Animal shelter, open space, jail proposals go before voters

In addition to the races for public office, Larimer County voters will decide three ballot issues.

One was placed on the ballot by petition seeks a temporary 0.1 sales and use tax to finance construction of a new animal shelter.

The Larimer County Humane Society proposes to use revenues to build the new shelter on land it already owns near the Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport.

Collection of the tax would begin in 2015 and continue until 2020.

Another issue placed on the ballot by the county commissioners would extend the Help Preserve Open Spaces sales tax.

Originally approved in 1995, the open space sales and use tax was extended in 1999 to expire in 2018. If adopted, the current proposal would extend the taxes yet again for 25 years to lapse in 2043.

The commissioners also are asking voters to approve an extension of the current jail tax that lapses in December.

The operations portion of the current 0.20 percent tax is 0.15 percent or 1.5 cents on a $10 purchase. Groceries and prescriptions would be exempt.

The commissioners are asking that amount to be extended for 25 years.

The commissioners maintain that criminal justice programs more effective and economical than jail might be jeopardized without extension of the operations tax.

When the current tax “sunsets,” the county estimates it would have to tap $5 million from reserve funds to support the jail—diminishing its ability to respond to emergencies such as last year’s flooding or future disasters.

If the tax is not extended, according to the commissioners, some existing programs would be cut and funding for new programs such as mental health services and the wellness court would be limited. Offenders might also be released from jail early.

The current jail tax revenues, $7.5 million a year, represents a little under a third of the total cost of operation of the jail, which is approximately $24 million a year.

If approved by voters, projections show that the tax could generate enough revenue to prevent the county from using reserves to balance the 2015 budget. In future years, the dedicated funding for the jail would free up general fund revenue for other needs in identified in the county’s five-year strategic plan.

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