Snowmass balks at Pitkin County fee |

Snowmass balks at Pitkin County fee

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – Elected officials in Snowmass Village have balked at paying a $40,000 treasurer’s fee to Pitkin County for the $2 million in property taxes the town is contributing to the purchase of the former Droste property.

The Town Council on Monday declined to approve an intergovernmental agreement related to the open space acquisition, which actually occurred in late 2010.

“Over two years ago, the county came to the town for $2 million, with no costs, fees or expenses other than a $2 million contribution,” said Fred Kucker, a Snowmass Village town councilman, on Monday night. Subsequently, the county sought $34,000 from the town for a biological study of about 2,500 acres of open space, including the Droste land, and on top of that is the $40,000 treasurer’s fee, he noted.

“Why pay an additional $74,000 when two years ago the town was told it wouldn’t have to pay another dime other than the $2 million contribution?” Kucker said.

“I’m not anxious to give the county another $40,000 out of our taxpayers’ money,” agreed Town Councilman Jason Haber.

County Treasurer Tom Oken on Wednesday attributed the town’s heartburn to a misunderstanding and said county and town staff will meet to iron out an agreement that he hopes the town will find acceptable.

The $40,000 fee isn’t directly related to the open space purchase but is a charge required by state statute, which the county collects from all entities that levy property taxes. The fees go toward the county’s expenses in collecting and distributing property tax revenues to the municipalities, school districts and other taxing districts in the county.

“We’ve always been taking that from all property tax that we’ve ever collected for Snowmass Village,” Oken said.

The town agreed to pay $2 million toward the open space purchase over seven years. The treasurer’s 2 percent fee on that $2 million in property tax collections comes to $40,000. The fee comes off the top as the county makes its monthly distribution of property tax collections to Snowmass Village.

At one point, the town was talking about cutting its total payment for the land by $40,000 to make up for the fee, Oken said, but he hopes to convince the town that it won’t take a $40,000 hit in the long run.

The town, along with all entities that collect property taxes, receives a share of the Motor Vehicle Specific Ownership Tax – money that comes from annual auto registration fees paid in Colorado. The funds are distributed in proportion to the amount of property taxes an entity collects, Oken explained.

For the $2 million collected for the open space, the town will see slightly more than $40,000 returned from the vehicle tax, based on the current level of the tax remittance. It varies from year to year, Oken said.

If, at the end of seven years, the vehicle tax payments don’t cover the full $40,000, the county has offered to make up the difference, he said.

“We were willing to do that because the likelihood of that is nil,” Oken said. If there is a shortfall, it will be nominal – in the hundreds of dollars, he added.

“It’s not like we’re dinging them for something extra and they’re not going to have the revenue to pay for it,” Oken said.

The Droste property was purchased from brothers Peter and Bruce Droste for $17 million in December 2010. Pitkin County committed some $11 million to the acquisition, with Snowmass Village, the city of Aspen, Great Outdoors Colorado, the Aspen Valley Land Trust and private donors also contributing. The highlight of the open space is the scenic ridge that separates the Owl Creek and Brush Creek valleys outside of Snowmass Village, now known as the Skyline Ridge Trail.

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