The towns of Etna and Belgrade have something in common. The boards of selectpersons have adopted a resolution to oppose Question 2, which would reduce the municipal excise tax paid on motor vehicles by approximately 40 percent. We also voted to pass a resolution opposing TABOR II that is Question 4 on the Nov. 3 ballot. In both towns, the reasons were the same.
TABOR II affects local government and local control. Now, we vote at our town meeting on our budget but if TABOR II passes that vote means little and instead the town meeting vote would have to go out to referendum and that’s costly. If the referendum vote fails to approve the budget approved at town meeting then the process starts over. Additional expenses will accrue for holding any additional town meetings and the subsequent referendums required.
TABOR II is essentially an assault on our town meeting form of government (and the democratic principles that formed it) replacing it with government by referendum. In our traditional town meeting form of government, all Etna and Belgrade residents have the opportunity to debate those issues that affect our municipal taxes and then to vote to approve or reject them.
State law gives towns the ability to vote their budget and other business items by referendum voting instead of town meeting. This initiative takes away voters’ rights to make that choice about their own form of government and forces all towns into this model.
Supporters of TABOR II argue that those who attend town meeting rarely vote to reduce the municipal budget. That is not true. In March, voters reduced general government expenses and town property expenses in Etna by holding those expenses level to last year. If you want to effect a change in your community, take the time to attend the town meetings and learn about the issues to cast an informed vote.
The excise tax referendum, being sold in part as an environmental initiative, in reality will reduce Etna’s municipal revenues by approximately $64,000. In Belgrade that figure is approximately $260,000. It will not provide any excise tax saving for vehicles that most of us now drive — those that are 5 years old and older.
To understand the problem that this initiative creates you must recognize that the money necessary to operate local government primarily comes from three sources: property taxes; municipal excise taxes; and state revenue sharing. Property taxes provide the most revenue. In 2009, Etna raised $160,500 from excise taxes and appropriated nearly $223,600 for road maintenance and improvement activities. The extra money for our road system came in part from increased property taxes.
Roads are a major portion of our local municipal budget, and failure to replace the funds will lead to a deterioration of our road system; if we replace the funds, then it will result in a significant property tax increase, even if we reduce other areas of our local municipal budget.
The environmental initiative to promote “greener” vehicles provides a free ride for sales tax and three years of excise tax. The problem with this scenario is if one were to buy Cadillac’s Hybrid Escalade (which costs about $80,000) the state is losing $4,000 in sales tax and the town is losing $1,920 in motor vehicle excise tax over three years, because it’s a hybrid that only gets 20 miles per gallon. If one were to buy a Ford Focus, they would pay $850 to the state for sales tax and $408 in excise tax to the town over three years, and it gets 27 miles per gallon. So which vehicle is “greener”? Both use the same roads and cause wear and tear.
After a serious deliberation the selectpersons of Etna and Belgrade urge all the state’s residents to become educated on the issue and to cast an informed vote when they go to the polls on Nov. 3.
Evelyn A. Serval is the town manager of Etna. Dennis L. Keschl is the town manager of Belgrade.