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Commissioners Refer Tabor de-Brucing Ballot Issue

The Fremont County Commissioners will go to the voters in November and ask for approval to lift Tabor revenue limits as the county continues to recover from the recession.    The ballot proposal comes with one year remaining on the eight year “Tabor Time-out” which Fremont County voters approved in 2007.  The 2007 ballot question gave Fremont County the authority to keep any property tax revenues in excess of Tabor growth and inflation calculations.    The question that the Commissioners referred to the ballot this November would remove Tabor revenue limits on both property taxes and sales taxes.

District 3 Commissioner Ed Norden said a fiscal analysis prepared by Finance and Budget Director Sunny Bryant shows that the county reaped the benefits of excess property taxes in only the first four years of the eight year Tabor timeout.   Since 2012 the county has seen no excess property tax revenue because the recession that hit in 2010 resulted in a significant drop in property values in the 2011 revaluation year.   The net effect over the first seven years of the Tabor timeout is a decrease of $456,000 in property tax revenues below the Tabor refund trigger point.

Norden said those numbers make it particularly tough as the county is just beginning to climb out of the recession at the same time the Tabor timeout will be ending.    He said that’s because under the Tabor amendment when revenues decline it establishes a new revenue base that the county has to work from the next year.   That means when Tabor allows the county to collect additional revenues based on population growth and inflation that revenue growth calculation is figured against that new lower revenue base amount.    Norden said the proof is in the property tax collection numbers.

He said the county collected $5.28 million in property taxes in 2008, the first year of the Tabor timeout.   Yet six years later in 2014 the county’s property tax collection this year totaled $5.32 million.   That’s an increase of just $46,000 in property tax revenue while the costs of delivering county services continue to escalate including fuel costs for road maintenance and Sheriff’s patrols and particularly the medical costs to operate the county jail.

Norden said voters already approved the de-Brucing of revenues for the Sheriff’s one percent sales tax approved last November.   Norden said he doubts the county will see a big jump in any excess property tax revenues that the county could keep in the next several years, but with sales tax revenues recovering there is hope that the county might make some revenue gains with the Royal Gorge Bridge reopening and with Christo’s Over the River art project coming in a couple of years.

District 2 Commissioner Debbie Bell said it’s important to note that the ballot language specifically states that the de-Brucing would not increase anyone’s taxes.   Bell said the first line of the ballot language clearly states, “With No Increase in the Current Tax Rate or Mill Levy Rate, Shall the County of Fremont be Authorized in 2015 and in Each Subsequent Year, to Retain, and Spend All Revenues….not Withstanding Limitations on Spending and Revenue in Applicable State Statutes”.     That means even if voters approve the measure Fremont County’s property tax mill levy will remain unchanged at 12.294 mills and the county’s sales tax will be unchanged at 2.5 percent.

The ballot language further calls out the intention to spend any excess revenues in particular on road maintenance as well as maintenance of all county facilities.

At Tuesday’s regular board meeting the Commissioners also approved an amendment to the Conditional Use Permit for the Holcim Corporation’s Coaldale Gypsum Quarry.   The amendment allows Holcim to expand trucking hours by an additional four hours.   Quarry trucking hours have been from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.   The new trucking hours will be from 5 a.m. until 8 p.m.   The number of daily truck trips will also be expanded from 20 trips per day to 32 truck trips daily.   Commissioner Norden remarked that the absence of any protests from neighbors in Coaldale to the expanded trucking hours is indicative of the work Holcim has done in cultivating good relations with the neighborhood in Coaldale.