Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Steamboat Springs Voters should approve the road and bridge property tax, Referendum 1A. There is little dispute that the improvements are needed: an editorial in the Steamboat Pilot & Today pointed out that the road improvement plan is the result of many hours of county and volunteer effort and that it "provides a clear direction for the county that should be followed."
The editorial opposed this particular referendum because it lacks a sunset provision, and because it will give Routt County a permanent exemption from the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) so that the county may continue to collect and use the property taxes in the future, primarily for but not limited to capital improvements. I'll address both of these issues.
This referendum does not need a sunset provision.
Consider that road and bridge expenses are about 27 percent of the county budget. Higher oil, asphalt, construction and materials costs have resulted in increased road maintenance costs far in excess of past and projected revenue increases. Overlay cost per mile increased 42 percent last year, while chip-seal cost per mile went up 29 percent.
The county currently has 162 miles of paved or double-chipped road. Even with no new road improvements, these cost factors alone will increase annual road maintenance expenses to more than $700,000 per year (in 2007 dollars). (These figures are taken from Routt County's audited financial records and 2007 budget, available on its Web site at http://www.co.routt.co.us )
Two-thirds of the counties in Colorado have exempted their governments from TABOR restrictions because they saw that the allowed rate of revenue growth does not keep up with the increasing costs for county services, infrastructure growth and maintenance.
The TABOR formula uses the Denver CPI, which does not account for the much higher cost of living in Routt County, nor does it account for our higher materials and road construction or general construction costs.
In 2003, the Steamboat Springs Tax Policy Advisory Board recommended that residents and local officials support any measure that will amend state law to reduce both the residential/commercial property tax rate disparity and the downward "ratchet" effect on revenue. We can't amend state law in this election, but we can exempt ourselves from some of its onerous consequences. These road improvements benefit the majority of city and county residents. The revenue is very predictable and stable, and will have a much better chance of helping the county keep up with construction and other costs, and nonresident homeowners will make a substantial contribution toward these county improvements.
Vote "yes" on 1A.