Eagle County eyes ballot measure impact
EAGLE, Colorado – Three tax-cutting measures are trailing badly in the latest polls, but county officials have spent a lot of time this fall trying to calculate how their budgets – and residents – would be affected if they pass.
Taken together, Proposition 101 and amendments 60 and 61 would cut property taxes, restrict government borrowing and cut auto and other license fees. Several hundred groups in the state have opposed the measures, from the Service Employees International Union to the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry.
Eagle County Finance Director John Lewis and several county department heads spent a big part of Monday afternoon talking about their research into the potential impacts of the measures.
Lewis said that the county’s general fund would shrink dramatically if Amendment 60 passes. The county general fund collected about $42 million in 2008. If the amendment passes, Lewis estimated that the general fund would collect just less than $17 million by 2014. Lewis said that would leave the county less than $8 million for the general fund after all the “fixed costs” – interest payments, fees and other payments.
Eagle County Road and Bridge Department Director Brad Higgins said his department’s budget – which has its own property tax levy and doesn’t use general fund money – would drop from about $6 million this year to about $3 million if Amendment 60 passes.
“Our fixed costs are about $3 million,” Higgins said.
Asked how that would affect his department’s operations, Higgins said snowplowing would probably be cut back to just main roads. Besides the effect on residents, Higgins said that would also affect the ability of police, fire and other emergency vehicles to get to homes.
Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy said the prospect of cutting his department’s budget in half would be longer response times to calls and the elimination of programs including victim services and the sex offender registry.
Hoy said cutbacks at the jail would probably mean only violent or other felony offenders would be locked up.
“On the road, we would really have to think about where and when we patrol,” Hoy said. “We may have periods where we’d have one person on the whole county – or maybe just have an officer on call.”
While county officials spend a couple of hours talking about the possible effects of the ballot issues, local resident Michael Cacioppo said he didn’t accept those scenarios.
“The script-writing for this taxpayer-funded presentation was superior,” Cacioppo said. “But it’s voodoo economics.”
Among other points, Cacioppo claimed that county residents would actually save money on Amendment 61’s requirement to pay all bond issues within 10 years instead of the now-customary 20 years. Losing a decade’s worth of interest payments would be a great savings to taxpayers, he said.
While Proposition 101 opponents say slashing auto-registration fees to just $10 would take those fees down to the equivalent of 1919 levels, Cacioppo said cutting those fees would be a boon for businesses that have several vehicles. Those companies can spend thousands every year on just registration fees, he said.
“If you need more money, you should have to ask the voters and ask for specific things,” Cacioppo said. “We’ll continue to run a great county, but you’ll have to ask the voters. The gravy train will be over if you pass 60, 61 and 101.”
Eagle County Commissioner Sara Fisher called the presentation a “reality check” about the measures’ possible effects on the county.
“We encourage anyone to get the numbers and run them yourself,” she said.