In November, the Town of Castle Rock will ask taxpayers to pause TABOR for 10 years.
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In November, the Town of Castle Rock will ask taxpayers to pause TABOR for 10 years. TABOR, known as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, was approved in the 1990s, changing the state’s constitution to require all tax increases be approved by voters, limiting how much local and state government can spend.
Castle Rock Town Manager David Corliss said he has no problem with the part of TABOR that requires residents to approve tax increases. However, the restrictions and limits TABOR can put on a municipality to keep up with the cost of growth is a problem, he said.
TABOR is a state tax and expenditure limit that includes the following elements: It is a Colorado constitutional amendment; it restricts revenue or expenditure growth to the sum of inflation plus population change; and it requires voter approval to override the revenue or spending limits.
Colorado is the only state in the nation with TABOR.
Castle Rock Town Attorney Michael Hyman is no stranger to how TABOR has created controversy and issues for state and local municipalities trying to balance a budget. In the 1990s when TABOR was passed by voters, Hyman worked for the City of Aurora.
Hyman said that TABOR, on its face, seems like the dream scenario for voters. They get to decide their own tax increases and they get refunds when tax revenues exceed cap limits. However, Hyman said, the amendment had a lot of other language that did not get a lot of attention before being approved by voters in the 1992 election.
One of those issues is how the revenue limits on municipalities work and how added revenues can count against a town. For instance, if Castle Rock gets a state grant for roads, schools or other projects, that counts as added revenue and goes against the TABOR revenue limits.
If the town gets a federal grant, it does what it is supposed to do, serving as free money the town gets for improvements but does not count against the TABOR cap.
In Castle Rock specifically, Corliss used the Crystal Valley Parkway interchange as an example. As the population continues to increase, the interchange is past due for revamping. The project is estimated to cost more than $75 million. Currently, the town has $25 million for the project. If Douglas County contributes funding, if grant funding is secured, if the Colorado Department of Transportation pitches in — the added revenue will count against Castle Rock at the end of the year when TABOR rules are applied.
Corliss said TABOR rules have created a situation in which county and state governments working with local municipalities to make needed improvements is almost like a punishment because of how TABOR restrictions are applied.
Corliss explained that the town is asking voters to approve a 10-year pause on TABOR that would not last forever. The funding would then go toward paying for police and fire personnel and funding the reconstruction of the Crystal Valley Parkway interchange at Interstate 25. It would also mean that state grants would not count toward end-of-year revenue totals.
Besides the interchange, both the police and fire departments have publicly expressed concerns to the town council that with the town continuing to grow, they cannot afford to hire enough personnel to keep up.
Corliss said in a town where public safety is listed as a top priority year after year by residents, a new revenue stream is needed to bring up staffing levels for both police and fire.
“Like the fire and police departments have said, if we do not grow anymore, they do not need extra staff,” Corliss said. “But that is not the case. We are going to keep growing.”
According to the U.S. Census data released last week, Castle Rock continues to be one of the fastest-growing municipalities in the state, with a 51.6% population increase from 2010. According to the data, Castle Rock’s 2020 population was 73,158. In 2010, the population was 48,251.
Corliss said growth is not going to stop, noting that the town is approving about 100 new-build permits per month. While growth will eventually slow, Corliss said reaching a population of more than 100,000 is not unrealistic.
Corliss said pausing TABOR would provide the town a revenue stream that would help the police and fire departments keep up with the rate of growth and help fund road projects that are needed as more people move in.
Pausing or eliminating TABOR is not new to the state. Removing TABOR limitations has come to be known as “de-Brucing,” a termed named after the TABOR author, Douglas Bruce. Over the last three decades, local jurisdictions across the state have asked voters to either pause or eliminate TABOR altogether. Aurora is one of those that received voter approval to eliminate TABOR altogether.
Corliss said he does not want to eliminate TABOR. He just wants voters’ approval to take a pause and allow the town to do what is needed. In 10 years, a future council could take up the issue again, Corliss said.
Even today as municipalities cite what they see as flaws in TABOR, Bruce defends it, saying he regrets none of it and is angry at municipalities like Castle Rock for trying to cancel it. On Aug. 13, Bruce adamantly pointed out that it is part of the state constitution, saying it should not be changed and it does not matter why.
Besides roads and other projects, the controversy around TABOR also focuses on state salaries and programs that have been limited due to the constitutional restrictions of TABOR.
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