Options abound in refunding tax dollars
Let’s say you agree with taxing and spending limits set by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and want a refund. How much would it be and how could you get it?
Grand Junction voters will have their say on a refund in April’s municipal election. The question, Referred Measure B, asks voters to allow the city to keep and spend excess tax dollars on a number of future transportation projects.
Currently, the excess dollars equate to $2.4 million a year, but that sum is variable and could change according to economic growth in the community. If the measure fails, the money wouldn’t be refunded until at least 2015.
If the measure fails, meaning a refund is in order, crediting property tax bills is merely one way the city could refund taxpayers.
TABOR simply states if voters choose to be refunded, a municipality must return the money. It doesn’t specify how. That ultimately would be decided by Grand Junction city councilors. Councilors also could pose another TABOR question to voters in 2015.
Councilors lately have been discussing ways they could redistribute the money.
“It’s very cumbersome trying to figure out how to give it back,” Councilor Sam Susuras said.
One option is offering a sales tax holiday, proposing a time or a day when businesses wouldn’t impose sales taxes. Councilors have informally determined this might be difficult for businesses to temporarily recalibrate cash registers. Plus, it’s refunding money to people who shop here, but may not live here.
“We have a lot of out-of-towners,” Susuras said. “Would they would be getting that tax holiday as well?”
Or, refunds could include free swimming pool passes, recreation passes or bus passes, for instance, for Grand Junction’s services.
The reimbursements could be paid out in any form, as long as the value is equal to the excess amount of TABOR dollars.
“I would have to sit down and discuss it with the rest of council,” Councilor Jim Doody said of refunding options. “It sounds like a lot of money but when you spread it out among businesses it’s not that much.”
According to city officials, refunds would equal about $4 a month, or $48 a year, for homeowners with homes valued at the average price of $187,000. Refunds would be less for homeowners with lower home values and more for owners of more expensive homes. Under this scenario, the 10 businesses that collect the most sales tax would receive yearly reimbursements of nearly $94,000. Roughly $1 million would be refunded to owners of residential homes and $1.4 million to commercial property owners, the city has calculated.
Doody said if voters oppose the TABOR measure, he would support a listening tour to hear what residents want the money to be used for, assuming the council asks the question again in 2015.
In a recent survey of about 1,800 people, most respondents indicated they wanted the money used for some type of transportation infrastructure, he said.
The current question asks whether voters will support spending excess TABOR dollars on transportation projects including completing the Riverside Parkway route on 29 Road to Interstate 70 and funding an interchange on the interstate, widening 24 Road, and improving North Avenue and Horizon Drive.
Creating an interchange at 29 Road and I-70 and completing Riverside Parkway is estimated to cost upward of $80 million, and the city would have to ask voters to approve a future bond measure to fund it. The city expects Mesa County and the Colorado Department of Transportation would partner on the project.
Opponents of the ballot question say the scope of the transportation projects are too broad and the question does not propose a date when the city would stop spending the excess taxes.
Proponents say many of the excess dollars would go to businesses and homeowners outside of Grand Junction. At the $2.4 million rate, an estimated $680,000 would be refunded to businesses outside the city, and $120,000 to residents outside of city limits.
In 2008, Grand Junction voters approved a TABOR override to pay off Riverside Parkway, which currently is on track to be paid off in 2015.
Councilors are asking voters now to approve spending the excess dollars to avoid a lapse in the override.
“The vision is to try to get people to see the big picture,” said Doody, who supports the measure. “Let’s just bring it up and ask and hope that they have the vision that I do.”