Pitkin County property values are down, but taxes? Not so much | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County property values are down, but taxes? Not so much

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Property values in Pitkin County have declined about 26 percent, but property owners shouldn’t expect to see a commensurate drop on their property tax bills.

“Overall, actually, I think taxes will stay about the same,” said Tom Oken, county treasurer.

Blame Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR. The constitutional amendment, which prevents huge increases in property taxes when property values skyrocket, also keeps them from plummeting when the value of real estate takes a nosedive.

In Pitkin County, where county commissioners this week approved a 2012 budget on first reading, as well as a resolution levying 2011 property taxes (to be collected in 2012), property taxes to support the general fund will climb to $5.9 million – up about $422,000 from what was collected this year.

The mill rate that supports the general fund is subject to TABOR, which caps increases to real growth (new development) and inflation. When property values drop, TABOR allows an increase in the rate in order to generate revenues that reflect growth plus inflation.

“During the ups and downs of valuations, our collections have been steady,” said County Manager Jon Peacock.

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The general-fund mill levy didn’t collect a windfall from the heady real estate boom reflected in 2009 property valuations, but the county won’t see a huge drop in the tax revenue that supports its general services now that values have dropped. With this year’s property revaluation, the total value of property in Pitkin County decreased from $36 billion to $26.6 billion – about a 26 percent decline.

“No one has asked for 26 percent less snowplowing because their property values went down,” noted Commissioner Rachel Richards in a review of the county’s increasing general fund mill levy.

Taxing districts with a fixed mill rate, however, won’t be collecting as much tax revenue as they did in 2010 and 2011, when the spike in property values produced large gains in their tax collections unless they opted to reduce their rate. Those districts have been exempted from TABOR by voters.

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, for example, has a fixed mill rate set by voters. For the past two years, the county opted to voluntarily reduce the rate to keep the program from taking as much as it could, providing a measure of tax relief to recession-weary property owners. With property values now down, county commissioners agreed to restore the full mill rate that supports the program, but Open Space and Trails will still collect $1.83 million less in 2012 than it did this year because of the drop in property values.

Overall, for all of its taxing districts the county will collect a projected $23.2 million in property taxes next year. That’s down $1.44 million, mostly because of the drop in revenues that will be generated by the Open Space and Trails tax, according to Oken.

Because taxing districts with fixed mill rates will collect less in 2012 and districts that are subject to TABOR will be allowed to collect more, Oken suspects the overall change in taxes will be nominal.

“I think it will wind up about even,” he said.

The tax bill picture will become clearer later in the month. The tax bills sent out by the county early next year will reflect property taxes collected by not only the county, but a host of entities, including school districts, municipalities, fire and ambulance districts, libraries, metropolitan districts, Colorado Mountain College and others. Information on mill rates for each of those districts are due at the county on Dec. 15.

janet@aspentimes.com