Council discusses adding tax proposal to November ballot

— The question City Council members raised Tuesday night was not if a tax proposal should be on November's ballot; instead, they asked what tax it should be, for how much and for what capital improvements.

City Finance Director Don Taylor outlined five property tax options that could be used to help the city meet the $27 million worth of capital improvements it has targeted for the next five years.

Under projected revenues and expenditures for the next six years, the city would see cuts from its operating budget total close to $4 million by 2008 if it pursued its goal to spend 15 percent of its budget on capital projects.

"We won't be able to grow our way out of this," Taylor told the council.

The council directed Taylor to come back with specific property tax proposals that would dedicate mill levies to fire protection services, Howelsen Hill and recreation services or a list of capital improvements. They also wanted to see how a projected budget would look if property taxes could raise the $1 million to $3 million needed for capital improvements.

One of the leading options, the majority of the council said, would be to dedicate a mill levy for fire protection services. Called a no-brainer by some council members, the options would have a mill levy cover costs for the city's fire department, which receives $1.5 million in 2002 from the city's general fund.

Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner said based on the approval residents in Oak Creek and North Routt gave for a tax increase for fire districts, city residents might also be willing to dedicate property taxes for fire protection.

A second option the council narrowed down would ask voters to decide on a mill levy that dedicates funds for fire protection services and Howelsen Hill and recreation activities. Councilman Bud Romberg said voters would be more inclined to agree to an increase in taxes for capital expenditures if they knew where the money was being spent.

And Council President Kathy Connell said that fire services and park and recreation services were two components that received strong support in the 2002 Community Survey.

But councilmen Paul Strong and Loui Antonucci did not agree with dedicating mill levies to fire services or parks and rec. They both stated voters should get to decide directly if they want a property tax increase to go toward capital improvements.

Strong said that if voters did not agree to fund fire services and parks and rec through a ballot issue, the city would still fund those departments.

"Philosophically, I have a real problem putting something to the voters that we plan on spending anyway," Strong said.

But Romberg said that by specifically allocating mill levies for certain services, voters could guarantee to see the mill levy spent where they want it. With increasing operating costs, the city has been spending just five percent of its budget on capital projects, not the targeted 15 percent.

Council members also asked Taylor to come back with ways to finance capital improvements other than through property taxes. Options mentioned were taxing services along with sales or adding in the one-tenth sales tax, which was taken out when the state dropped its sales tax from 3 percent to 2.9 percent. Municipalities can add the one-tenth into its sales tax collection.

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