Pay attention to your money

Posted 3/31/10

When times are tough, the rules seem more strict, the tension is higher and everyone must be more aware. We've all experienced this at home or at …

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Pay attention to your money


When times are tough, the rules seem more strict, the tension is higher and everyone must be more aware.

We've all experienced this at home or at work, but now we're going through this in the public sector.

It’s no secret that local municipal budgets and the state budget are falling short on the revenue side.

Government’s equivalent of digging into the crannies of the sofa for forgotten change is re-examining its revenue streams hoping to find money that is due to them that isn’t being paid.

According to a Denver Post story earlier this week, more and more tax audits are being done and businesses are finding that they are being asked to pay taxes they never paid before. It wasn’t that a new tax regulation was implemented; it’s just that old regulations are being interpreted differently now.

One of the more striking examples was a case where Denver tried to force Sysco Denver Food Service to charge a separate tax on frying oil. The fight about this issue never materialized after the Denver City Council backed down in the face of organized opposition from restaurants saying the tax is paid by the tax charged for the meal.

In the state Legislature, we’re seeing a lot of discussion about late fees for license plates. But it’s not for cars, it’s for trailers.

The Denver Business Journal carried a story outlining the fight. Last year, the Legislature increased the cap of $10 for late registration of trailers to $100 ($25 for each month it’s late until you reach the limit).

People were mad.

Republicans tried to repeal the changes. Democrats, who eventually got their way on this, passed another law directing the Department of Revenue to come up with a list of exemptions for paying the late fees.

Now a bill is under consideration that says the $10 late-fee cap will still apply if your trailer weighs 2,000 pounds or less. So if you tow something much bigger than a tent trailer, you’re probably still on the hook for the $100 maximum fine.

This may seem like little more than small-potatoes nitpicking, but there is an overriding theme here: squeeze.

Just like most of us are going through our household budgets looking for fat, government agencies are doing the same as evidenced by the wave of cutbacks that we're hearing so much about. And just like we'd look for ways to gain a dollar here and there if we were coming up short, government is also going through its books looking for more meat.

It's an interesting time, one in which we're all feeling a bit of a squeeze.

Get used to it. Public sector revenues aren't going to turn around fast.

It's not a time of us vs. them: not by any means. But now, more than normal, is a time to be involved and aware of what's happening with your money in government. Know what your accountable for or what you may be accountable for in the future.

As local government begins to frame its budget for the coming year, pay attention. Learn about the budget cycle. Ask questions. Don't let the annual public hearings about budgets be the formality they usually are, whether it's at the state level or right here at home.

Jeremy Bangs is the managing editor of Colorado Community Newspapers.


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