New City Council demonstrates 
it’s just as eager to spend money

Well, the pixels are barely dry on last week’s column about the city’s and county’s exclusion of certain tax revenues from the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights cap on the amount of taxes they can keep, and my hope that the city would follow the county and revert to keeping track of their revenues like everyone else in the state was dashed.

I don’t know what I was thinking — of course the city didn’t do that. I’m aware the lure of other people’s money has the same pull, to some, as a slow rabbit has to a hungry coyote.

So far, we are 0 for 1 in the change-of-direction department that was a key part of the campaigns of many of the new City Council members.

Nevertheless, some rather remarkable things were revealed by the story published in The Daily Sentinel.

The most interesting was that the scheme for both public entities to change their accounting method in 2007 was apparently hatched at a meeting between the city manager and county administrator at the time. Both have now toddled down the road, presumably to relieve other voters of the onerous task of making up their own minds.

The city attorney said council members were informed of the change but did not take a vote on it. That’s interesting: Did he think they should have? Because it seems like sort of an interesting and important change from a policy — one that requires a refund to voters if a fund gets too large — to a policy that doesn’t require a refund.

City Attorney John Shaver had some of the funniest, albeit unintentional, things to say. For instance, he said he thought the city’s current stance of exclusion of tax revenues since 2007 would be defensible in court and added, “There is not case law that says we can do this and not a law that says you can’t ... We could not find anyone else that has the same pattern as us. We are the only one.”

That statement certainly fills one with confidence. By the way, I think there may be a constitutional amendment that says they can’t.

Shaver based his clear and bold statement apparently on a Court of Appeals case involving the Pike’s Peak Library District raising its mill levy without a vote, which on its face is distinguishable.

In that case, the Court of Appeals pointed out, “Here, the District received voter approval in 1986 to increase the maximum tax levy from two mills to no more than four mills for public library funds. The mill levy has increased and decreased several times, but it is undisputed that it has remained below four mills.”

That’s not the same as just deciding to exclude revenues that were never authorized within a particular range and can continue to increase.

But Shaver may be right. Appellate courts have never been particularly friendly to TABOR.

Mainly, however, I think city officials hope they can just keep the money and eventually people will get fascinated with something else and go away, so the city won’t have to defend anything.

I’ve noted that there hasn’t been as much outrage about this decision as there was with county officials who actually fixed the problem, but that could and should change.

Moreover, since the city was doing better collecting taxes than the county for a longer period of time since 2007, a refund may be due and payable within the statute of limitations period — unlike the county case.

There’s a heartbreaking moment in the story where it’s mentioned that “countless communities” have decided to override TABOR. Countless — like all the stars in the sky countless.It’s true a number of entities have overridden TABOR — although they can be counted —but apparently there is now only one doing it this way.

The TABOR amendment itself provides for changes to be enacted in various ways over varied lengths of time and for any number of purposes ... with a vote of the people.

I’m not sure if we are expected to believe that, since others have done something correctly, then it’s acceptable to do incorrectly or feel sorry for enlightened officials having to labor in such a backward community.

The real point is that the consideration should not be what is the defensible thing but what is the right thing.

Rick Wagner writes more on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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