Aspen school tax rate to stay the same |

Aspen school tax rate to stay the same

ASPEN ” Aspen school officials agreed Monday to continue collecting property taxes at the same rate as last year, meaning tax payments will rise for property owners in the district.

The Aspen School District’s board of directors didn’t have much choice, even though new valuations by the Pitkin County Assessor’s Office have risen sharply enough that in any other year the school board would have trimmed the tax rate to avoid a politically unseemly “windfall profit” of vastly increased tax receipts.

But the school board was constrained by a law passed earlier this year that froze all mill levies, the rate at which property taxes are collected, for 175 of the 178 school districts around the state, according to Bill Anuszwski, the district’s chief financial officer.

The new law, Senate Bill 199, was adopted by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter as a way to get around the “ratcheting effect” of the 1994 Taxpayer Bill of Rights Act, known as TABOR or the Bruce Amendment.

TABOR limits the amount of property taxes governments can collect. Government officials at all levels have complained that TABOR, which has required governments to lower mill levies in response to rising property values, has been strangling local governments for more than a decade and has forced deep cuts in spending for everything from education to transportation.

In a memo to the school board, Anuszwski wrote that the freezing of mill levies affects all school districts in which voters have agreed to “de-Bruce” their local schools, or eliminate the limitations on taxing and spending. He said only three of the state’s districts have not done so.

Under the new equation mandated by SB 199, the Aspen School District will pull in roughly $2.7 million more in property taxes this year than last.

But the state, which actually collects the taxes and then funds public school using a complicated formula designed to equalize per-pupil spending throughout Colorado, will cut its payments to the Aspen district by the same amount, $2.7 million, while still paying the district slightly more to meet inflation and added operational costs.

Anuszwski told the school board that, in effect, the tax collection from property owners in the district will increase by about 20 percent, while the state will then cut its payments to the district by around 16 percent. The difference represents the amount the district’s budget is permitted to grow each year.

Anuszwski said property values have gone up by an average of 43 percent in Pitkin County, meaning property valued at $1 million last year is valued at $1.43 million now. So, Anuszwski said, next year’s tax bill to the owner of property valued last year at $1million will go up by slightly more than $162. For a property valued last year at $4 million, which is now valued at $5.2 million, the tax bill will rise by a bit less than $650, Anuszwski said.

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