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October 26, 2008 — The Republican commissioner candidates, Dick Gustafson and Debbie Buckley, make many claims about taxes and the county budget. The important ones aren’t true:
• They realistically cannot return millions of dollars in taxes to you.
• They cannot cut taxes and maintain county services.
• It does not make sense to cut programs that pay for themselves.
The critical considerations in the county budget are 1) what are the community’s priorities; 2) where does the county’s revenue come from, and how is it restricted; and 3) how can unrestricted general fund dollars be spent to better reflect the community’s priorities? Only after a critical analysis can you figure out where cuts may be possible.
While the county’s budget is $105 million, 64 percent of those funds are restricted. These funds can only be spent on specific categories -- the airport, ECO Transit, public facilities, the landfill, open space. The commissioners do not have the ability to spend these monies in other ways or to return unspent funds to the taxpayers. The remaining funds are classified as general fund dollars which are used for salaries, benefits, programs and services or general government operations.
The substantial majority of the remaining $38 million of general fund revenues come from sales tax ($8.5 million) and commercial property tax ($3.5 million). Only $11.5 million comes from residential property taxes. This is the amount that Gustafson and Buckley are attempting to attack, but don’t understand. The county’s share of residential property tax on a $500,000 home amounts to $195 per household. Last year, this amount increased $6.20 month per household.
As a practical matter, in order to lower taxes, Buckley and Gustafson are limited to at most cutting this amount and cutting it from salaries, benefits, positions in all departments, including the sheriff’s, or programs -- senior services, health and human services, early childhood development, and community grants -- to save you a maximum of six bucks a month.
Gustafson and Buckley haven’t understood that many of these dollars they plan to cut bring in federal and state grants that would be lost if we cut these funds. Their cuts would eliminate matching revenues for programs that many of you receive.
This spending provides important services to many of our seniors, funds environmental programs, non-profits and services to middle-class families and their children. Returning money spent on these programs amounts to a return of about $30 per year to a homeowner of a $600,000 home -- less than $3 a month. If you rent, you don’t get any money back.
Buckley and Gustafson have been planning or running for county commissioner for a year. They have had plenty of time to understand the basics of the budget. They appear to lack a basic understanding of where county revenues come from, how those dollars can be spent, and the dollar effect of proposed cuts.
With the struggles and complex issues that are facing our citizens -- a recession, environmental impacts, lack of affordable housing and decreases in transportation dollars -- we deserve commissioners who are sophisticated and able to plan for the future of what is best for Eagle County. An empty pledge for tax cuts, to the tune of $3 a month, does not sound fiscal policy make.
We deserve county commissioners who are sophisticated and able to plan for the future of what is best for Eagle County and maintain our high quality of life that brought us all here in the first place.
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