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Carnes: Refund Eagle Co. taxpayers

Richard CarnesVail CO, Colorado

The Good: Last Tuesday the Carnes family discovered we were to receive a nice tax refund from Uncle Sam.The Bad: The only reason for such a refund was our gross overpaying of quarterly taxes based upon 2006 income.The Ugly: The sinking national economy drowned our 2007 income, thus confirming the old adage: live by capital gains, die by paper losses.Anyway, the surprise windfall will be put to good use as a down payment for 2008 taxes, and we (I) can now concentrate on more important issues like golf, kids, soccer, summer trips, and golf.Now imagine, if you will, our commander-in-chief suddenly announcing, just before signing the check, that Uncle Sam was going to keep the Carnes family refund instead because, in his executively humble opinion, the federal government had a more pressing need for the money, like subsidizing corn growers for ethanol or building bridges in Alaska.Tough cow udders, Uncle Bush says euphemistically. The moneys already in my bank, he-he-he.Just imagine.Well imagine no more, for today this financial fornication is a local reality!Replace Carnes family with Vail Taxpayer and Uncle Sam with the Town of Vail and you have the towns decision to not send out rebate checks for an unexpected property tax windfall, choosing instead to spend the money on the wondrously vague line item known as capital projects.Brilliant.In what I call the ECP (Eagle County Paradigm), town leaders thought long and hard about the rebate, but then listened to something called legal advice and did what is locally referred to as pulling an Arn.They claimed to need the money more than the folks who unwittingly paid it up front.The windfall comes from a 28-percent increase in assessed values, and totals around $500,000 (give or take a few thousand), and the town says the owner of a $1 million property would have only received 25 or possibly even 50 whole dollars.Barely enough to cover a day of parking.But according to my version of math, splitting half a million at $25 a pop would mean there are 20,000 taxable properties in Vail proper, or 10,000 if each received $50. So which is it?Now that I think about it, the State of Colorado says there are fewer than 1,000 homes in Vail, which would make the rebate actually worth at least $500 each.Wow, thats enough for an entire ski season of parking!This scenario is eerily similar, and strangely parallel, to what Eagle County commissioners committed to recently when they refused to reduce the mill levy after massive increases in county property values, thus increasing their coffers by millions.Oh, I should add that they claimed to need the money as well.Both instances involve tax money paid by us Mr. & Mrs. Public and although each can be used as fodder for future elections, the basic principle of taxing authorities keeping funds they dont necessarily deserve or need is, and always should be, up for public debate and discussion.We should feel as used as a rental car going over Shrine Pass. The phrase unexpected windfall should never be allowed to peacefully co-exist with the word taxes.Coincidentally, while researching for this column I was pleasantly surprised by a visit of two close friends from the Front Range area. For perspectives sake, and to protect the innocent, lets just refer to them as my friend Riff and his lovely wife, Raff.Since they used to live here, I felt obligated to explain our current dilemma.Thats all fine and dandy, nothing different from how I remember it, said Riff. But what I want to know is, what happened to all that tax money collected for the on-again, off-again Happy Valley Convention Center? Didnt they collect a few million bucks or so?Yeah, chimed in Raff. We even paid for it a few times when we stayed in the Village.As usual, they were right. In fact, the total was more than $10 million, and the Town of Vail stopped collecting the lodging tax about two years ago. The amount today is a little under $10 million (they incurred a few expenses along the way), but it is still happily sitting in the bank, waiting patiently to be told what to do and where to go.Not to sound like a bitter elitist or anything (and I dont hide behind guns or religion), but I have a few suggestions.The preceding opinions belong to Richard and are not necessarily shared by this newspaper but for some fiscally sane reason he thinks they should be.


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