Brown bagger bites into amendment

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Urgency was the watchword at Thursday's brown bag meeting at the Moffat County Fairgrounds.

The meeting centered around a discussion of Amendment 21, which has become known as Taxcut 2000.

The amendment essentially proposes a tax cut of $25 from several taxes annually until the tax is eradicated for every tax payer. While the idea of a tax cut is appealing to most voters, there are hidden dangers in the amendment according to a coalition of business and government entities that has formed to oppose the legislation.

"The first polls indicated the amendment would have passed overwhelmingly," said Evan Goulding, executive director of the Special Districts Association of Colorado. "But as soon as you look into it, you realize it could be devastating so we've got to get the word out."

The devastating aspects Goulding foresees is a dramatic cut in services following the lost tax revenues, and eventually a reduction in property values as a result.

Goulding fears that the promise of a tax cut will be too tempting to voters who may not understand the ramifications of the amendment. He said that early polls bore that fear out, with more than 70 percent of those polled supporting the amendment.

"You've got to read the fine print," Goulding said. "You have to ask yourself what kind of things you like. I like fresh running water. I like to know there is a fire department ready and prepared to protect my home and my family. I like to have a library, parks, open space and even a cop or two ... now and then," he added. "Those things cost money, and that money has to come from somewhere."

The greatest harm will occur to special districts, such as fire districts, and property taxes are critical to funding those services, according to Goulding.

"There are 1,243 special districts in Colorado as of today, and over 85 percent of Coloradans receive services from these special districts," said Goulding.

Goulding also pointed out that there are some potential myths following this amendment.

The controversial TABOR Amendment allowed for a government entity to "debruce" excess revenues at the end of the year. Debrucing is essentially keeping the revenue to spend on specific services or projects. It was named for Douglas Bruce, the drafter of both amendments.

"This amendment (21) has no language that permits debrucing," Goulding said.

Goulding believes the only ways to recoup the lost revenue and maintain services would be to convert local government services to fee-based systems, raise other taxes or to have the state make up the revenue. He said that during discussions with state officials, they have said the state will not make up the lost local revenue, and there is no language requiring them to do so in the version of the amendment that has made the ballot.

Another problem Goulding sees with the amendment is that rather than a legitimate tax cut, this amendment works more like a tax shift, moving the heaviest burden on to businesses.

"That means we run a great risk of slowing down this growth we've seen," Goulding said. He also pointed out that business may have to raise prices or reduce services to compensate for the extra burden.

One of the greatest concerns is the potential for greatly reduced support for fire protection districts in Colorado. The dangers there are that either fire protection will be diminished or that funds will have to come from the state which may result in less local control of policies and decisions.

"From a local level, we're always looking to maintain local control," said Bryan Rickman, chief of Western Routt County Fire Protection District. "This will take away local control," he added.

Rickman said that while a tax cut is nice, reduced fire protection is a big price to pay for it.

"It's basically a situation of 'pay me now, or pay me later,'" he said.

Chuck Vale, emergency manager for Routt County, is also concerned about what the amendment could mean to public safety.

"I'm trying to get six fire protection districts and one municipality to provide adequate services to the people in Routt County, he said. "If this amendment passes, two districts will be gone in the first year and a third one will be gone in the second year," Vale added.

"If they're (the lost districts) not going to get services to the people, who will," Vale asked. "If the citizens will accept that, we're in trouble."

The hope of the organizers of this meeting is to develop a ground-swell of opposition to Amendment 21. Most of the people who have attended the 12 meetings they have hosted across Colorado have been business owners and government officials, but many concerned citizens have attended as well.

"What we hope is that all of these people will go back to their service groups, clubs, churches and neighbors to get the word out," Goulding said. "We're (the coalition) are set up to provide speakers, or to just come and debate the issue. We want to take advantage of every opportunity to inform people," he added.

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