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I have concerns with Amendments 60, 61, and Proposition 101 on the Nov. 2 ballot. Proponents state these proposals would help citizens control the size of government, but I see them negating the outcomes of our local elections and reducing local control. I believe the best government is that which is closest to the people and that further loss of local control, enacted through these ballot initiatives, will only make us more dissatisfied with government, not less so.
An immediate effect of Amendment 60, which resets all property tax rates to levels determined by the original TABOR amendment, would be a mandate to Rio Blanco County to cut $6.6 million from its 2011 budget since our “re-Bruced” levy would be 3.363 mills. This is down from the current 9.05 mills, the sixth lowest of any county in Colorado, where it has stood for two decades. Such a reduction is well over a third of the anticipated revenues for next year and would force drastic reductions in services, operations, work force and capital projects. While this would save me personally about $100/year in taxes on my home it would also mean a reduction in services (snowplowing, road maintenance, flu shots, etc.), which I value. The effect that employee layoffs would have on my coworkers and the local economy when these payroll dollars are lost would be very serious.
Amendment 60 is bad for the citizens of Rio Blanco County in every sense of the word. It takes away more of our local control by reversing a decision we voted on in 1996 and permanently denying us the right to make the same decision again (we could pay for an election every four years to keep it temporarily in place). The first such election could not take place until 2012, too late to avoid layoffs and other cuts which would very negatively affect our local business economy and our citizens. Keep in mind that I am addressing only the county’s portion (roughly one-fourth) of our local taxes, I hope representatives of our other local government entities will speak to the effects on their operations and services. When all such reductions are totaled, our economy and core community services will be greatly reduced. As a senior citizen, I can say that the loss or reduction of local hospital services, for example, would make it less likely that I could stay here in retirement. If there is further reduction in Colorado’s below-average school funding, why would families with children choose to live in Colorado?
Amendment 61, which limits government ability to borrow and finance large projects, would have a less immediate effect on county government as the county has no long-term debt. But frankly, the amendment is a dumb idea. None of us could ever afford a home on a 10-year mortgage, the maximum term of a loan under Amendment 61. We do pay a lot of interest on a 30-year mortgage, but we also get the use of the home during that time and it continues to have value after the debt is retired.
Proposition 101 takes aim at the FASTER fee increases legislated two years ago to increase funding for Colorado’s highways. There is not much to like about these increased fees but as we drive the highways in our area it is easy to see the deterioration in the road surface and the “No snowplowing between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.” signs. Unfortunately, this proposition doesn’t stop at removing the new fees, but makes deep cuts, roughly $2 million/year in our county, into the preexisting fees and use taxes and further reduces funding for local services. These fees and taxes are shared among all local governments in the county and would force reduction in services. Items supported in the past from the county’s Use Tax Fund include: senior services (meals and transportation), assistance to local museums, childcare, community services (mental health, Horizons, safe houses, victim services and similar programs) and Columbine Park.
Local governments balance their budgets every year and are responsible for delivering most of the services and programs we actually use on a regular basis, even though the bulk of our taxes (at least mine) go to the state and federal levels. I encourage citizens to ponder these ballot questions carefully. Let’s not hurt ourselves and our neighbors while venting our frustration with Denver and Washington. I will vote NO on all three measures and hope that after careful consideration, you will also.