Both campaigns have websites for the voters to learn more about the arguments on ballot measure Jeffco 1A.
Yes on 1A, Keep Jeffco Safe: Keepjeffcosafe.com/
No on 1A, No Jeffco Tax Hike: Jeffcotaxhike.com/
Jefferson County voters will have to make a couple of decisions concerning the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) this November.
One is Colorado Proposition CC. This ballot question will ask if the state should be allowed to retain excess revenue, which it is currently required to refund under TABOR, to go to transportation and education.
Specific to Jefferson County, all of the county's voters will be deciding on ballot measure 1A. Here are the details on Jeffco 1A.
To understand what is being asked on Jeffco 1A, a basic understanding of TABOR is necessary.
TABOR is part of the Colorado Constitution found in Article X Section 20. Colorado voters approved it in 1992.
In brief, TABOR limits the amount of revenue that a governmental body can retain and spend in a particular year. Revenue sources include taxes, including property taxes from residences and businesses; grants; fines; interest; and fees.
Revenue collected beyond the TABOR cap must be refunded to Colorado taxpayers. In Jefferson County, rather than refunding excess revenue in the form of a check, the county reduced its mill levy, which ultimately lowered property taxes.
TABOR also prohibits any tax increase without approval from a public vote.
De-Brucing, named after TABOR's author Douglas Bruce, is the informal term often associated with attempts to bypass certain TABOR restrictions. Generally, any proposed de-Brucing must go to the voters.
Earlier this year, the county identified that it was facing a financial challenge for the year 2020, attributing it to the need to keep up with an increasing demand for services because of population growth.
About $16.1 million is the amount the county identified that it lacked for balanced 2020 budget and to maintain an appropriate reserve fund next year. To achieve that amount, the county proposed a seven percent budget reduction in 2020 for all county offices, departments and divisions whose budget is impacted by the general fund.
The general fund is the county's principle operating fund that is financed primarily by property taxes. There are 15 departments funded by the general fund.
Rather than budget cuts, de-brucing the county's TABOR limits came up as a possible solution to the county's financial challenges. On July 23 the Jefferson County commissioners — Casey Tighe, Leslie Dahlkemper and Libby Szabo — unanimously approved putting the Jeffco 1A question on the November 2019 ballot.
Jefferson County commissioners discussed in length an expiration — or sunset — on the initiative but settled on a sunset after seven years.
This means, should Jeffco 1A pass, the county could keep and spend or reserve all revenue, regardless of revenue type, that it collects in the years 2020 to 2026.
The second portion of Jeffco 1A concerns year 2027 and beyond. Should the initiative pass, beginning in 2027, only property taxes would be subject to the TABOR cap. The county would still be allowed to retain and spend or reserve the revenue from grants, fines, interest and fees, as long as the amount does not exceed the Excess Local Revenues Cap, which will be determined by the amount of the highest total revenues between fiscal years 2021 and 2026.
The mill levy is the tax rate applied to the assessed value of a property. One mill equals one dollar per $1,000 dollars of assessed property value.
Jefferson County is currently authorized to collect a maximum mill levy of 21.478.
If Jeffco 1A passes, the measure's ballot language states that $16.1 million above the current TABOR cap will be collected the first year. This is the amount that the county identified it needs to avoid budget cuts in 2020.
In the years 2020-2026, Jeffco 1A would allow the county to collect the full amount of its authorized county mill levy.
Argument for a yes vote on Jeffco 1A:
Beginning in 2016, the county starting hitting the TABOR cap each year, said Mary O'Neil, the county's director of strategy, planning and analysis. But for the 15 years prior, the county made voluntary mill levy reductions, O'Neil added, as a sign of fiscal stewardship.
A yes vote would not give the county the ability to raise taxes, so much as just keep the revenue that has already been approved.
Argument for a no vote on Jeffco 1A:
The ballot language does not clearly state that Jeffco 1A will let the county raise the tax bills of its residents, said Natalie Menten, volunteer coordinator for the grassroots organization, No Jeffco Tax Hike.
Affordable housing is already a challenge, Menten said, and Jeffco 1A would make housing more expensive. She added that businesses that have to pay more taxes on their property will reflect onto consumers, contributing to a higher cost of living.
Should Jeffco 1A pass, the money would be used to fund the cost of county government and to maintain the county services currently provided. According to the ballot measure's language, all spending would be reviewed and decided on by the Board of County Commissioners as part of the annual budget process.
The services bullet pointed in Jeffco 1A's language are as follows:
• Providing for the safety of the public including maintaining adequate jail beds, staffing the District Attorney's Office, adequate patrol personnel, and wildfire mitigation;
• Maintaining roads, bridges and other new transportation improvements;
• Preserving public facilities and infrastructure including building security and maintenance; and
• Providing services traditionally offered by Jefferson County and other Colorado county governments and statutorily required services.
Argument for a yes vote on Jeffco 1A:
Per a press release sent out on April 23, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office notes that in order to achieve a seven percent reduction to its 2020 budget, it would have to cut its budget by $6.7 million. This means, Sheriff Jeff Shrader said, an entire floor of the jail would have to be shut down which would lead to jail beds being reduced, thus limiting the amount of offenders the jail would be able to house.
"The sheriff is not the only public safety official impacted by this," Shrader said to Golden City Council during the general public comment period on Sept. 12. "My concern is that (the proposed budget cuts) will affect the entirety of Jefferson County, in terms of the quality of life that we have."
Menten argues that some of the language in the ballot measure is misleading. She says the 18% increase to the county portion of the voters' property tax bill is downplayed by proponents.
“The county implies it (the money) will go to specific areas,” Menten said. “But the last bullet point in the language leaves it open for the county to spend it anywhere.”
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