GOP contenders vow to cut taxes
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” The room erupted into applause when county commissioner candidate Debbie Buckley pledged to lower property taxes if she win to the midvalley seat in November.
After a dramatic increase in property values last year that resulted in an average 43 percent increase in property tax revenues, some residents want to rethink a decision voters made in 1995 to exempt Eagle County from a state tax restriction known as TABOR, or the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.
“I’ll do whatever is necessary to put the issue on the ballot for a re-vote,” Buckley told the group at a recent meeting.
The pledge, which is being circulated by the Tax Payers for Common Sense, asks candidates to promise to work to put the revenue limitation measures back on the ballot and scale down county spending.
Buckley and fellow Republican candidate Dick Gustafson, a former commissioner, both signed the pledge, while incumbent Peter Runyon and candidate Jon Stavney, both Democrats, declined to sign.
What to do with property taxes is becoming one of the most discussed issues in the county commissioner race. Gustafson said he thinks it is the “No. 1” issue.
“In going door to door, the first thing anyone has to say about the county is taxes,” said the upvalley candidate. “When it goes up 43 percent, you know something is out of whack.”
Dick Froberg, an organizer of the taxpayers group, urged voters to support candidates who would for lower taxes. And Singletree homeowner Larry Deckard said that while he didn’t see a dramatic increase in his property taxes, it is an issue he is concerned about.
“I’d support anything to do with lowering taxes,” he said.
But it’s not the only issue he’ll consider this November, he said ” open space and road and bridge improvements are important to him, too.
Gil Digiannantoni, who recently bought a home in Cordillera, said he would be in favor of reinstating TABOR and other revenue caps.
“A 43 percent increase is kid of ridiculous,” he said. “It’s not fair for a new homeowner who buys a home based on what they can afford, then see taxes go up that much.”
Other taxpayers said they accepted the higher taxes as part of living in a growing place.
“Nobody like to see expenses go up,” said Eagle-Vail resident Neil Mulholland. “But I look at what I’m paying and what services I’m getting. As long as (public officials) are being judicious with it, I’m fine with it.”
Both Democratic candidates declined to sign the pledge, saying they thought the increase in revenue was necessary to the county.
Stavney, former Eagle mayor, called the pledge a “political stunt.”
“I’m not going to sign anything what will inhibit my ability to serve all the citizens of Eagle County,” he said. “I think it’s foolish to make campaign promises of cutting this or that when not understanding the inner importance and workings of the county budget.”
He said he believes TABOR limitations have actually had many negative effects.
“Colorado ranks among the bottom in the nation for state funding of education, and we have a Department of Transportation which cannot keep up with scheduled maintenance, let alone begin to meet the future transportation needs of local communities,” he said, pointing out some statewide examples.
Runyon said he wasn’t signing the pledge because he said it came down to “philosophical differences.”
While the pledge called for “reduc(ing) the size and cost of government,” he said he believes government should step up where the private sector has not.
“I believe there are places the private sector has not stepped up, such as with preservation of open space, managing how and where we grow and keeping the job-housing ratio,” he said.
Also, lowering taxes would mean cutting services, Runyon said.
“Eagle County is also struggling with ever increasing cost of growth,” he said. “We would have to seriously look at where we will be cutting the budget.”
Gustafson argued that lowering taxes would not mean cutting services. Instead, he would cut what he called “unnecessary spending”, citing expenditures such as investing in affordable housing at Stratton Flats, hiring consultants to do an airport marketing study, and xeriscaping the county building grounds.
However, both Democrats said they were not opposed to putting the issue to a public vote.
If prices and valuations continue increasing, Runyon said, he would “entertain lowering the mill levy or giving a tax rebate.”
“I’m not afraid of the voters,” Stavney said. “If there’s overwhelming support for putting it to a vote, I’m not against that.”
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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