Moffat County on Tuesday continued its long tradition of strict government spending caps, rejecting a measure that would have changed a nearly century-old law.
Residents defeated Refer--endum 1A, which would have exempted the county from revenue limits imposed by a law from 1913, in a 1,659 to 1,592 vote, or 51 percent to 49 percent, according to complete, unofficial returns.
The law limits county revenues to 5.5 percent growth from one year to the next. If county revenues grow by 10 percent, for example, the county has to refund 4.5 percent.
County officials said the referendum was needed because revenues have fallen in recent years. Even with increased energy development and the ensuing rise in tax revenues, the county is bound by the limits of the law.
If the economy drags and revenues decline one year, the county can't fully rebound the next because it must calculate future growth by using the lower revenue levels, referendum supporters argued. Without the referendum, county services won't keep pace with growth, officials said.
Referendum 1A opponents argued that county government should operate on revenues it already received.
On Tuesday, commissioners said they weren't disappointed by the outcome.
"I don't view it as a win or lose," Commissioner Tom Gray said.
The election outcome gives commissioners some direction about how voters want tax dollars spent.
The voters have spoken, Commissioner Saed Tayyara said.
The referendum would have cost a homeowner about $20 per $100,000 in taxable property value during the next two years, county officials said. Had it passed, the measure would have cost a business $72 per $100,000 of property value.
Taxpayers won't receive a check in the mail, but a credit toward future taxes.
The county's top taxpayers would have borne the brunt of 1A's costs. Still, businesses didn't speak out against the measure.
Referendum 1A would have added an estimated $962,500 to the county's coffers by the end of 2006, said Suzanne Brinks, county assessor. The referendum would have sunset in five years, and the 5.5 percent limit would have been restored.
The money would have been used for capital expenditures, including new equipment for the Road and Bridge Department and new vehicles for the Sheriff's Office.
Without the additional funding, county officials say they will reduce services, including pest spraying, and possibly sell Shadow Mountain Clubhouse.
"That is what the people told us to do," Tayyara said.
Commissioners didn't begin campaigning for the measures until a few weeks ago, when they knocked on doors and visited voters.
Tayyara said he did his best to educate the public about the referendum, but in the end, voters decided against it.
But some supporters of the referendum were disappointed by the outcome.
Without the referendum, Moffat County will have a hard time building reserves and purchasing new equipment, Charley Watkins said. Watkins led Citizens for Referendum 1A, a political action committee that campaigned for the measure.
"The county has spoken, and now they have to live with what they get out of this," Watkins said.
Even without the referendum, commissioners say they will maintain a balanced budget.
Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.