Bill Martin: Who benefits, who pays?
The question of whether to fund fire and emergency services with a new dedicated property tax is easy: no.
The city’s funding responsibilities are grouped into three tiers of priority. The first and historic responsibility of the city is to fund core services such as police, fire and emergency services, water and sewer, public works, city administration, etc. Without these services the city could not function.
The second tier of city funding is non-essential community amenities. Examples are parks and recreation, Bob Adams Field, the community center, etc. These are owned by the city but non-essential to daily city operations.
The third tier of city funding was created by a city council in the 1980s that inherited what it considered a surplus of city reserves. Their decision was to donate that “excess” money to their favorite non-essential special interest groups. This quickly became an annual expectation and entitlement continuing long after those reserves were depleted and the TABOR amendment put limits on city reserves.
Council is arguing the city needs to reinstate a property tax. Theoretically this is correct. However, council is trying to increase taxes to pay for a core service so they may divert revenue and continue support for their favorite non-essential entities.
If council truly wants to reinstate a property tax, it must reduce sales tax and achieve a revenue neutral income.
Twenty-five years ago I proposed removing 2% of our sales tax and the sales tax on food and medicine and re-instituting a property tax of approximately 20 mills. This would have achieved close to no overall revenue increase. There were many nuances to this change; some people would pay more, like commercial property owners, and some would pay less, such as low-income workers.
Subsidizing the Steamboat Springs Chamber and other nonprofit organizations with public tax dollars may be a worthwhile investment but is a non-essential expenditure. Questions like this are what voters should be deciding not whether to fund the core city service of fire and emergency services.
Our city council’s paramount responsibility is to fully fund all city core services with the sales tax revenue available.
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