Mesa County commissioners decided Monday not to place anything on this fall's ballot to ask voters if they can retain about $5 million in surplus tax dollars to help fund an expansion of the jail.
Instead, the commissioners said they would review how it refunds excess revenue collected under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.
The commissioners said they didn't want to go forward with a ballot measure, in part, because they've heard from no one that even asking that question was something the voters wanted.
In fact, all three commissioners — Rose Pugliese, John Justman and Scott McInnis — said everyone they spoke to said they wanted their refunds.
"After talking to many people about it, I thought for sure somebody would say, 'That's a good idea,' but that wasn't the case," Justman said.
"All the conversations I've had with people centered on wanting their refund back," Pugliese said. "I think there's several different ways we can do that, and I think upcoming conversations will center on how we refund those funds."
Under TABOR, any revenues collected by the state or a local government that exceed inflation and population growth must be returned to taxpayers unless they vote to allow that government entity to do so. Such permission is called de-Brucing, named after Douglas Bruce, the so-called father of TABOR who pushed to get voters to approve it in 1991.
That same constitutional amendment allows government entities to choose how they want to refund excess dollars. The county does it through a temporary reduction in its property tax mill levy, something that has been criticized as primarily benefiting out-of-county property owners.
Months ago, the commissioners floated the idea as a way of helping fund expansion of the jail, which could cost as much as $27 million.
The commissioners said part of their consternation over the matter is a statewide measure on the fall ballot — Proposition CC — asking voters to allow the state to retain all surplus TABOR revenue, forever.
"What would happen is, our effort would be immediately associated with that effort, and it would go down in flames in my opinion," McInnis said. "It would be a major distraction from our funding efforts for the expansion of the jail."
The commissioners are looking at expanding the jail out of fear that, because of overcrowding, the county will be sued, something that happened decades ago that caused the center to be built in the first place.
As of Monday, the facility had 554 inmates, most of whom are still awaiting trial but are being held because they were deemed too dangerous to be released. The jail's capacity is 611, though the Mesa County Sheriff's Office wants to get that down to about 490.
Other steps have been taken to help reduce that overcrowding, not the least of which was a new judge approved by the Colorado Legislature during this year's session. That new judge is to help speed up that pre-trial backlog.