About 2,500 tax refunds totaling $2.1 million delivered to Basalt property owners | AspenTimes.com

About 2,500 tax refunds totaling $2.1 million delivered to Basalt property owners

BASALT ELECTION

Basalt voters will decide in the Nov. 5 election whether the property tax mill levy should be set at 5.957 mills, which it was at last year, or revert to 2.562 mills, which is the lowest level it has been since the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights was approved in 1992.

The town received one comment in favor and one against ballot question 3A. Jennifer Riffle, a councilwoman acting as a private citizen, submitted the statement in favor while resident Pauline Bowles submitted the comment against, according to Town Clerk Pam Schilling.

The comment in support said approving the higher mill levy “will make certain that our Town continues to provide the services that we depend on, such as police, public safety, fire and flood prevention, street repairs, snow plowing and park maintenance.”

The statement stresses that property taxes wouldn’t be raised above the current level if the measure if approved, notwithstanding the confusing ballot language.

Bowles’ statement of opposition said the council didn’t get serious about controlling expenses after violations of the Colorado Taxpayers Bill of Rights were discovered (see related story). Taxes are hitting town property owners hard, the statement said.

“We have always provided low cost rent to employees in the valley, but had to ask for an additional $100 a month from our renters, and we ate the rest of the taxes.”

The statement concluded by saying, “Learn to live with what you have, council!”

Now that Basalt property owners are receiving their tax refunds for overcharges, a new group is stepping up a campaign to plow that money back into nonprofits serving the midvalley.

Basalt Gives is urging Basalt residents and business owners to consider giving some or all of their refunds to the cause. It has received about $77,000 in pledges so far.

“The goal is to get more money into the hands of the nonprofits that are having the most impact in the midvalley,” Jon Fox-Rubin, an organizer of the Basalt Gives effort, said Tuesday.

The goal is to raise $500,000 for Basalt-area nonprofits for immediate use. If donations exceed $500,000, organizers want to start an endowment for long-term giving.

Fox-Rubin said now that refunds are in hand, people will have a better idea of whether they can donate to Basalt Gives and at what amount.

There are ample, early signs of both support and opposition to the concept of donating refunds.

On the plus side, 22 individuals or families and 13 businesses have pledged to donate to the campaign.

Jim Light, another founder of the effort, said he sees big potential for contributions. He is personally approaching owners of the cabins at the Roaring Fork Club, a private golf and fishing club, to explain Basalt Gives and solicit contributions. An interested party, who wants to remain anonymous, told Light he would match the contributions collected from Roaring Fork Club homeowners.

There are 48 original cabins at the club that are roughly the same size, Light said. He estimated they will receive refunds of $2,700 to $2,800. There also are four larger cabins.

In theory, about $140,000 in contributions could be collected from cabin owners, Light said. The anonymous donor will provide another $140,000. The combined $280,000 would get Basalt Gives well on its way of raising $1 million.

Aspen Skiing Co. has pledged to give two-thirds of its refund to Basalt Gives while the remainder would be used for its in-house grant program for nonprofits, Light said. Skico estimates its refund will be between $20,000 and $30,000.

“We have some good business leadership and some good personal leadership,” Light said.

But some property owners are angry that they were overcharged property taxes over about a 10-year period and say they need the funds for their businesses, home repairs and the like.

Basalt town government blew the whistle on itself in December for violating the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR. The state constitutional amendment limits revenue and requires a vote whenever taxes are increased.

Basalt, like a lot of taxing entities, received voter permission in 1994 to loosen the restrictions on tax limits. But it ran afoul of the law when it raised the property tax mill levy 10 times since 2006 without a vote. Some former officials said they believed the 1994 vote allowed variation of the mill levy as long as it didn’t exceed the level set in 1994. That was an erroneous interpretation.

TABOR makes violators liable for the most recent four years of overcharges. Basalt mailed out refund checks Thursday and Friday to between 2,400 and 2,700 account holders, town officials said. The refunds amount to about $2.1 million.

It is clear from a Facebook forum on the Basalt Community Page that some property owners are confused about the Basalt Gives effort. Some commenters bristled at the thought of donating their tax refunds back to the town government.

Bennett Bramson, another organizer of Basalt Gives, tried to explain online that Basalt Gives was created to help midvalley nonprofit organizations and that the town government would never see the donated funds.

Fox-Rubin acknowledged it is not easy to convince some people that the donations are intended for the benefit of the town rather than the town government. Further muddying the waters is a Basalt ballot question in the Nov. 5 election seeking voter approval for establishing a property tax mill levy at last year’s rate (see factbox).

Light and Fox-Rubin stressed that Basalt Gives is intended as a community effort to benefit the nonprofits working to make the midvalley even better. Contributions are also being sought from midvalley residents outside of Basalt.

Contributors can donate directly to their favorite nonprofits with a note that it is through the Basalt Gives effort or contribute to the Aspen Community Foundation’s Community Grantmaking program with the Basalt Gives designation. The Aspen Community Foundation has helped local nonprofits with fundraising for about 40 years. The funds designated through Basalt Gives will go to nonprofits that serve the midvalley.

For everything from the list of founding donors to nonprofits and progress on fundraising, go to the Basalt Gives website at https://sites.google.com/foxrubin.com/basaltgives/home.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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