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“Community Reinvestment” tax or bait and switch? Estes Park to vote: part 1 of 2

Estes Park, asking for more money
Estes Park, asking for more money
Michelle Hurni

On April 1, 2014, voters will decide whether to increase the sales tax in Estes Park by 1%. In the Estes Park News (Jan. 31), Town Administrator Frank Lancaster calls the tax a “community reinvestment sales tax.” Is it really a reinvestment and is it necessary?

Two articles about this issue are being published on this site, part 1 deals with local implications, part 2 asks questions about how the 1% tax affects the main tax base of Estes Park, the tourists and local workers.

A glossy brochure went out to residents, and is available around town. It was published by the benefactor of the tax, the Town of Estes Park. It is filled “facts” that are meant to mislead the voters and conveniently left out truths about the tax.

A few inconvenient items in the town brochure promoting the new tax:

  1. Statement: The town is operating with minimum staffing. Not true if you look at other similar mountain towns. In Estes, there is 1 government/town job per 48.8 residents. Steamboat Springs has 1 employee for every 57.5 residents. Glenwood: 1 employee per 64.1 residents. Based on a state average, we should have 97 employees, which means Estes Park has 23 too many and may be spending as much as $920,000 extra on salaries and benefits.
  2. Statement: Estes Park is at the low end of high taxed mountain communities (website: tax-rates.org). Adding this increase would give Estes an 8.5% tax and put the town at about #8 for whole state. That would puts the town into the top tax rate in Colorado. (And doesn’t include the 2% pillow tax, paid by every tourist who stays the night in Estes Park.)
  3. Statement: The increased 1% sales tax is small. But not if you look at the real amount it is going up: 25%. Does our town government deserve a 25% raise in their budget?

If you look at the information put out by the Town of Estes Park, you are only getting one side of the information. A political action committee has been started to put out information not available from the town (Free Estes on Facebook). Consider who will benefit from the 1% tax, and which ones are writing letters to the editor supporting it. Associations who benefit from it include: the fire district, senior center, museum. What about hotels and restaurants, ask them if they are supporting this? They have the most to lose with an increase in tax.

The town performed a survey and determined what Estes Park residents wanted. Now the town is using that survey as an end all, and asking for a 1% tax to pay for those items. The survey lacked the questions of:

  1. How to pay for those things
  2. Are residents willing to have a tax increase to pay for those things

Another question to ask: is the town being responsible with the tax dollars they are already spending? They spent $250,000 on a parking lot and bus stop at the fairgrounds. Drive by. See how many cars are actually using it. It was presented as a way to help the environment, and yet, there are no air control monitors. Where did that money come from? The roads fund. The same fund residents are asking to replenish with a new tax.

Was that parking lot built so the next phase could go on? Convenient that the parking lot will also service a multipurpose center at the fairgrounds to the tune of $7.5 million. That is $1.5 million out of the “community reinvestment fund” and another borrowed $6 million. That $6 million is being borrowed against town hall.

When the flood devastated the town in September 2013, residents were asked to shop locally. A great boon for the town, as residents realized they could get nearly everything necessary in Estes Park, without a trip to the valley. If the tax is passed, will locals continue to shop locally and pay an additional 1% tax, or will they take their business elsewhere? To the valley, where the tax rate (and sometimes prices) are lower? Or perhaps to the internet, where there is no sales tax, and usually free shipping.

In 2012, the Town of Estes Park received a budget audit. They receive the dreaded “letter to management” which outlines material weakness and significant deficiency (problem items). If Estes Park is having problems with their budget management, is it fair to give them more tax dollars when they don’t even know where the money is currently being spent? The report outlines the town lumping money together which should have been kept separate. The town also has not reviewed their capital assets, so they don’t even know what assets they have.

If you think the town is not making good decisions, send a message to the town and let them know you want accountability and common sense before you give them more of your money.

Part 2 of 2 on tourism and local jobs available here. Please subscribe to this page if you would like continued updates on local issues.