It might be funny if it were happening to some other community.
■ This week, Mesa County Commissioners anguished over how to return to Mesa County residents $5.1 million in sales tax revenues that exceed TABOR revenue limits.
■ Last week, those same commissioners struggled over how to fund a needed $21 million jail expansion, which will certainly require a tax increase.
So, the county will return $5 million between now and next summer, then ask for a tax increase in the fall.
This is the kind of morning newspaper reading that gets cereal bowls thrown across the kitchen. Why did the county not at least ask the taxpayers if it could keep the TABOR excess and direct it to the jail expansion? Worst case, voters may have said no, which would leave us exactly where we are now.
Worse yet, there is no truly equitable way to return the $5 million. Typically, these refunds come in the form of a tiny adjustment to property tax rates. Problem is, the excess revenues came from sales taxes, not property taxes, so refunding property owners would omit huge swaths of Mesa County residents who do not own property, but paid sales taxes. Plus, roughly a third of the benefit would go to out-of-area property owners.
The cleanest solution would be for Mesa County to join the other 51 Colorado counties that have exempted themselves from at least some of TABOR's handcuffs, but that's an editorial for another day.
TABOR does not spell out how excesses should be returned, just so long as the money goes to county residents. It could be as simple as issuing a $30 check to every adult and child in Mesa County, but the administrative and mailing expenses associated with this option make it unrealistic.
A refund could come in the form of funding an early childhood education program. Or a backpack program. Or a post-secondary scholarship program for District 51 graduates. Or a free week at the pool. Or commissioners handing out cash downtown. The opportunities to do good with the money are vast (as are the opportunities to do dumb).
Commissioner Rose Pugliese floated a fascinating idea we think deserves serious consideration: directing some of the refunds toward the Mesa County Workforce Center to help retrain Mesa County residents who have lost their jobs or are seeking to enhance their careers.
We have observed in this space many times that this community's biggest challenge — and the cause of many of its thorniest problems — is that average household income here lags the state by 25 percent. If we can increase our relative wealth here, problems like homelessness, lack of childcare and early childhood education, a high Medicaid and welfare population, lack of community amenities and low educational attainment shrink considerably.
One way to increase relative wealth is by enhancing our workforce. We have worked to attract workforce to the area, but why not retraining as a means of punching up our existing workforce?
CoorsTek general manager Andrew Golike nailed it when he said, "We have a lot of up-skill needs for our workers in this economy. I think we have to prepare workers for the jobs that are coming, and jobs that are coming quickly."
The need is real and the solution is at our doorstep. Pugliese is on the right track on how to return the county's TABOR excess. Let's do it in a way that lifts the larger interests of the county and its residents.