City wants excess revenue, but voters have last say | AspenTimes.com

City wants excess revenue, but voters have last say

Janet Urquhart

Aspen appears poised to join a list of taxing districts that will be asking voters for money in November.City Council members have informally agreed that Aspen should seek voter approval to keep excess property tax revenues for another five years or so.In 2000, voters OK’d a ballot measure that allowed the city to keep surplus property taxes – money the city collected above what is permitted under the limits set by the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR – for five years. The additional dollars were specifically earmarked to support capital and operating expenses for the planned Aspen Recreation Center.Construction of the ARC began in 2001 and the facility opened in the spring of 2003.Continued funding for the ARC remains on a list of potential projects the excess taxes could go toward if voters authorize another “deBrucing” measure this November.Without voter approval to keep and spend the money, the city would have to rebate it to taxpayers under the requirements of TABOR, approved by Colorado voters in 1992 and authored by anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce. Asking voters for permission to keep revenues in excess of TABOR limits has been dubbed “deBrucing.”In recent years, rising local property values have produced roughly $600,000 to $730,000 annually that has gone toward the ARC, according to Paul Menter, city finance director.If voters approve a deBrucing measure this fall, the city could use the funds for the ARC (which operates in the red), to purchase environmentally friendly hybrid buses and to further its efforts to create handicap-accessible sidewalks/street curbs at intersections, among other potential uses that council members have suggested.If the city doesn’t ask to extend the deBrucing, or if voters reject it, the excess revenues will go away at the end of the year.”Anytime we go back and ask in the future, it will appear as a tax increase instead of maintaining the status quo,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards, advocating the ballot question in November.”I agree with you. I think we can’t pass up the opportunity to ask the question,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud.Nonetheless, Klanderud pondered the reaction voters may have to several potential tax questions on the ballot this fall. The Aspen Historical Society plans to seek approval of a taxing district and mill levy, and both the Aspen School District and Aspen Valley Hospital District are eyeing tax questions, as well.In addition, voters statewide will find Referendum C on the November ballot, asking them to lift spending limits for five years to help state government recover from the recession. Lawmakers would be allowed to spend an estimated $3.1 billion on health care, education and transportation that otherwise would be refunded to taxpayers under TABOR.”The fallout from that question could affect anything that has to do with relief from TABOR,” Klanderud said.The city’s property tax rate is currently $5.41 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. If the city’s exemption from TABOR disappears next year, the owner of a property with a market value of $2 million could expect to see about $80 of tax relief, according to Menter.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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