Basalt property tax overcharge complicates the ongoing Pan and Fork debate
Basalt’s new top political conundrum threatens to make the town’s old top political conundrum even more difficult to resolve.
The town is facing a very real prospect of having to refund $2.3 million to property taxpayers for overcharges for the past four years. An expenditure of that size will reduce the funds the town can apply to resolve the Pan and Fork park and development controversy that has engulfed the town since 2011.
“I would say it does complicate the issue a bit,” Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said. “We will be especially conservative about allocating general fund money” to the Pan and Fork site.
Development firm Basalt River Park LLC, headed by Tim Belinski, has an option to buy 2.3 acres of the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site west of downtown for $3.2 million. Belinski’s group has submitted a development proposal that depends on the town to be a partner and pony up funds for certain aspects — from buying some of the site for expansion of an existing park to taking responsibility for developing a community building.
Mahoney said some of the assumptions are off the table because of the tax refund issue.
“We already decided the community building will be a bit of a stretch,” Mahoney said.
That community building included bar-restaurant space.
In response to that direction from council at a recent meeting, Belinski is reworking his plan to include a food and beverage component, Mahoney said.
Refunding overcharged property taxes might not scuttle the town’s current plan to buy roughly an acre from Belinski’s crew for expansion of the adjacent Basalt River Park. The town intended to use a special fund restricted for open space, parks and trails to buy property from Belinski. The town has a 1% sales tax that’s dedicated to open space, parks and trails. That revenue cannot be mixed with the town’s general fund — which is where property tax revenue goes.
Belinski’s group wants the town to buy the acre earmarked for park expansion for $2.05 million. Town officials want more discussion on the purchase price.
A recent town survey indicated some town residents are frustrated with the way the council has handled the Pan and Fork issue. The town appears evenly divided over preference for a park-heavy alternative or a development-heavy alternative. Town leaders have struggled to find a compromise.
The town government recently conducted a survey on the property tax overcharge and how to resolve it. In open-ended questions included in the survey, some residents strayed from the tax overcharge and commented about the Pan and Fork.
“Many respondents do not separate mill-levy issue from Pan and Fork and utilized this survey to also register their concerns about the riverfront,” survey consultant Bill Ray told council at its April 23 meeting.
He cited a comment from a respondent who has lived in Basalt between 11 and 15 years.
“Between the fiasco of the (Pan and Fork) property and lack of financial oversight related to the property tax issue, I have no confidence in the town’s ability to effectively govern,” that resident said.
Mahoney said Thursday he doesn’t believe the council feels additional pressure to resolve the Pan and Fork issue because of such sentiments. Council members have insisted they want the best possible outcome on the Pan and Fork regardless of how long it takes.
“They’re not going to give away the farm because they want to see a resolution,” Mahoney said. “I’m still optimistic we’ll be able to (reach) a deal that makes sense for the town and for Tim.”
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