Public hearing on adoption of 2009 budget set for Dec. 8 at RBC Administration Building

RBC — With its lawsuit with ExxonMobil pending, budgeting has been a challenge for Rio Blanco County. However, the 2009 budget will be considered for adoption at a public hearing at 6 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Administration Building.
The county is waiting to find out if the Colorado Supreme Court will hear its appeal in the case with ExxonMobil Oil Corp. over collection of the county’s use tax. County officials expect to receive a response on the petition by the end of the year.
In July, a Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in favor of ExxonMobil. Attorneys for Rio Blanco County filed a reply to opposition brief Oct. 10. They are hopeful the supreme court will take up the case.
“I think we have an awfully good argument,” said Malcolm Murray, one of the attorneys for Rio Blanco County.
Uncertainty over the outcome of the case made the budget process more difficult, said Diane Sorensen, county budget director.
“We have a possible liability of $12.5 million, which is included in the bottom number,” Sorensen said. “That definitely skews things. So you can’t compare to last year’s (budget), because we’re talking about including that possibility of a worst-case scenario.”
County officials estimate the impact of the use tax case could impact the county by $12.5 million.
“It all depends upon how the courts would come up with their decision, and how far back we may or may not have to go considering repayment,” said County Administrator Pat Hooker. “What we’re trying to do in putting together that $12.5 million figure is we’re trying not to overstate a potential liability, nor to understate a potential liability. We just don’t know at this time, until we find out more from the court.”
Rio Blanco County is one of 24 Colorado counties that collects a use tax on construction and building materials, said Debbie Morlan, RBC use tax administrator.
“No other county that collects use tax has this level of activity,” Morlan said. “Comparing Rio Blanco County to other counties that collect use tax is like comparing apples to oranges.”
Rio Blanco County began collecting use tax in 1981.
‘I think the tax was originally focused on mitigating the impact of construction and building,” Morlan said. “Because if it’s creating an impact, it’s costing money. You have to get the money somewhere. You have to collect the revenue on the impact, that’s all there is to it. Why have a use tax if you’re not going to collect it?
“It is construction, and they are building, so it’s creating an impact,” Morlan said. “The use tax is a fair way to mitigate. That’s why we’re fighting this, because it’s creating an impact.”
The proposed 2009 county budget is available for review at the county clerk’s office in the courthouse in downtown Meeker, or at the county’s Western Annex Building on Highway 64 in Rangely.