Meis, Rowland move to keep county refunds
By November 2009, Mesa County residents may be asked to forgo tax refunds to pay for new schools, airport improvements, public safety buildings and other capital construction needs.
Commissioners Janet Rowland and Craig Meis directed county staff this week to begin working on ballot language to eliminate energy severance tax dollars and energy industry ad valorem revenues from the constraints of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Otherwise known as TABOR, the state constitutional amendment forces governments to return revenue in excess of the previous year, with some allowances for the budget to reflect population increase and economic activity. Traditionally, the county refunds its TABOR excesses through a temporary mill levy reduction.
Mesa County is exceeding TABOR limits and predicts it will refund millions of dollars to residents each year for at least the next five years, unless voters allow the county to keep those refunds. The county’s anticipated TABOR overage this year is roughly twice the energy severance tax dollars collected by the county.
Current projections are the county will have to refund $2.4 million under TABOR for 2008, to be given to taxpayers in 2010. But if the voters approve a measure in 2009 to eliminate that constraint, it might be retroactive to include this year, Mesa County Administrator Jon Peacock said.
The county is realizing nearly $5 million in energy severance taxes this year. Ad valorem tax income — or taxes based on real estate and personal property — from energy companies could be in the stratosphere, raining down $20 million to $30 million yearly onto Mesa County, Meis said.
“Ad valorem is the biggest piece,” Meis said. “It makes severance taxes look like chump change.”
The two commissioners also asked for the lifting of TABOR restrictions to be limited to five years.
“I would like a sunset provision,” Meis said.
Rowland said she would be OK with asking voters to free up those dollars for government use, but the ballot language would have to clearly say the dollars would be used to counter energy impacts and for capital construction, not for day-to-day operations of county government. Rowland listed schools, roads and bridges, but not recreation centers.
Commissioner Steve Acquafresca was unavailable for comment Thursday, but he has said he does not favor the use of energy severance tax dollars to pay for school construction or other buildings such as police and fire stations.
Acquafresca has said he favors the money being earmarked for capital construction needs, such as roads and bridges, directly impacted by the energy industry.