Candidates offer tax solutions
October 30, 2002
During these final few days before Election Day we’re giving the candidates for two seats on the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners a chance to answer some questions to better inform readers on where they stand on certain issues.
We will run the answers to one question each day through the end of the week.
Today’s question is: The temporary tax increase the commissioners are seeking in this election is going to help matters, but is, in essence, a Band-Aid. Other than establishing a real estate transfer tax, what do you believe needs to be done to create stabilization over the long term for the county’s budget?
To create stabilization over the long run for Pitkin County we need to find new sources of revenue and limiting spending. Pitkin County sources of revenue are taxes, user fees, state and federal grants, and income investments.
We need to investigate each existing area and explore new grounds. I feel now is the time to approach the state Tabor law and differentiate the recreation-oriented Western Slope counties from the industrial Eastern Slope counties. With the economic climate of today and tomorrow, our general partner, the state, is where we can seek relief.
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Now is the time for the county to explore use taxes on big-box developers’ projects, commercial and residential, possibly paying an impact fee on a sliding scale with their size and their impacts.
Local jurisdiction will have to understand the needs of the county when approving growth and expansion so that their short-term goals don’t erase the county position of providing the necessary servers for safety and welfare.
The balancing of what we spend versus what we earn has to be watched daily. I would examine the landfill, the airport and RFTA to see if we can raise rates, privatize services and cut expenses. The possibility of having some of the stronger nonprofits sharing with the needy should be discussed and examined.
The mill levy should be examined and discussed to keep it in line with the cost of doing business in Pitkin County. We need to collect all of our outstanding taxes now!
Economic times are tight for the profiteers and the nonprofits at the county, state and federal levels. Citizens are in shock about all equity and commodities markets and the possibility of war. Layoffs in all areas and business sectors are at record levels.
Now is the time to elect strong professional leadership with pertinent business experience. This is one long-term answer to every business’s troubles. I know most businesses’ management locally through years of professional dealings and can work with front offices to facilitate cooperation.
I am an independent, creative problem solver that has a vested interest in the local lifestyle. Elect me, Tim Mooney, to work us through the red ink we have created and make our worst liabilities our strongest assets.
While many may consider the county’s temporary tax increase ($4.20 plus inflation per $100,000 in property value) as a “Band-Aid,” I see it more as a deadline, a way in which to push the county to find a better way.
This Band-Aid provides the county time in which to evaluate and then to establish a source of revenue that is not only stable but is fair to all property owners.
As for what the county might be able to do to “create stabilization” with something “other than” a real estate transfer tax (RETT) … well this is a tough question.
Pitkin County has very few options as far as general fund revenue sources and the county is limited as to the amount(s) of general funds it can collect and can keep (per TABOR, Gallagher and Fenton restrictions).
The fact is that the county general fund (as are most, if not all, jurisdictions within the state) is dependent on sales tax revenues and the majority of these tax revenues come from within the city of Aspen, town of Snowmass Village and portions of Basalt.
While the county receives a percentage of these revenues, it has no jurisdictional authority as to issues related to how/why these taxes are or can be collected.
Therefore, without a cooperative intergovernmental effort, the county has little, if any, ability to stabilize this source of (sales) tax revenue.
By this, I mean we (all of the governmental entities in Pitkin County) need to work together to encourage local spending by providing locally serving business opportunities and perhaps by maintaining/enhancing a local purchasing population.
This includes the need to market all we have to offer … by providing for and encouraging year-round special events, by creating “package” deals that allow those who want to come here to get here, stay here and, therefore, to spend here.
I disagree with the characterization of the funding question as a “Band-Aid,” since most such dressings don’t last five years.
That having been said, I believe the county needs to act to protect the sales tax base from further erosion and needs to make sure that growth pays its own way.
If we continue to allow large, job-generating, service-consuming residences to pay far less in tax than the services they generate, we’ll continue to face budget shortfalls.
Protecting the sales tax base means ensuring the airport remains viable. The advanced navigation system should ultimately ensure that we are the safest and most convenient airport serving any ski area or resort in North America. The takeoff-only extension should enable summer service to remain competitive without the subsidies that Vail’s operation requires.
We also need to recognize that residential growth, especially in remote areas of the county, generates more service demands than revenue. The Sanoran Institute has confirmed this basic premise in several western counties and our own research for the growth management reforms of 2000 showed residential development is costly.
While I favor a real estate transfer tax, we can’t wait until the legislature acts and the question goes to a statewide vote before taking action.
Finally, we must work with the city to urge its leaders to protect the downtown core from being eroded by office space and residential development. This problem is endemic to Colorado resorts. Office uses on ground-floor shopping malls have a deadening effect on the vitality of the district.
We also need to maintain the local working-age population that census data shows are in rapid decline. That means housing opportunities in the urban area must go forward. Local residents pay about 60 percent of the sales tax; we need to ensure that there is a substantial working-age population in the future.
There are 21,720 jobs on the books in Pitkin County (www.dola.state.co.us) and approximately 6,600 persons between the age of 20 and 65 to work them (www.census.gov). The numbers between 40 and 65 are declining; the jobs are increasing.
As more of the housing stock is converted to second, third or fourth homes, we will have fewer working-age residents. That age cohort is vital to staffing our nonprofits, volunteer groups and service agencies, since we can’t expect people to drive in from Silt after work to attend volunteer board meetings and other work projects.
The loss of this age group leaves us less vital, less attractive to visitors and less economically sustainable.