TABOR ruling may be Monday
Mesa County commissioners could decide Monday to change course, away from a 2007 decision in which the county began excluding sales tax revenue from its collection limitation calculations mandated by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
If they do, they’ll be directing the county back into the mainstream, an analysis shows. It seems Mesa County is the only county in the state to exclude its sales tax revenues without having first gone to voters for approval.
Mesa County’s current position relies on a legal opinion that essentially says since local voters approved a sales tax in 1981, well before TABOR became law, that revenue can be excluded from the collection limitations outlined by the amendment.
At a briefing last week, county Finance Director Marcia Arnhold told commissioners what most of the rest of the state’s counties do regarding their sales taxes and TABOR.
She reported that 49 of 64 counties have de-Bruced, or gone to voters with ballot questions to keep portions of the revenue they collect. The term is derived from the name of TABOR author Douglas Bruce.
Of the remaining counties that have not broadly de-Bruced, and provided information to Mesa County, none with pre-TABOR voter-approved sales taxes exclude it from their limitation calculations.
One of those counties, El Paso, struck a particular chord with Commissioner Rose Pugliese during last week’s briefing.
“Just the fact that El Paso County — which is I would say equivalent to us as far as conservative population, conservative commissioners — has a pre-TABOR sales tax and they include it. To me, that says a lot,” she said.
Pugliese, a lawyer, also added that she “just is not convinced” by a letter drafted in 2007 by Denver attorney Dee Wisor, which provided the legal basis for the sales tax exclusion decision.
Wisor expressly states in that letter that Mesa County would be forging new ground if it decided to exclude its sales tax.
“It is important to note that I am unaware of any government that has taken this position with respect to a sales tax imposed before TABOR took effect,” Wisor wrote.
Mesa County does have at least one ally when it comes to excluding sales tax without asking permission from voters — the city of Grand Junction similarly excludes revenue from a three-quarter cent sales tax approved by voters in 1989.
City Financial Operations Director Jodi Romero didn’t provide an answer Friday when asked directly what fiscal year the city began the exclusion of part of its sales tax.
She instead referred to an upcoming meeting planned with the City Council about the subject, “and in deference to them I prefer to wait until after they have had the opportunity to hear the information and provide direction,” she wrote in an email to The Daily Sentinel.
According to Arnhold, both the city of Fruita and the town of Palisade include sales tax revenue in their TABOR calculations.
County commissioners will publicly discuss the idea of “sales tax revenue inclusion in the TABOR calculation for 2012 and future years” at their regular administration hearing Monday, according to the agenda. That meeting begins at 9:05 a.m. in the public hearing room at 544 Rood Ave. downtown.