Basalt council sets wording for election on property tax rate
Basalt voters will be asked in the Nov. 5 election to approve a property tax mill levy rate that will get the town government out of a self-made financial pickle.
The Town Council voted 7-0 Tuesday night to approve wording for a ballot question that will set the tax rate at 5.957 mills. That’s the same as this year’s rate.
The rate has to be established with voters because town staff discovered late last year that prior administrations had violated the Colorado Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights by increasing the mill levy without voter approval.
“We look forward to resolving this issue and continuing to ensure that our town’s budget and finances are accountable and transparent for all community members,” said a memo from Town Manager Ryan Mahoney to the council.
Colorado voters approved TABOR in 1992 as an amendment to the state Constitution. TABOR limits increases in year-to-year tax revenue and requires a vote for any tax rate increase.
Basalt voters approved a measure that eased some of the restrictions of TABOR in 1994, but officials erroneously thought it allowed them to adjust the mill levy. There have been 10 increases since 2006.
The council has decided to voluntarily refund overcharges. The town is only liable for the most recent four years of overcharges, according to TABOR. That will amount to $2.16 million in refunds and administrative costs by the town. The refund checks will be issued in October, conveniently before the November election.
Mahoney said Tuesday night the mill levy of 5.957 is needed for the town to maintain the services that residents expect — everything from road maintenance and police services to parks and recreation.
If voters reject the ballot question, the mill levy automatically will go to the lowest level it has been since 1992. It bottomed out at 2.562 in 2009.
Voters also will be asked to give the town government the flexibility to raise and lower the property tax mill levy in any given year, as long as it doesn’t exceed 5.957 without a vote of the electorate.
The council passed the ballot question 7-0 despite concerns that the language is phrased in a way that makes it sound like the town is seeking a property tax increase.
“This is a requirement under TABOR,” Town Attorney Jeff Conklin explained. “We tried with the language to make it as clear as we could.”
Councilman Auden Schendler said it will be “contingent” upon council members working on their own time and without public funds to lobby for approval of the ballot question, as well as for interested citizens.
The council members’ spirits appeared lifted by comments by Basalt resident Glen Drummond. He told the board he appreciated the way they have handled a tough situation. He and his wife have discussed the issue and decided they will return their property tax refund to the town this fall. Property owners will be given the option to forgo the refund.
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