Taxing reports reflect ups and downs in Grand Valey

Mike Moran
Business Times

Sales, use and lodging tax collections in Grand Junction all increased in August  for a second straight month of year-over-year gains.

The City of Fruita reported stronger increases, with a double-digit percentage increase in its July report. Mesa County reported another drop in year-to-year comparisons, although the percentage decline was the smallest of any monthly report for 2010.

The August reports reflect consumer spending in July. Fruita is the only local entity whose report is labeled the same as the month in which spending occurs.

The City of Grand Junction reported $3.6 million in sales and use tax collections in its August report, a 1.6 percent increase over August 2009. It was the third consecutive monthly increase over the same month the previous year.

Lodging taxes reported in August totaled $126,471, a 4 percent increase over August 2009. The increase was the second consecutive monthly gain after a series of declines that began in January 2009.

The City of Fruita reported the largest monthly proportional gain, a 17.63 percent increase that resulted in $106,381 in sales tax collections.

Mesa County reported $2.88 million in sales tax collections, a 3.64 percent decline from August 2009.

So far for 2010, the City of Grand Junction remains behind tax revenues collected last year. The city has collected $29.49 million in sales and use taxes. That’s 9.61 percent less than what was collected during the same period last year.

Lodging tax revenues also lag behind last year’s pace, with the $805,096 total representing a 9.57 percent decrease from the same period in 2009.

Mesa County tax collections total $21.68 million for reports filed through August, a 12.02 percent drop from the same period last year. Fruita collections for the year stand at $717,172, 2.38 percent ahead of last year’s pace.

Construction of a new community center in Fruita was delayed because of lower tax collections last year. The project is funded by a 1-cent sales tax increase. Work on the project is well under way now, however. Fruita City manager Clint Kinney said the timeline for paying for the center won’t change, even if Amendment 61 is approved by voters in the upcoming election.

The amendment would force governments to pay off debt within 10 years, and such debt could be incurred only after voter approval. If approved, Amendment 61 would not be retroactive. Consequently, a recent Grand Junction City Council decision to finance a new police station with certificates of participation is not subject to voter approval or a 10-year payment schedule.

Grand Junction and Mesa County governments have both reduced their budgets for the second year in a row, with the county proposing a third straight reduced budget for 2011. The proposed county budget stands at just under $127 million, a 10.5 percent reduction from the 2010 adopted budget of $141.95 million.

Potential changes for 2011 include elimination of 46 more county positions, reductions in employee benefits, reductions in service levels, collaboration across departments to find efficiencies and reduced funding for the Grand Junction Economic Partnership and Museum of the West. Looking ahead to 2012, the county anticipates a decline in property tax revenues due to falling home values.

“While falling revenues have made spending reductions necessary, we’ve worked hard to ensure that important services and projects will continue,” Acting Mesa County Administrator Stefani Conley stated in a news release.

Services the county plans to retain include safety improvements to roads and public facilities, completion of the 29 Road viaduct over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, extension of the Riverfront Trail toward Fruita and continued funding for Mesa State College expansion plans, workforce development and job training.

Grand Junction City Manager Laurie Kadrich has asked department heads to develop three budget options for 2011 One option would match a scenario in which revenues slightly decline next year, a second option would be used if revenue drops 5 percent and a third option would account for the effects of voter approval of Amendment 61 and two other controversial ballot measures — Amendment 61 and Proposition 101. Amendment 61 would prohibit governments from bonding or entering into lease-purchase agreements without voter approval. Amendment 60 would reduce school district mill levies and repeal local property tax “de-Brucing” measures. Proposition 101 would gradually reduce the state income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 3.5 percent and reduce vehicle registration fees. Kadrich estimates approval of the three measures would force the city to reduce spending by another $12 million to $20 million next year.

Grand Junction City Council recently approved resolutions that oppose the three measures. While government employees are barred from lobbying for or against ballot measures while on the job, council members face no such restriction. Still, council members said they deliberated before deciding to publicly oppose the measures.

“We discussed whether it’s important to weigh in or risk stirring up anger,” said Grand Junction Mayor Teresa Coons. “That’s why there was a lot of debate.” In the end, Coons said council members felt it was important for the public to know more than what they might hear in sound bites on political ads.

Councilwoman Bonnie Beckstein said the council vote was important because of the “horrific impact” the ballot measures could have.

Councilman Gregg Palmer said: “From a leadership standpoint, I want to take a stand. We had enough people who came to us and asked us to join the chorus of voices (against the measures).”

Booklets were mailed to homes and businesses in September outlining arguments for and against the ballot measures voters will see in the upcoming election.