City critical of county's decision

Commissioners turn down tax exemption worth $268,000

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Craig City Council members were disgusted with a county decision to turn down $268,000, and they haven't been shy about letting their feelings be known.

"This was a pretty childish thing to do," Craig City Councilor Don Jones said Tuesday. "It doesn't surprise me."

A 1913 state statute limits annual property tax growth to 5.5 percent. County commissioners applied for an exemption to that statute to keep taxes generated by new oil and gas production. But they didn't pursue a second exemption for other property tax revenue.

The second exemption was worth $268,007, but $134,003.50 would have gone to the city of Craig.

"What bothers me is the restrictions on the dollars and the fact that we have to give half of it away," Hampton said at a Nov. 30 meeting.

Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said restrictions on how the money could be spent would end up costing the county additional money, which neither is available nor budgeted for 2005.

The funds could be used only for capital projects -- and the county had none budgeted for 2005, according to Raftopoulos.

"We don't have any capital projects in our budget," she said.

And they didn't have the time to add any, she said.

"Our concern was we would've had to develop a capital project which would take staff time and resources," she said. "We had a week to come up with a project, so we felt we didn't have the time to make this determination, and we didn't want to add anything to our budget at that time. It wasn't a considerable amount of money."

That wasn't a good enough reason for city officials, who would have had no restrictions on how they spend their portion.

"If they would've called us, we would've helped," City Manager Jim Ferree said. "We're never too busy to go after $268,000.

"The last time I looked at a map, the city of Craig is in Moffat County and city of Craig residents pay county taxes," he said.

Raftopoulos said the money could not have been spent on maintenance project -- chip sealing or magnesium chloride, for example.

"It just would've cost more money, more time and more personnel," she said. "My thought when we looked at this wasn't what the city would or wouldn't get, it was how it would benefit the county. We had to see our benefit and we just couldn't justify (creating) a capital project just to spend that money."

Councilor Tom Gilchrist called the county decision a "slap in the face."

"That's not in the best interest of the taxpayers," he said. "It's ridiculous.

"It's total financial mismanagement."

Nothing can be done at this point about the county's decision not to pursue the exemption.

The opportunity won't present itself again until next year, and Raftopoulos is recommending the new board of commissioners ask voters for a permanent, non-restricted exemption.

If voters agree, the county will not have to share the money with the city and can spend it any way officials see fit.

"I'm not sure I know all the facts and figures, but if (the figures) are right, all I can say is the voters made the right choice," City Councilor Don Jones said during last week's council meeting.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031 or ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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