Ballot measure Jeffco 1A doesn’t pass

County to make cuts to 2020 budget

Posted 11/12/19

Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader believes the most valuable asset to the sheriff’s office is the people who work there. “They do a great job keeping Jefferson County safe,” Shrader said. …

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Ballot measure Jeffco 1A doesn’t pass

County to make cuts to 2020 budget

Posted

Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader believes the most valuable asset to the sheriff’s office is the people who work there.

“They do a great job keeping Jefferson County safe,” Shrader said. “And we’ll continue to do the best we can, even with a reduced budget.”

Earlier this year, the county stated that it was facing a financial challenge for the year 2020, attributing it to the need to keep up with an increasing demand for services because of population growth.

“The challenge for this year and beyond is that we’ve reached the minimum limit recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) for the county’s savings account,” said County Manager Don Davis, “and therefore can no longer meet the difference between the increased demand and the amount allowable by TABOR as we have done historically.”

It was identified that about $16.1 million is the amount the county lacked for a balanced 2020 budget and to maintain an appropriate reserve fund next year. To achieve that amount, the county proposed a seven percent budget reduction in 2020 for all county offices, departments and divisions whose budget is impacted by the general fund.

“Many of our citizens think we can just move money from one fund to the other,” Davis said, “but that’s just simply not the case.”

For example, Davis said, revenue from the voter-approved Open Space tax cannot be used to pay sheriff’s deputy wages.

There are 15 departments funded by the general fund and it is the county’s principle operating fund. About 77% of the general fund’s revenue comes from property taxes, Davis said.

Property taxes are subject to Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) cap. Revenue collected beyond the TABOR cap must be refunded to Colorado taxpayers.

As a possible solution to the financial challenges — one that would avoid budget cuts — on July 23, the Jefferson County commissioners unanimously approved putting the Jeffco 1A question on the November 2019 ballot. Jeffco 1A asked to allow the county government to keep excess revenue from TABOR.

However, on Nov. 5, Jefferson County voters decided not to pass ballot measure Jeffco 1A.

 

In Jefferson County, rather than refunding excess TABOR revenue in the form of a check, the county has reduced its mill levy, lowering residents’ property taxes.

Therefore, if Jeffco 1A would have passed, residential and business property tax bills would have raised, said Natalie Menten, voluntary coordinator for the grassroots campaign organization, No Jeffco Tax Hike.

To make up that difference, landlords would likely have needed to raise the price of their rentals, Menten said. And it reflects onto consumers when businesses have to pay more taxes on their property, contributing to a higher cost of living, Menten said.

“We’re relieved the tax payers and voters saw this was an unreasonable and unjustified tax increase,” Menten said. “It shows there is strong support for the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (and) it shows that the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights does protect citizens.”

The county manager’s recommended 2020 budget totals about $605.3 million, and the general fund represents $217.4 million of that. This reflects the $16.1 million in cuts.

“The sheriff, district attorney and our transportation budgets are where the cuts will be the most painful,” Davis said, adding that about 66% of the general fund revenue is spent on public safety and that “the county has a current backlog of over $100 million in transportation projects alone.”

Shrader placed a moratorium on hiring in the spring when he heard of the budget cuts. He said it would have been unfair to hire new people, just to have to lay them off in January, if Jeffco 1A did not pass.

“Things are going to get tough in 2020,” Shrader said. “We won’t be able to hire the staff.”

It is most important to operate the jail safely, both for the inmates and the staff, Shrader said. Because the jail will have to operate with 51 positions less than its authorized strength, the sheriff will be closing an entire floor of the jail. This means 288 beds will not be available beginning in 2020.

“Then it gets worse in 2021,” Shrader said.

He added that by 2021, the jail will have to operate with 101 positions below its authorized strength.

“The people of Jefferson County elected us to make the tough decisions,” said Jefferson County Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper. “We’ll honor the voters’ guidance and continue to work within TABOR limits. And as we look forward to 2021, we will engage our community to understand what they feel the budget priorities should be.”

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