The Montezuma County Planning Board wants the public to consider approving a 1 percent county sales tax in November to help stabilize the general fund budget.
During their regular meeting March 8, board members discussed the idea and said they want to pitch the idea to community groups pending approval from Montezuma County commissioners, who would need to approve a ballot question.
Currently, Montezuma County is one of 11 counties out of 64 in Colorado that do not have a sales tax.
Planning commission chairman Bob Clayton said a small sales tax would act as a buffer against a fluctuating oil market, which impacts local production of carbon dioxide.
Taxes paid on carbon dioxide production by Kinder Morgan accounts for more than 50 percent of county tax revenues.
But in recent years, a drop in the oil market has led to a drop in demand for carbon dioxide (CO2), which is used to draw oil out of wells. The lost tax revenues contributed to a $1 million budget shortfall in 2018 for the county. A hiring and wage freeze was implemented, and funding for local organizations was cut.
Based on a study done a few years ago, a 1 percent county sales tax would generate about $3.5 million per year, the board said.
“We are supporting more tourism and use on our roads and trails, but we are not seeing a dime from it,” Clayton said. “CO2 is a finite resource, and we need to think long-term how to keep paying for the services we currently provide our community.”
A sales tax is seen as good choice because tourists help pay into it, the board said.
“A sales tax is worth considering; otherwise, property owners end up paying the brunt of tax revenues,” said board member Raymond Boyd.
It was noted that for a sales tax to have a chance at passing in the county, the ballot question would have to be specific on what the revenue would be spent on.
To alleviate public concerns, the planning board said language in the ballot question would prohibit the sales tax revenues from going toward raises for county employees.
The planning board’s proposal comes less than four months after voters in the Montezuma-Cortez school district killed a proposed property tax increase, 54.9 percent to 45.1 percent. Many voters in the November election complained that the open-ended nature of the ballot question and vague language doomed the tax. The county tax election proposal would come two years after 60 percent of Montezuma County voters helped elect then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
The board plans a workshop on March 29 at 5:30 p.m. to present more information about a possible county sales tax, and what it would be spent on if approved by the voters.