Basalt council takes final step to issue refunds for property tax overcharges

The Basalt Town Council took the final step Tuesday night to authorize voluntary refunds for property tax overcharges over the prior four years.

The council voted 5-0 to authorize issuance of certificates of participation to raise nearly $2 million in refunds.

The check will be in the mail this fall for current property owners.

“What we’re looking for is October for issuing those checks,” Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said.

The town will hire a consultant to identify the property owners and determine how much they are owed, using records from Pitkin and Eagle counties. The refund will be an estimated $990 for a house with an actual value of $1 million and $3,990 for commercial property valued at $1 million.

It would be too costly to try to identify former property owners, so only current owners will get the checks, according to Town Attorney Jeff Conklin. He said case law is on Basalt’s side on the issue.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and council members Katie Schwoerer, Ryan Slack, Gary Tennenbaum and Jennifer Riffle approved the refunds with little discussion. Councilmen Auden Schendler and Bill Infante were not at the meeting. The council had hashed out the issue in previous meetings.

The refunds are due because the town increased the mill levy rate 10 times since 2006 in violation of the Colorado Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights. Current staff members discovered the violation while working on the 2019 budget.

TABOR was voted into law by Colorado residents in 1992. In 1994, Basalt voters approved easing restrictions on revenue collected by the town government, but it wasn’t authorized to raise the property tax mill levy.

TABOR limits liability in such cases to four years.

Basalt doesn’t need voter approval to issue certificates of participation to pay off the refunds. Conklin said Basalt provides property that will be held by a trustee, then leases that property back from investors. In this case, the property used will be the public works facility. The town contemplated using Town Hall as the collateral, but it has a restriction for public uses and therefore wouldn’t be as attractive to investors, Conklin said.

Basalt will pay about $250,000 annually for 10 years to pay off the debt.