Basalt won’t rush tax increase
The Basalt Town Council shied away Tuesday from approaching voters about a sales tax increase in April.The council voted 5-2 to wait until later, probably November, to seek approval for a 1 percent increase to raise revenues for a wide range of capital improvement projects, such as new trails and street repairs.All seven council members spoke in favor of the increase, but the majority felt going to election in April was too soon. The proposal was to seek approval to raise the town’s sales tax from 2 percent to 3 percent. The increase would raise an additional $1 million annually, based on current retail sales.Jim Kent, a Basalt resident and occasional town government consultant, warned that rushing into an April election was a recipe for disaster. Tax increases don’t automatically win; they require well-prepared campaigns, he said.”This is really campaign stuff. People take it seriously,” Kent said.He noted that a property tax increase to fund open space purchases passed easily in Basalt in 2001 because residents were heavily involved in deciding the ballot question and details of the open space program. Citizen involvement before an election is the key to success, Kent said.”We need to know what all the issues are before we walk into a trap,” he said.If the issue makes it to election later this year, it will face scrutiny from residents, based on Tuesday night’s discussion.The few residents who attended the hearing were mostly in favor of the concept but said they need more details on the spending plan. Bernie Grauer said the goals were admirable but the spending plan was too ambiguous.A proposed ballot question said the revenues would go toward “trails, open space, parks, Roaring Fork River floodplain improvements and town streets.”Grauer wanted guarantees on how much of the revenues would go to trails, parks and open space so the river stabilization and streets wouldn’t hog most of the funds.”I could see those sucking down 90 percent of the money, and I’m concerned about that,” he said.Jacque Whitsitt, a former councilwoman, said the town needed to lay out a spending plan in the campaign, if not in the ballot language.Whitsitt and Kent suggested a citizens committee could make recommendations on the spending.Some council members balked at that suggestion. Councilwoman Anne Freedman said the council needs flexibility to spend the funds where they are needed most in any given year.For example, the council might want to devote $1 million to a trail to complete it in one year, she said. If spending was specified by a formula a citizens committee created, full funding for that trail might not be available for several years.Freedman argued that the council would make all spending decisions in public hearings, with opportunities for residents to influence the process.”You’ll know about it. Nothing will be done in secret,” she said.The challenge for the council may be allaying fears that the new funds would go for drab purposes like filling potholes rather than exciting initiatives like creating trails and parks. But that challenge won’t come any time soon. Only Mayor Leroy Duroux and Councilman Joe Zuena supported placing the tax increase on the April ballot.It was implied, but not specifically stated, that the issue will go on the November ballot, Town Manager Bill Efting noted.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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