OPINION: Serious Questions About the Jail Tax Increase

After attending the September 30 presentation at the Vista Clubhouse, about the need for a new jail, I came away with a few serious questions.

First, it is absolutely clear there is a real need for a jail. Everyone involved with the presentation acknowledges that real need exists, but it is due to a lack of maintenance over many years that caused this crisis. Small mindedness on the part of government officials always leads to crisis management and added costs to the public. Now, after having been in the Emergency Management Center at the airport, I have an even greater appreciation for Sheriff Valdez’s situation. Anyone who has been in the military and tried to operate in an active command center out in the field on an operation, will understand the Sheriff’s situation. It adds stress to an already stressful situation. We want our law enforcement personnel to be able to provide the a high level of professional service — and providing adequate facilities is a good starting point for professional service delivery.

My first question, however, is with the ballot language itself. The wording is very specific and states that the proposed tax increase will be dedicated to a judicial complex, not just a jail. The proposed judicial complex is the size of two full city blocks. That’s a huge complex compared to what we have, or actually need. What we have, or should I say, what we had, filled half a city block. The September 30 discussion focused on only the detention facility, which is actually only 1/3 of a judicial complex.

As a community, do we want courts and jails to be the focal point of what we are about — because that is what tourists and the rest of the world will be presented with. Are we truly building our own prison planet? I believe the government was set up as a public service corporation, not as a pickpocket or dictatorial master of all things public.

Second, I take issue with this measure being promoted as a 1% tax increase. In reality it is a 50% sales tax increase. Our County government currently receives 2% of our local sales tax.  If this ballot measure is approved, they will then collect 3%. That is a 50% tax increase for the County government — in spite of the TABOR Amendment.

A quick check on Wikipedia reveals these facts about TABOR:

“In 1992, the voters of the state approved a measure which amended Article X of the Colorado Constitution that restricts revenues for all levels of government (state, local, and schools). Under TABOR, state and local governments cannot raise tax rates without voter approval and cannot spend revenues collected under existing tax rates without voter approval if revenues grow faster than the rate of inflation and population growth. Revenue in excess of the TABOR limit, commonly referred to as the “TABOR surplus”, must be refunded to taxpayers, unless voters approve a revenue change as an offset in a referendum.

“The allowance for spending to grow at the rate of inflation plus population growth means that inflation-adjusted per capita spending generally did not decrease. However, spending growth could be interrupted due to an economic recession, in which case inflation-adjusted per capita spending did decrease — and TABOR did not permit inflation-adjusted per capita spending to return to its pre-recession level. This was known as the “ratchet-down effect,” and it occurred in FY2001-02 and FY2002-03. The ratchet-down effect was desirable to those who believed government was consuming too large a fraction of Colorado’s gross state product (GSP), and undesirable to those who believed government was consuming too small a fraction of Colorado’s GSP.”

I believe it is disingenuous to promote a “1% sales tax” without explaining that it is actually a “50% County tax increase,” and that it’s for a huge justice complex.  Promoters of the tax increase are using the jail crisis as an opportunity to compel the citizens of Archuleta to support their grandiose desires.

My third concern has to do with our county as a whole. Pagosa Springs is a small rural town that is surrounded by housing subdivisions that spread out 20 miles in every direction. All the temporary and full-time residents want to claim Pagosa Springs as their own, and that puts enormous pressure on the Town’s infrastructure — yet the Town only receives 1/2 of the sales tax revenue. The Town and County have redundant, overlapping departments that could be combined into one and provide a more efficient service to the general public.

The new Town Hall has a fine new courtroom. Why do we need to build more courtrooms?

Pagosa Lakes should have incorporated a long time ago. For years, the PLPOA members have been paying for two separate government entities, and only received services from one, the County of Archuleta. The millions of dollars that have been are collected in HOA fees went somewhere other than providing needed services. Those are just a couple of examples of what we as a community can do to correct our current situation.

I believe we have to vote ‘No’ on the tax increase for the above stated reasons. We can do much better than this, and it starts with actually engaging the public that is supposed to be served by the County of Archuleta… not engaging merely a few small-minded public employees.

Greg Giehl
Pagosa Springs, CO

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