No deal on 1% sales tax increase to fund local dispatch

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RBC | The idea of a sales tax to pay for local dispatch is dead in the water, at least for this year.

Commissioners heard unanimous support for keeping dispatch local Monday and Tuesday, and one community member suggested the idea of a sales tax. With the deadline for adding such a question to this year’s ballot just days away, both the Town of Meeker and Town of Rangely met with the commissioners to discuss the idea Thursday evening via teleconference.

The county’s legal representation, attending by telephone, told participants “the two towns are at absolute opposite ends of the spectrum” on the matter, which leaves everything, including dispatch, vulnerable as commissioners head into 2021 budget prep with a projected shortfall of $2.3 million.

Rangely Mayor Andy Shaffer stated their board had convened at 6 p.m. and had already voted unanimously not to have a sales tax increase. The board felt the commissioner should make cuts “like all of us would do in our personal lives,” rather than ask the voters for a tax increase.

Meeker Mayor Kent Borchard asked about the basis, and whether it was the 70/30 split of the funding that would be an issue.

“We didn’t talk about the split a lot,” Shaffer replied, “but the way it all came back, all of this happened way too quick. We understand the big picture, but there’s no definition right now on how any of these cutbacks would be made.”

Borchard asked if there was a legal reason not to go forward with the sales tax increase after Shaffer’s input. “If legally we can go forward with the county and Meeker sales tax increase we should do it. It benefits both.”

“All of this happened way too quick.”

Rangely Mayor Andy Shaffer

County sales and use tax administrator Deb Morlan (whose position is one of four on the chopping block this budget season) spoke up, saying there would be no way to exclude Rangely from a county resolution. “We are one taxing jurisdiction with 3 separate distributions. If the county passes a sales tax resolution countywide, everybody would be contributing to this. We cannot pass a county sales tax increase and exclude the town of Rangely.”

County attorney Todd Starr stated they felt they could legally go forward with the ballot question without Rangely’s approval on the matter, meaning Rangely would be required to pay the 1% sales tax if the ballot question passed, regardless of whether their board had approved it or not.

“So the question is now, does the county want to move forward with a sales tax of its own or does the county want to look at making budget cuts and everything is on the table at that point,” Starr stated.

Borchard asked the commissioners to let the people decide with a ballot question.

Shaffer stated Rangely is, “in 100% support of RBC Dispatch and Rangely Dispatch; that’s not what this is about.”

Commissioner Jeff Rector stated he felt it would be better to hold off until next year. “Let’s put it to the people next year, when we have some time to really make this thing right.”

RBC Sheriff Anthony Mazzola, attending by phone, said, “I agree 100%. No decision needs to be made today. It’s not going to hurt to wait at least one more year to make this decision, so it’s not rushed and we present it correctly and we let the people vote on it. Put on the brakes, everybody step back and evaluate and we’ll make a much wiser decision for the people.” 

Shaffer agreed.

Addressing Rector, Borchard asked, “Can I take what you said to mean you’re going to fully fund RBC Communications for 2021?” Rector stated, “well, we’re going to ask for your support in that as well. Everything is on the table, so we’re going to ask for that.”

“Everything is on the table.”

County Attorney Todd Starr and Commissioner Jeff Rector

Borchard replied, “As long as your comment that you’ll submit it [a ballot question] next year means you’re not going to close this year, we are on board with that, as well.”

The Town of Meeker board continued discussion after the commissioners and the Town of Rangely left the conference call. Discussion focused primarily on what sort of support–or how much of it–Rector was referring to, as well as the county’s $40 million reserves. $24 million are in CCITF, which is for capital projects, and approximately $17 million are in reserves in the general fund. $11 million, or 12 months of operating expenses, must be kept in the fund per county policy.

Commissioners maintain no budget decisions have been made. A letter, which was posted to the county website and will be mass-mailed to county residents in the coming weeks, states in part, “Although dipping into our reserve funds sounds easier, we plan to do what is best to protect Rio Blanco County’s future by taking steps in the right direction as soon as possible.”

A “County News” posting from the county’s public information officer states, “The Rio Blanco County Board of County Commissioners always welcome ideas, input, and suggestions from employees and community members on how to best move forward. For meeting schedules and to sign up for notifications, please visit www.rbc.us.  The Commissioners can be reached by email at bocc@rbc.us.”

Communications with public officials may be subject to open records requests due to the Colorado Open Records Act.

You can listen to the full meeting in the video link at the top of this post. Headphones are recommended, as call quality is not optimal.

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  1. With a $2.3 million budget shortfall, four county jobs are on the chopping block | Rio Blanco Herald Times | Serving Meeker, Rangely, Dinosaur & Northwest Colorado

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