TABOR's author, Douglas Bruce.
Jefferson County commissioners on July 23 thoroughly discussed the issue before unanimously voting to put a question on the November ballot. The question will go on all county voters' ballot, even those who live in the county's municipalities.
The county's recently identified financial challenge is partly because of the need to keep up with an increasing demand for services because of population growth. In recent years, the county has been depending on its reserves for budget shortfalls.
About $16.1 million would need to be trimmed next year for the county to achieve a balanced 2020 budget and maintain an appropriate reserve fund. To accomplish this, the county proposed a seven percent budget reduction in 2020 for all county offices, departments and divisions whose budget is impacted by the general fund. The general fund is the county's principle operating fund that is financed primarily by property taxes.
Commissioners heard public comment from a variety of people invested in the Jeffco community — business owners, residents, nonprofit leaders and elected officials, to name a few. They presented arguments on all sides of the issue.
A representative from the League of Women Voters of Jefferson County read a letter that noted the league's support for a TABOR measure on the November ballot.
“TABOR undermines the philosophy of representative government and imposes severe restrictions that present an equitable and flexible system of taxation and reduces the ability of the elected officials to provide adequate funding for schools, highways, public safety and necessary social programs, even in times of economic prosperity,” Deborah Gard read. “As always, the league will remain vigilant for efficient, transparent and inclusive fiscal practices by the commissioners.”
Former Jefferson County Commissioner Tina Francone, who noted she was representing herself and no other organization, provided comments in opposition of putting a TABOR question on the ballot.
“As it is, the language is unintelligible and vague,” Francone said. “There are no guardrails. Your proposed ballot language doesn't let the voters know that they're voting to eliminate the guardrail — the spending limits in the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.”
After a lengthy discussion specific to a sunset on the initiative, the commissioners settled on a sunset after seven years. Dahlkemper had wanted perpetuity, Tighe wanted 10 years and Szabo wanted three-to-five years.
Something the commissioners agreed on throughout the discussion is the importance of letting taxpayers know exactly where the money would be spent.
Throughout the morning, the county commissioners heard about the “tough issues” the county is facing, said Commissioner Leslie Dahlkemper. She added the sheriff spoke on an increase of crime, the public health director talked about an opioid crisis and staff spoke on transportation funding being outdated by five or more years.
“I feel it would be irresponsible of me, as an elected official,” Dahlkemper said, “not to at least give our voters an opportunity to weigh in on this issue.”
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