Airport to Receive Federal Grants, SMC 2012 Budget Audit
TELLURIDE – Responding to public demand that governments in San Miguel County do more to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the San Miguel County Commissioners will start developing a ballot question that could repeal an existing tax exemption for residential gas and electricity sales and use. If approved, the new revenue would fund emission reduction efforts across the county.
But last week’s meeting of the commissioners yielded only a placeholder on the November ballot: the commission can decide not to move forward with the question.
“[We] can retract it at any time before September if, once we look into it, it doesn’t seem like a good idea,” said County Commissioner Joan May.
The proposed repeal of the exemption, however, garnered support from the commissioners. “The benefit is that the money could be used to fund great programs throughout the county,” said May. “It does seem to make a lot of sense because it’s not an expensive tax and there is a clear link between collecting money from energy use and using it for energy reduction programs.”
County voters approved a one percent sales tax in 1987, but exempted groceries and residential gas and electricity use.
“We are in favor of this,” said Bob Saunders, representing the Telluride Town Council. “We always seem to be getting to these things too late; we needed to be doing this 20 years ago.”
The county commissioners have long looked for ways to further reduce government greenhouse gas emissions. For six years, the county has funded Eco Action Partners, a local non-profit that, among other services, collects data about San Miguel County’s energy use.
The county has already significantly lowered government energy use through facility retrofits, constructing green buildings, using hybrid vehicles and encouraging employees to minimize energy use. The county also annually contributes over $235,000 to the commuter bus programs, that bring workers from as far away as Down Valley, Ridgway, and Montrose to Telluride, reducing vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.
If the commissioners approve the ballot question, voters may decide this November and could see the repeal as early as January 1, 2014.
Airport FAA Grants
The Telluride Regional Airport will accept grants from the Federal Aviation Administration to fund runway safety improvement projects. Airport manager Rich Nuttall told the San Miguel County Commissioners last week that the airport is requesting over $241,000 for a de-icing pad and an additional $865,000 for a substantial drainage improvement project.
In accordance with FAA requirements, the county commissioners agreed to support the grant application. If funded, the airport expects the projects to be completed by next spring.
SMC 2012 Audit
From 2011 to 2012, San Miguel County’s budget remained relatively unchanged, CPA Pete Blair told the San Miguel County Commissioners last week, in the course of presenting the county audit.
While the county government’s finances are still affected by the economic downturn of 2008, Blair said, the county took in more than it spent. The general fund balance, for instance, increased by over $700,000 in 2012, even as property taxes saw a decrease of about $1 million. Sales tax also increased by around $250,000, a sign of economic improvement.
While the county’s budget improved over 2011, concerns remain, said Blair, citing languishing property taxes. Due to Colorado State law, county governments are required to appraise properties each even-numbered year. Property valuation and subsequent taxes decreased between 2011 and 2012 because county property assessments lag behind actual market valuations. Because of the lag, Blair’s audit predicts the county will lose $800,000 in property taxes in 2013.
Blair did not offer any advice on mitigating the shortfall, but did cite new construction as a promising sign of future economic growth. He attributes the county’s relatively healthy budget with wise fiscal planning and quality management.
Blair concluded his presentation on an optimistic note, saying, “overall, compared with 2011, we think San Miguel County is in better financial shape. We know that things are going to be tight with the budget going into 2014 mainly due to the reduction in property taxes. But I think the county has done a great job financially. If the county can get through the next year or two, I think things will start improving.”