LETTER TO THE EDITOR 12-29-19

Editor:
Historic 18% local tax increase kicks in Wednesday, what it means to this community
As your Christmas spending bills start to arrive, be ready to start paying more on everything you buy. On January 1st history will be made in the Montrose community. The City’s cash register will be humming as the local sales tax rate jumps 18% (from 3.3% to 3.88%). Please keep in mind, this new cash influx comes at a time when the City of Montrose keeps breaking its all-time tax revenue collect records every year.
Apparently, year-after-year record breaking tax revenues are not enough. Fast forward to Wednesday. You get to pay more. You get to pay more on the cost of your living essentials and necessities. Your grocery bill increases. Your utility bill increases. Just about all of your bills and purchases increase. The result? The City gets a fresh pile of dough estimated to be worth $3.4 million each year. (Side note: I welcome the discussion to explain my opinion to the disingenuous nature as to how this $3.4M was “sold” to the voter vs what it really means to the voter.)

On the backs of the taxpayer
At a time when the typical citizen (median income est. $22,000) in Montrose has survived Christmas, boom, they are welcomed into 2020 with an 18% local tax increase. At a time when the lower income Montrose community family is facing big winter heating bills, boom, they now get an 18% local tax increase on everything they buy.
There is no doubt that a lot of tax revenue comes from the tourist industry. During the 2A campaign the City stated the figure to be 1/3 of the total. But, I must say, I am really tired of the “other people are paying” argument, forgetting about the hard working middle class families in the Montrose community who are affected much more by tax increases than a tourist.
The January 1, 2020, 18% increase will be felt by a lot of families. Let me offer one example, family groceries. The USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) estimates a family of four, middle class America, spends about $750 on groceries each month ($6.25 per family member per day – sounds about right). In Montrose, that family in 2019 paid $297 in sales tax to the City of Montrose for groceries. In 2020, that same family (assuming the same expenditure) will now pay $350 in sales tax (representing the 18% increase). Please keep in mind, the sales tax on these groceries is after you have already paid your income taxes, so your net pay gets taxed again.
Do you think an extra $297 could have gone a long way for the family of four (five or six) in 2019? I sure do. Instead, the City of Montrose is one of the rare tax collectors in the entire U.S.A. that fully taxes groceries. In 2020, that family gets to contribute another $53 to Montrose in the name of tax-and-spend. This example is isolated to just one category, groceries.
When you take a few minutes to understand the numbers and the impact, the 18% historic tax increase kicking in on January 1st is disconcerting. In just over five years, the City local sales tax rate will have increased by 30%. It was early 2014 when the total City sales tax was 3%. In just over five years a 30% increase has taken it up to 3.88%. Thirty percent in five years! What about the next five years? When does it stop?
Folks, while all Montrose community members are carrying the tax burden on family essentials like groceries and utilities, the City of Montrose is blowing money on luxury amenities, bad ideas, failed ideas, gifted monies to private business, speculative real estate deals, a growing bureaucracy, and a lot of fat perks. Everything I just listed is its own news items and discussion point. The City Manager and City Council are playing with your money.

The most alarming piece of the puzzle?
While we should be having fair discussions and expressing differences of opinion (important parts of the local political process), there appears to be an impressive lack of accountability and transparency within the City of Montrose governance. Currently, a community member must dig like Woodward and Bernstein to get a decent sense of where the money is and how it was spent. Council needs to make full transparency and accountability a priority item. Urgently.
Today, the burden to get at the facts is put upon the community members to research answers (called a CORA request). The complex and meaningful questions often are not answered. When the City is questioned, the “answer” is often finessed with the art of deflection. Does the City serve the people, or do the people serve the City?
I am concerned by the efforts and expense put in by community members to hunt down information, or ask questions, which should be 100% part of the public domain. And, I have personally witnessed, and been a part of, the deflection process. Why does the City not meet the same level of transparency as the County? City Council needs to answer.

City Council to act?
I have sat in on City Council meetings and work sessions, and I follow the local developments. I have heard the $125,000 Tesla charging station proposal. I have heard about the beautiful parks and connecting sidewalks. I have watched the amphitheater budget swell into the $3+ million range. I have observed a lot of topics involving spending money.
What I have not heard are the discussions to cut back, a break for the people who have contributed to the pile of cash. I started a (one-way) discussion at the December 17th City Council meeting, proposing for Council to relieve part of the local tax burden by exempting groceries from city sales tax. The State of Colorado exempts groceries from state sales tax, as is the case with 35 others states and many of our western slope neighbors. Montrose is one of the rare examples in the United States where a full sales tax is charged on groceries.
Groceries need to be exempt from the City of Montrose sales tax, pursuant to the standard set by the State of Colorado. In very short history the Montrose citizen has faced a 30% local sales tax increase, including the fresh 18% increase that hits Wednesday. The increased tax burden negatively impacts most of the area citizens. They feel the impact every day. While tax supported amenities are good for some, a tax break is good for everyone. Further, this tax break request is about the necessities. City Council has the authority to be proactive, represent its core citizen, and act now by introducing and voting YES on an ordinance to exempt groceries from local sales tax. Granted is the authority, does Council have the will?

Scott Damman, Montrose, CO