Midvalley voters to weigh three taxing proposals in 2002 | AspenTimes.com

Midvalley voters to weigh three taxing proposals in 2002

Some midvalley voters will apparently be asked three times this year to approve property tax increases to pay for public projects and services.

The Basalt and Rural Fire District and a midvalley recreation district plan to seek approval for tax increases and will almost certainly be joined by the Basalt Regional Library District.

Representatives of each of the entities said they are well aware that the ballot may be crowded with tax hike proposals.

“I hope that the community realizes the value of each one of them,” said Laurie Gish-Soliday, vice chair of the committee promoting parks and recreational facilities at the Mount Sopris Tree Farm.

The first proposal to hit the ballot will be the fire district. It will ask voters in May to increase the levy by 1.695 mills. Extra revenue will be applied to a variety of services, most notably more paid staff for emergency medical response.

The recreation district will seek a property tax increase in the November general election to pay off $5.1 million in bonds it hopes to issue. The funds would be used to develop ball fields, picnic areas, trails and parks in the tree farm in El Jebel.

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The library district’s board of directors hasn’t formally prepared a question for the November ballot, but that is the intent of its members. They will seek bonding authority for possibly as much as $7 million to build two new facilities and pay for the increased operating costs.

The boundaries of the three districts are similar, although not exact. Many residents between Old Snowmass and Catherine Store could be affected by all three.

@ATD Sub heds:How will voters react?

@ATD body copy: Each of the taxing proposals is supported by strong groups of proponents who will campaign for approval. And individually, issues like increased emergency response, better libraries and recreation opportunities are as popular as apple pie.

The question is, will the cumulative effect spook voters at a tough economic time?

“It would be easier to sell a district if we were the only one out there,” acknowledged Mark Fuller, a consultant working on the recreation district proposal. “That’s out of our hands.”

He said it doesn’t make sense to wait for a future ballot since that could be just as packed with tax hike proposals.

“It’s kind of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation,” Fuller said.

The fire district’s board of directors intentionally prepared the tax question for May to avoid the clutter of the general election in November, according to Fire Chief Scott Thompson. Many special taxing districts follow that strategy. May elections tend to attract people more interested in specific issues.

Thompson said he believes it is inevitable for the midvalley to face tax hike questions since its growth has been so drastic in recent years. The infrastructure needs to catch up to that growth, he said.

@ATD Sub heds:How it affects wallets

@ATD body copy: Fire district officials said their tax hike would mean roughly an additional $46.50 in tax bills per $300,000 value of property.

Fuller of the recreation district said that proposal would add about $75.50 per $300,000 of property value to the annual tax bill.

The impact of the library district’s question is unknown right now. However, board member Peter Frey said a bond of approximately $7 million may be sought. If so, that could create the largest tax hike of the bunch.

Frey said a good case can be made that this is the perfect time to fund important public projects and causes. The 5 percent or so interest rate on municipal and government bonds is at or near a historic low. Therefore, public entities bonding this year can get more bang for their buck.

It’s like individual homeowners taking advantage of low rates for a mortgage or refinance.

Frey said that could be important information for ballot issue proponents to promote during the campaign. He is also confident that a well-reasoned proposal for a property tax hike will be met affirmatively.

“People are always looking for an excuse not to raise their taxes,” Frey said. “You’ve got to go to them with a sensible plan.

“I’m a taxpayer, and I don’t want to raise my taxes for some boondoggle.”

The proponents of the three questions headed to the ballot are confident they can pitch a good case to the public. And they claim they don’t have to do it at the expense of one another.

“We certainly don’t feel we’re in competition with the other districts,” said Fuller.

Frey said the cumulative effect may be that voters give each issue greater scrutiny. That’s not all bad, and may require greater preparation, he said.