Routt County formally opposes Bruce tax cut


— Some Routt County fire districts claim they'll have to go back to baking cookies to keep fire service available if a statewide ballot initiative passes.
The Routt County Board of Commissioners basically agreed and passed a resolution Monday opposing Amendment 21.
If passed in November, the Amendment 21 ballot initiative will decrease taxes by $25 a year for each tax paid to special districts such as fire, library and cemetery.
Utility, vehicle, state income and property taxes will also be cut. The tax cut would increase to $50 the second year, $75 the third year and so on.
"It will basically wipe out the fire protection districts over time," said Mel Stuart, ambulance director for Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District.
"Maybe we'll go back to doing fund-raisers with bake sales and car washes."
"I really don't think that's an exaggeration," agreed Bobbie Vetter, EMS division chief for the Yampa Fire District.
"Steamboat Springs Rural will lose 38 percent of their revenue in one year. Oak Creek will lose almost 43 percent of their revenue."
Rural areas are most vulnerable to Amendment 21 where taxing districts collect small amounts of money from taxpayers.
"For example, if someone owns a house in Yampa, their (fire district) taxes would be cut by $25," Stuart said.
"They probably don't pay more than $50. And (in some cases) it may cut all their tax the first year."
But the author of Amendment 21, Douglas Bruce, claims the amendment allows for the state government to replace the money.
"The state is not going to let 1,600 local governments collapse," Bruce said.
"They're (local governments) trying to create an air of crisis and imminent doom."
But Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak and her colleagues point out Amendment 21 language doesn't require the state to backfill the missing money. She said the state only has the option of replacing the lost funds.
Bruce responded in vehement fashion.
"If people believe the state will be that heartless, they can have a local vote to raise property taxes to offset the $25 tax cut," Bruce said.
Local State Representative Jack Taylor takes issue with Bruce's amendment.
"How heartless is he to do what he's doing to force districts to go bankrupt when those districts voted to tax themselves," Taylor said.
"Chances of the state backfilling that money is remote," added Taylor, who is running for state senate.
But Bruce said he doesn't believe the state will leave the local governments hanging.
"The state has $493 million sitting in the bank they don't need that's on top of their reserve accounts," he said.
"The opposition doesn't want you to look at this big picture. They're picking the tiniest governments and asking you to focus on the mouse and not the elephant."
When asked about the "$493 million sitting in the bank," Taylor sounded puzzled.
"I haven't got a clue what he's talking about. I doubt if he does either," Taylor said.
If indeed the state does not come to the aid of the local taxing districts, what could counties do to recoup the lost funding?
"We will have to go to the voters again and again all the cemetery districts, the fire districts, library districts," Stahoviak said.
"This costs money. Every time you have a (tax) election you have to mail notices to every taxpayer."
Taylor also points out that Amendment 21 calls for three kinds of cuts in the income tax.
"That eats into the state's income for normal operating costs," Taylor said.
On top of that, Bruce wants the state to pay for the local governments' loss of revenue, Taylor added.
"That's a double whammy."

To reach Frances Hohl call 871-4208


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