McInnis: Sales tax increase necessary
Commissioner seeks ballot issue
Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis pitched a still-to-be-drafted tax increase to skeptical Republicans on Friday, saying that it would take the taxes from 8,400 new homes each year to replace the revenues lost to the departure of the energy industry.
McInnis floated a few more details about the sales tax that he will ask the commission to place on the November ballot to fund law enforcement.
The sales tax will be in the area of one-third of a cent on the dollar and won’t be sunsetted, McInnis said. About one-third of the bill would be paid by non-residents who purchase taxable goods and services in the county, McInnis said.
The county now has a 2 percent sales tax, which it shares with municipalities around the county. Many of those municipalities also charge their own sales taxes.
Much of the impetus for him to seek a tax increase is the need to replace revenues lost when the natural gas industry collapsed, sending thousands of jobs elsewhere, McInnis told about 50 Republicans at the DoubleTree Hotel.
Public safety — the Mesa County Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s offices — shared in deep cuts in 2010 and only in this year’s budget were some of the cuts restored with $1.4 million in spending.
Both agencies will be asking for more money again next year, when officials anticipate a $2 million to $3 million shortfall, which won’t be made up by the taxes on new residences, County Administrator Frank Whidden said.
The county is operating this year with a $57 million general fund budget.
“The challenges are real,” Whidden said. “We are not making this up.”
The 8,400-new-homes figure is based on the amount of property tax revenue generated by a $220,000 house, or about the median price of a house in Mesa County, to replace the revenues that evaporated with the loss of natural gas production.
Oil and gas production is taxed at 87.5 percent of its valuation and residential construction is taxed at 7.2 percent of its valuation, so the loss of production weighs more heavily on the budget.
Republicans, however, questioned whether the county has cut enough.
“We need smaller government in many, many areas,” said Alden Savoca.
Others questioned whether a county increase would drive business outside the county.
Mesa County’s 2 percent sales tax is comparable to most of the surrounding counties, such as Montrose, 1 percent; Delta, 2 percent; Garfield, 1 percent; Pitkin, 3.1 percent; and Rio Blanco, 3.6 percent, according to the Sales Tax Handbook.
Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis and District Attorney Dan Rubinstein are to address Republicans and others in the coming months about their departments’ needs, McInnis said.