Use of Public Safety Sales Tax Dollars Now in Spotlight
MONTROSE – Facing a room full of anti-tax opposition on Tuesday, the Montrose County Commissioners wholeheartedly rejected the idea of asking voters in November for a quarter-percent sales tax increase.
After hearing from angry residents, many who proudly held “No New Taxes” signs, the commissioners were unanimous in their decision to forgo sending a letter to Montrose County Clerk and Recorder Francine Tipton Long that would have notified her of a possible ballot question asking voters for increase in the Public Safety Sales Tax. Per state statute, the clerk and recorder must be notified of a possible ballot question by July 26. Had that been done, the actual language of a ballot question would then have had to be approved and certified by early September.
But on Tuesday afternoon, the commissioners ended any possible tax increase ballot question for 2013 and at the beginning of the meeting they quickly separated themselves from the notion that the proposed tax increase was their idea. In a somewhat convoluted conversation with the public, the commissioners said that they initially believed that the sales tax idea was brought to them by members of Montrose Citizens for Funding Our Future, the organization that supported a Public Safety Sales Tax ballot question in 2007.
With several members of MC4FF attending Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners came to the conclusion that the sales tax idea wasn’t floated to the commissioners from the group as a whole, but rather by one individual of that group the commissioners later said was Richard Harding.
“A citizen from MC4FF did some work, apparently on his own, and came forward with this proposal,” Commissioner David White said. “An additional quarter percent was floated as an idea and it was requested from us that we write a letter to the clerk and recorder’s office.”
The notion that one individual was able to get the idea as far as it did, angered many of those who attended Tuesday’s meeting.
“I am here to say, why does one human being come to you and get to this point?” Elaine Pigford said. “I am really concerned.”
White countered Pigford by saying the cities of Nucla, Olathe and Montrose are experiencing financial shortfalls and that the idea, while may be a bad idea, is creating a conversation that may “help the municipalities consider alternative ways” to get out of their financial predicaments.
“If it generates a conversation, that’s great,” White said. “I am not an advocate of taxation or new taxation but this could start a dialogue with the municipalities. If what we hear today is ‘Forget about it.’ We’ll forget about it.”
“Forget about it,” Pigford said, leaving the podium.
“I think we should be saying, ‘drop dead,’” resident Jim Anderson said. “I’m going to be blunt. This is totally unreasonable. It was brought to you under false pretenses and now we find out it’s one individual. I am flabbergasted that we are now having a public meeting on the possibility of considering it as a placeholder.”
While the discussion was focused on the proposed tax increase, the underlying issue may be the county’s use of the Public Safety Sales Tax. Tax revenue garnered from the three-quarter percent sales tax approved has been a point of contention since it was approved in 2007.
No less than 70 percent of the Public Safety Sales Tax dollars collected are dedicated to the Montrose County Sheriff’s Office. The other 30 percent is divided, at the discretion of the county commissioners, to other public safety entities including two rural clinics, emergency dispatch, the county coroner’s office, and the district attorney’s office.
Montrose City Councilor Bob Nicholson told the commissioners on Tuesday that the city does not support any proposed sales tax increases for 2013 but that city officials would like to have a face-to-face conversation on the use of the Public Safety Sales Tax, particularly the 30 percent that could be used for some municipal safety requirements. For instance, Nicholson said, the city is currently operating approximately 30 percent less revenues than it had in 2007. At the same time, he said, the county’s annual bill to the city for the 911 dispatch center has increased by nearly 75 percent.
“That is a real problem for the city,” Nicholson said. “It’s affecting the city very negatively.”
Nicholson went on to say that the city has tried to set up discussions with the commissioners over the use of the Public Safety Sale tax but they haven’t come to fruition.
The city council, the commissioners and the sheriff were set to discuss the use of the sales tax dollars at a meeting last February but the meeting’s agenda veered off track when the commissioners and councilors embarked on a lengthy discussion about perceived threats of the so-called Agenda 21. A continuation of that meeting was scheduled but was abruptly cancelled the day it was scheduled to take place.
It is unclear after Tuesday’s meeting if and when a face-to-face meeting will be scheduled between council and the commissioners regarding the use Public Safety Sales Tax. But Commissioner Gary Ellis seemed open to the possibility.
“I don’t know what happened but that conversation never occurred,” Ellis said. “I felt like we should have had that conversation.”