Small business owners sound off on concerns

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Tony Gagliardi
Tony Gagliardi

Tony Gagliardi enjoys nothing more than talking to small business owners, even when he’s mostly listening to complaints.

Gagliardi, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), recently met with members of the business advocacy group in Grand Junction. He said he received an earful on such topics as health care reform, government regulations and the uncertainty that’s hindering hiring and expansion.

“It was one of the best, open and honest discussions I’ve had in a long time. I relish that,” he said.

Gagliardi travels around Colorado during the summer to meet with members and discuss the issues for which the NFIB lobbies at the state and national levels. The group’s positions are based entirely on the wishes of its membership.

Gagliardi said he especially enjoys coming to the Western Slope and Grand Junction because the business climate and perspectives of business owners are usually different from those in Denver.

Given the Supreme Court ruling upholding most provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the effects of the federal health care legislation on business was a heated topic of discussion, Gagliardi said.

The NFIB was the lead plaintiff in the case before the Supreme Court, joining 26 states in arguing against the constitutionality of a provision of the law requiring the purchase of health insurance or the payment of a penalty.

Under provisions scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2014, businesses with 50 or more full-time employees must provide health insurance to their employees or pay a fine. Gagliardi said many business owners already have done the math and determined it will be less expensive to pay the penalty than provide coverage.

In Colorado, state legislation enacted last year established a health benefits exchange that will create a marketplace for insurance.

The NFIB supported that legislation, but is closely monitoring the process that ultimately will determine what’s offered, Gagliardi said. Employers want as many choices as possible. And if those options aren’t attractive, they’re not likely to use the exchange, he added.

On a national level, the NFIB will work to repeal the health care law legislatively or, barring that, influence regulations as they’re drafted, Gagliardi said.

The NFIB long has lobbied for the capability for businesses to band together to leverage purchasing power in buying insurance as well as purchase insurance across state lines. The group also believes individuals should receive the same tax benefits as employers in purchasing insurance, he said.

 Additional changes are needed, Gagliardi said, because the health care law doesn’t address the biggest business concern of all: the rising cost of health care and health insurance.

Gagliardi said small business owners also lamented the costs associated with regulations as well as the regulatory, taxation and economic uncertainty that’s left them reluctant to expand operations or staffing.

Rather than deal with additional regulations, most small business owners prefer just the opposite, he said: “Small business is just leave us alone.”

The potential that small business concerns will be addressed will depend on the outcome of the elections in November, Gagliardi said. “If things don’t change abruptly, we’re in trouble.”

To that end, the NFIB has sent questionnaires to candidates running for seats in the State Legislature and will review their responses in making endorsements, he said.

Decline in deed releases reflects slowing in refinancing, home sales 

A measure of refinancing activity and home sales continues to decline in Mesa County.

According to the latest information compiled by the Colorado Division of Housing, the Mesa County public trustee released 1,502 deeds of trusts during the second quarter of this year. That number constitutes a drop of more than 5 percent from the second quarter of 2011 and more than 62 percent from the second quarter of 2008.

A deed of trust is released when a real estate loan is paid off, whether through refinancing, sale of the property or the final payment on a mortgage.

Through the first half of 2012, 3,345 deeds of trust were released in Mesa County. That’s a 6 percent drop from the first half of 2012 and a 57 percent drop from the first half of 2008.

Mesa County was among four out of 21 Colorado counties surveyed that reported year-over-year declines in deed releases for the second quarter and six counties that reported declines for the first half.

Expressed as a ratio of the number of deed releases during the second quarter divided by the number of occupied households, Mesa County ranked near the bottom of the 21 counties with 2.6 releases per 100 households. Delta and Pueblo counties came in last with 2.4 releases per 100 households. Summit County ranked first with 11.5 releases per 100 households.

On an annual basis, deed activity in Mesa County has trended downward from a peak of 19,134 releases in 2003, even though 2006 and 2007 were peak years in terms of the number and dollar volume of real estate sales.

The total number of public deed releases in the 21 counties, which account for about 90 percent of occupied households in Colorado, increased nearly 21 percent to 65,051. That’s the highest level for the second quarter since 2009.

For the first half of 2012, a total of 139,859 deeds were released, a more than 10 percent increase over the first half of 2011.