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Publish Date: 3/6/2005

Boulder County to ask for tax refunds


LONGMONT — Boulder County leaders want residents to donate the spare change they are scheduled to receive from their county tax refund this summer to a selection of local charities.

The county collected $2.5 million more than it needed to operate in 2003, and under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, it is required to return that money by to taxpayers by June.

However, when the surplus is split among the 120,350 refunds that will go to taxpayers, the median amount of each refund check is about $11.

“Individually, (the refunds) are probably not going to make or break any of us, but collectively, we could use it,” county Commissioner Ben Pearlman told the Daily Times-Call last week.

Similar to the tax check-off on state and federal income tax forms that allow taxpayers to direct part of their refunds to nonprofit organizations or specific government programs such as endangered species protection, county leaders hope to give residents a choice of six or eight “regional” causes.

Although the county has yet to develop a final list, Pearlman said recipients could include food-drive programs, safe shelters, trails programs or library improvements.

However, allowing taxpayers to dictate exactly how the refunds are spent probably won’t be possible.

“It’s going to be hard, given the size of this county, for people to know this money was spent very close to them,” Pearlman said. “You’re not going to be able to say, ‘Fix the pothole in front of my house.’”

Refund checks have to be delivered this summer, so the county needs to decide on a final course of action fairly quickly, he said. One possible plan would have notices about the check-off delivered in the mail along with property tax valuations in May.

The notices would give taxpayers the option of forgoing their refunds by sending in a statement or perhaps registering online, Pearlman said.

Of course, taxpayers could also choose to keep their refund.

But with more than 92 percent of the refunds amounting to less than $30, according to county data, county officials hope residents will see the value in passing that along to worthy county endeavors.

In fact, more than 27,000 refunds total less than $5, and Pearlman said it could cost the county more to print, mail out and process such small checks than they are worth.

In the next month or so, county officials intend to decide which organizations could make the best use of funding and which would not see much of a difference with a few thousand dollars.

For instance, the donations could be ineffective if voters split their refunds among all the branch libraries in the county, he said.

“You start dividing things up, and everybody gets a book,” Pearlman said.

Foothills United Way director Barbara Pingrey said her organization has never accepted county funds, but she said the proposal is still a smart way to help many local causes.

“It would make it easy for people to provide some much-needed support,” she said.

The corporations that represent the county’s 100 largest taxpayers — which are scheduled to receive a total of $323,102 in refunds — could be especially helpful.

Scott McCarty, a spokesman for Ball Corp., which paid $5.7 million in property taxes and is set to receive a $3,083 refund, said his company is on board to send its refund to a local social services provider.

“It would go to those who could really use the help,” he said.

The county plans to decide which charities may receive refund money with the help of a poll sponsored by the Times-Call in the coming weeks. An Internet poll will be launched at www.LongmontFYI.com starting Friday.

Brad Turner can be reached at 720-494-5420, or by e-mail at bturner@times-call.com.

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