Basalt civic leaders have proposal to make best of town’s property tax snafu | AspenTimes.com

Basalt civic leaders have proposal to make best of town’s property tax snafu

The Basalt town government will cut checks totaling almost $2 million in property tax refunds next month for over-collections during the last four years. A new citizens' group hopes at least $1 million of the refunds will be donated by property owners to nonprofits.
Aspen Times file

A group of Basalt civic leaders wants to transform the town government’s property tax snafu into a long-term benefit for the community.

The founders of the new group Basalt Area Gives are urging taxpayers to donate all or some part of their pending tax refund from the town government to Basalt-focused nonprofits.

The town will issue about $2 million in refunds this fall for “over-collected revenues” in 2016 to 2019. Basalt Area Gives hopes that at least $1 million is donated to nonprofits serving the midvalley.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Basalt,” said Rick Stevens, one of the founders of Basalt Area Gives and a former mayor of the town.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Basalt.” — former mayor Rick Stevens

He said he views the opportunity as a way to transcend the political fighting that has dominated Basalt in the past decade or so.

“It goes a long way to bringing the community together,” Stevens said.

Jim Light, another one of the Basalt Area Gives founders, said the core concept is to strengthen the midvalley by boosting nonprofits. It is an idea that is overdue and needed for the long run for sustainability, he said.

A community-wide effort is needed to strengthen nonprofits serving the midvalley, Light said. The town’s issuance of property tax refunds happens to be a good “triggering event,” he said.

The refund to taxpayers is necessary because the town government raised its property tax rate 10 times since 2006 in violation of the Colorado Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights. That amendment to the state constitution requires voter approval of any property tax increases.

The current town staff — which includes a finance director and town attorney hired this year and a town manager in his second full year — discovered the past violations while working on the 2019 budget. They reported their findings to council, which eventually approved the refunds. TABOR makes a taxing entity liable only for the most recent four years.

The town also will ask voters in November to restore a mill levy rate of 5.957. Town officials say that level is necessary to provide the services town residents expect and depend on.

Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said the refund checks would be delivered during the latter half of October. The refunds will be $85 per $100,000 of actual value for residential property and $340 per $100,000 actual value of commercial property.

That means a house worth $1 million would earn a refund of $850 while a house worth $500,000 would generate a refund of $425. A commercial property worth $1 million would generate a refund of $3,400.

“Nobody’s going to fault anybody if they hang onto their cash,” Stevens said.

However, he said he was aware that some business owners and residents were already pondering how to plow their refunds back into the community. Basalt Area Gives is trying to create a viable system for doing that and at a scale that makes a difference to recipient organizations.

Stevens, Light and town resident Jon Fox-Rubin are the founding committee members of Basalt Area Gives. Their concept does not create a new layer of bureaucracy or create an entity that has any overhead.

Instead, donations can be channeled through the Aspen Community Foundation as part of the campaign. The goal is to collect $500,000 or more for short-term support of Basalt-area nonprofits as well as $500,000 or more for long-term support. If the long-term funds are collected, an endowment would be established through the Aspen Community Foundation’s community grant-making program.

The organizing committee hopes the idea appeals beyond Basalt taxpayers who are receiving refunds. They hope that midvalley residents outside of Basalt town limits also consider making a voluntary donation to benefit the nonprofits as part of this broader driver.

A survey conducted by the town earlier this year indicated most eligible property owners were eager for a tax refund.

Mahoney said Town Council is officially neutral but board members were all for the idea of citizens donating their refunds to area nonprofits.

Councilman Auden Schendler said the plan is a “great idea to turn lemons into lemonade and create a community trust for Basalt that supplements what government can do.”

Stevens foresees putting some fun into the fundraising effort, possibly by starting a United Way-style campaign, complete with a thermometer that shows how much money has been collected toward the goal.

Light said individuals could designate one or more nonprofits they want to contribute to or select from a list of Basalt-area and regional-serving nonprofits provided by the Aspen Community Foundation. Donors can make their contribution directly to the nonprofits but that might forgo the community-spirit feel that Basalt Area Gives hopes to generate.

Anyone with questions on Basalt Area Gives can contact Light at jlight@chaffinlight.com.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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