Public officials oppose amendment to cut taxes

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A consortium of public officials hosted a press conference early this morning to express concerns about Amendment 21, which will be included on the Nov. 7 ballot.

"We feel we needed to come together to give information to the public about Amendment 21, and to present the pros and cons on this important issue," Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said. Present with Raftopoulos at the conference were Craig City Councilman Kent Nielson, City Manager Jim Ferree, and John Ponikvar, Fire Board member.

If passed, Amendment 21 would alter the state constitution by establishing a $25 cut each year on state and local taxes, including property, income, vehicles and utilities. Proponents of the measure say local governments would benefit if the amendment is passed because they feel people would spend locally the money they would save from the tax cuts, thus generating higher sales taxes which would, in turn, benefit the local economy more than current property taxes do.

Raftopoulos disagrees. "The problem with this amendment is that there are a lot of unknowns," she said. "There are no guarantees written into the language of this amendment that taxes will be turned back over to the local community. According to our research on this issue, if Amendment 21 passes, Moffat County would lose $680,208 over the next four years. Critical programs would suffer - programs for our senior citizens, our schools, roads, and many services. By the year 2002, losses for the county would drop to $2 million."

"We are very concerned about what will happen to the fire department if this goes through," Ponikvar said. "If Amendment 21 passes and tax cuts occur over the years, we - individual citizens of Moffat County - will have to pay in some other way to continue to have the same high quality fire fighting services we now have."

According to Ponikvar, taxes now help pay for the training and equipment maintenance of the volunteer fire department. If taxes are cut, training would suffer. He also said homeowners insurance would most likely cost more to close up the gap, thus offsetting any tax savings for homeowners.

"We have researched this measure thoroughly and can find no justification for cutting taxes," Raftopoulos said.

The Moffat County Commissioners passed a resolution on Aug. 31 opposing Amendment 21. Among the reasons cited for their opposition were:

n Many vital services provided by local governments that are dependent on property tax will, over time, be cut or phased out;

n Amendment 21 does not specifically direct the state to replace revenue lost by local governments;

n The measure would bankrupt many fire protection districts, leaving individual homeowners liable for debts on fire fighting equipment and facilities;

n Amendment 21 would cut at least one-third of the already approved funding for highways and mass transit projects;

n Water supplies would be endangered by cutting off property tax revenues to water districts;

n Funding for public education would be severely curtailed.

"It is very important that, as citizens of Moffat County, you do your homework and read the fine print on this," Craig City Councilman Kent Nielson said. "If this amendment passes it will drastically impact all of us."

Nielson said a group of people have formed a citizens committee to inform the public about the issue. The Moffat County Citizens Against Amendment 21 meet every Wednesday evening at the Fire Hall in Craig. For more information call Nielson at 824-5752.

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