Pitkin County to budget for worst-case scenario
July 28, 2010
ASPEN – Pitkin County will prepare two budgets for 2011 – one that assumes none of three statewide ballot measures passes in November and one that assumes all three win voter approval at the polls. The latter outcome, county commissioners agreed Tuesday, would be disastrous.
The initiatives, Proposition 101, Amendment 60 and Amendment 61, would affect the county’s general fund and the budgets of the airport, landfill, open space and library, depending on which measures, or combination of measures, win voter approval.
Last week, finance director John Redmond was suggesting the county brace for the passage of Amendment 60, based on voter polling. By this week, the polling suggested Amendment 61 was most likely to find favor with voters, according to County Manager Hilary Fletcher.
Rather than guess which one might pass, commissioners directed the county’s staff to prepare a budget reflecting the impact if all three measures pass – to show voters what they can expect if the measures aren’t defeated.
“I think the public needs to know what the worst-case scenario is,” said Commissioner Patti Kay-Clapper. “The citizens of our county need to know what the hit will be.”
All but Commissioner George Newman agreed.
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“I don’t think we should be doing the Armageddon budget scenario,” he said. “I can’t for the life of me see how they [voters] are going to vote for all three.”
Proposition 101 would deliver the biggest hit to the county’s general fund, which supports basic county services, including public works, the sheriff’s office and other government functions. The general fund this year is about $24 million, according to Fletcher. The county would lose an estimated $1.6 million in revenues, many related to vehicle taxes and fees, if the proposition passes, Redmond estimated.
Nearly $900,000 that goes to roads would be lost, he said.
“If this one  or any of these pass, we as a government are in trouble,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield.
Amendments 60 and 61 relate to property taxes and debt limitations, but both have implications for the general fund, according to Redmond. Treasurer’s fees are paid as part of the collection of taxes and those fees go into the general fund. If property tax collections drop because the amendments pass, so would the fees.
“The general fund is not immune in any of this stuff,” he said.
Amendment 60 would allow electors to vote on tax issues if they own property, which could give out-of-county property owners a majority vote on local tax questions, noted Commissioner Rachel Richards.
Among its various other provisions, Amendment 60 would impact county mill levies that have been “deBruced” – ones that are allowed to take in more property tax revenues than state constitutional limits would otherwise allow, as property values rise. The measure would roll back what the mill levies can take in to pre-deBrucing levels.
It would impact the county’s Healthy Community Fund, Open Space and Trails, the library and its translator system to the tune of $7.1 million – with Open Space and Trails taking by far the biggest hit, at $6.6 million, according to Redmond.
The effect, Clapper said, is letting voters statewide undo the wishes of local voters.
“They’re taking away our vote … I think that’s wrong,” she said.
Amendment 60 would also require entities such as the airport and the landfill, which are not supported by property taxes, to begin paying property taxes.
Amendment 61, if it passes, would require taxing districts to adjust their mill levies downward as debt is paid off. Over time, the measure would impact Open Space and Trails, reducing the program’s property tax revenue by about $937,000, Redmond calculated.
The measure would also limit borrowing to 10 years – a time frame so short, it would likely make the repayment of debt for any capital project unpalatable, commissioners said. They likened the restriction to limiting home buyers to mortgages of 10 years or less.
The total impact of the three measures, in terms of lost revenue, is $10.1 million, Redmond estimated.
“It’s just a radical, extremist proposal,” said Commissioner Michael Owsley of the three measures, calling for preparation of the worst-case scenario to make their impact clear. “This is bad news,” he said.