Basalt seeks extension of property tax in upcoming election
Campaign, ballot question language stress no new tax
Basalt government officials hope to convince voters to approve a property tax extension in the Nov. 2 election that would raise funds for some major issues facing the town.
The fate of ballot question 3A could depend on proponents’ ability to educate voters on a major nuance. The town government is not proposing a new property tax. Instead, it is asking voters to extend a portion of existing property taxes that are paying off general obligation bonds issued in 2001 and 2013. Those bonds will be paid off in 2023.
If the bonds were paid off and no extension was approved, overall property tax collections would decrease by about $950,000 annually. The town is seeking permission to issue about $18 million in new bonds and extend the existing property tax to pay them off at a maximum amount of $23 million, including interest.
The ballot question begins with the phrase “Without imposing any new tax.” Town officials are emphasizing the point.
“I think that is going to be critical,” Mayor Bill Kane said.
The other big selling point is the proposed uses of the funds. They would pay for improvements to the streetscape, sidewalks and related infrastructure on Midland Avenue, the town’s main street; fund affordable housing projects; and fund “green” projects.
“Using bonds is the most fiscally responsible way for the Town to finance these Master Plan projects,” said written comments submitted in support of the ballot question. “With inflation and rising construction costs, coupled with historically low bond interest rates, now is the time for Basalt to begin these projects before the price tag is out of reach.”
No written comments against the ballot question were submitted and no organized opposition has emerged thus far.
Ballots were mailed Oct. 8 and are in the hands of Basalt residents. Ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day, which is Nov. 2.
The ballot question does not identify how the $18 million would be divided among the affordable housing, green projects and Midland Avenue so that the town would have flexibility, said town finance director Christy Chicoine. However, town staff worked with consultants to provide the Town Council with cost projections. The Midland Avenue work is the high cost item, estimated at $11.5 million.
“There are some grant possibilities that are available for that project,” Chicoine said.
About $6 million in town financing is being targeted for affordable housing projects. The ballot question says the funds would be used to provide affordable housing within the town’s urban growth boundary. The funds could be used to buy property or participate in a partnership with other entities to build housing. Another option would be acquiring deed restrictions that would keep housing in the affordable stock.
“(The council) wanted to make sure they make a big impact with affordable housing,” Chicoine said.
While $6 million would not build much affordable housing given the land and construction costs in the Roaring Fork Valley, Basalt will look to leverage the funds by teaming with partners such as Eagle County, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority and nonprofits such as Habitat For Humanity, Kane said. By pooling funds, they can accomplish more, as exemplified by the Basalt Vista Project on land provided by Roaring Fork School District.
Another $2 million in town financing would be earmarked for “green” projects such as solar development and electric vehicle charging stations, according to the ballot language.
The projects were selected after an extensive process that included public input and recommendations from an appointed committee.
“These ideas did not come out of thin air,” Kane said.
The process started with an update to the town’s master plan in 2020. The plan identified numerous projects that should be pursued. The wish list was narrowed down with additional input from the public and a Capital Needs Committee.
The council made a critical decision in August when it decided to pursue the improvements to the Midland Avenue streetscape rather than a new town hall. While the Capital Needs Committee recommended pursuing the town hall, citizens favored the Midland Avenue improvements at a meeting where they were able to informally vote for their priorities. The council first decided to go with the town hall proposal but changed direction after further review.
If the ballot question passes, Basalt would issue the bonds, get a lump sum of funds and pursue the projects as quickly as possible, Kane said.
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