Special Report: TABOR Controversy
MESA COUNTY- Over the past several weeks, NewsChannel 5 has been bringing you the details of a potentially illegal practice of the county taking money from citizens. The Old County Courthouse is a place where local rules are administered and county spending is regulated, but this could be home to something new: tax payer fraud. It has to do with TABOR or the Tax Payer's Bill of Rights, which means any extra money being collected from the county should be going back to the tax payers, but it hasn't been. “This isn't a decades old tiff,” said Bill Voss, former Mesa County finance director. “This change was made recently.” Voss is referring to the county's decision to exclude sales tax revenue in TABOR, during record years of revenue collections in 2007. On Monday however, current Mesa County commissioners passed a new provision including sales tax revenue in the TABOR calculations for 2012 and future years. “Really our decision made today was what are we going to do with today moving forward” said Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese, “It’s such a hard place to be in when you have to question, or undo decisions that a previous boards made.” “I would certainly classify it as a win for the tax payers of Mesa County,” said Ron Gibbs, attorney. “At least from this point going forward everyone knows what it is to be expected.” Officials say Mesa County is the only county in Colorado that didn't include this kind of tax. Even though this may help residents in the future by giving them more money in tax returns, there could still be money missing from your wallet. “Its purpose is to most reasonably restrain the growth of government,” said Voss. “TABOR isn't out to gut government or to destroy government. Its purpose is to restrain government growth.” Although these controls seemed to have been manipulated, leaving local citizens with lighter wallets, and the county accused of scamming them out of a millions. “It’s a lot of money,” said Voss. “Especially when it was done without a vote.” “I have come to discover that this is a clear violation of the Colorado constitution,” said Gibbs. TABOR laws say state and local governments cannot raise tax rates without voter approval, or modify any tax guidelines. However, one indisputable factor remains, there was never an official position taken by Mesa County Commissioners in 2007, or anytime Janet Rowland sat on the board. “Most interesting is, the comprehensive financial report,” said Rowland, former Mesa County commissioner. “Our finance department has won national awards for this report for the last 17 to 18 years because of its transparency. There is no mention at all in this report that this change has been made.” Missing minutes, means missing evidence to how, when or why this policy was changed. “If we are learning now that it is not being done accurately even outside this TABOR change, there are other problems perhaps with how it has been handled and that’s a significant concern,” said Rowland. “It makes you question, is the county being honest with us,” said Hal Mason, previous Mesa County budget director. For Mason, this is alarming since they used to always return every penny under TABOR when he worked for the county. “If they haven't spent it, it sat there,” said Mason. “The issue right now is that they retained the money, they didn’t refund it and TABOR requires it. They either excluded TABOR or you have to me, fraud within the county.” Six years later, this money may still be sitting in the county locked away from tax payers with no legal rights of getting it back. “You have four fiscal years before a suit is filed,” said Voss. “If it’s passed four years, which now is long gone, citizens can’t file suit to recover it.” All that’s left to do is play the waiting game and see what this new board will do with these refunds.