Moffat County commissioners are asking taxpayers to forgo about $1.2 million in tax credits over the next two years.
The question, Referendum 1A on the Nov. 1 ballot, asks voters to exempt the county from revenue limits imposed by a law from 1913.
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.
According to the county's figures, the 5.5 percent question would cost a homeowner about $20 per $100,000 in property value during the next two years. The referendum would cost a business $72 per $100,000 of property value.
If the referendum fails, voters will not receive a refund check in the mail, but a credit toward future taxes. About 80 percent of the tax credits would go to the county's top-10 taxpayers, all of which are energy companies.
The referendum -- which would sunset in five years -- would put about $1.2 million into the county's coffers in two years.
County officials say the referendum is needed so the county can pay for capital projects that have been put off for the past few years, including new vehicles for the Sheriff's Office, Road and Bridge Department and fairgrounds.
If the referendum fails, county officials say they will have to make cuts.
"Certain services are not going to be able to be provided," Commissioner Saed Tayyara said.
Those services include mosquito spraying, road grading and snow plowing. Other cuts could include reducing the hours at libraries and selling Shadow Mountain Clubhouse.
Announcing projects that will be cut is not meant as a threat, Tayyara said. He said the cuts are simply the places county officials think they can afford to cut without affecting too many residents.
Tayyara said department directors looked at their budgets and recommended the cutbacks in areas they thought would have the least effect.
During budget discussions a few weeks ago, commissioners had department heads make two budgets -- one contingent on the referendum passing and one contingent on failure.
For the budget without the 5.5 percent question, department heads had to budget at 95 percent, meaning they used the year's figures minus five percent.
The extra five percent leftover will be used to offset rising fuel and utility prices and to pay for some capital projects that county officials say can no longer wait.
Those capital projects include new voting equipment, upgrades for the Maybell ambulance service and improvements to the Craig Cemetery.
State law allows the commissioners to spend excess revenues on capital projects without going to the voters. Commissioners would have to advertise their desire to spend the excess revenues and hold public meetings about the decision, but commissioners said that is not something they want to do.
"We're certainly going to leave this 100 percent up to the taxpayers," Commissioner Darryl Steele said.
If voters reject the referendum, Steele said it will mean voters want the county operating on 5.5 percent growth and the county will not run a deficit to fund capital projects.
Commissioners insist the referendum is not a tax increase.
Commissioner Tayyara said the county is not asking for an additional tax, but to keep the money it already is collecting.
"We will not increase taxes and we are not considering that," Tayyara said.
But some people say the referendum is absolutely a tax increase because it will grow government.
Douglas Bruce, an anti-tax crusader from Colorado Springs who wrote the Taxpayers Bill of Rights and a handful of other tax-cutting measures, said the 5.5 percent question is definitely a tax increase.
"If they're not increasing taxes, what is that they're increasing -- umbrellas, cucumbers, petunias?" Bruce asked. "They're increasing tax revenue."
Bruce, who is currently an El Paso County commissioner, said he has not read the Moffat County ballot question, but he is familiar with the statute it would exempt the county from.
Locally, some voters are still on the fence about the issue.
John Kinkaid of Craig said he is leaning against the referendum but isn't sure how he will vote.
Kinkaid opposes two similar measures on the state level that ask voters to forgo refunds, but he isn't sure where he stands on the 5.5 percent question.
He said he likes that government growth is limited by 5.5 percent, but he doesn't want to see government programs such as the library's have their operations cut.
"Philosophically, I guess I would like to see government stay small, efficient and effective," Kinkaid said. "But I don't like to see government hamstrung."
Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.