Tax man takes a toll on Basalt and El Jebel homeowners

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
House and money
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto


Recovering property values have produced higher property tax bills for Eagle County residents living in the Basalt and El Jebel areas. Here’s a sample of the tax increase in dollars and percentages over last year for specific homeowners in various neighborhoods. Increases differ for every property owner.

Riverside Drive Up $2,081 52%

Homestead Drive Up $1,260 31%

River Oaks Up $1,168 31.5%

Elk Run Up $473 25%

Sopris Village Up $682 42%

Blue Lake Up $1,167 58%

Source: Eagle County Treasurer’s website

Property owners in the middle Roaring Fork Valley are learning that recovery from the recession comes at a price.

Property tax bills climbed between 25 and 58 percent, according to an Aspen Times sample of residences in the Basalt and El Jebel area using the Eagle County Treasury website.

The higher tax bills were due to increasing property values and also a bond issue approved in November by voters in the Roaring Fork School District.

Counties throughout Colorado are required to calculate new values for property every two years. Property owners received their new values last spring. Eagle County values went up 12 percent on average but the Roaring Fork Valley portion of the county increased more, according to Assessor Mark Chapin.

“The market rebounded more rapidly (in Basalt and El Jebel) than in other areas of the county,” he said.

The implications became clear when tax bills arrived in late January. People who pay their bills in two installments must make the first payment by Feb. 29.

“People are a bit shocked by how much their taxes went up with this revaluation,” said Basalt resident Bernie Grauer, a town councilman and member of the Basalt Regional Library board of directors. He said the town government’s property taxes are a small part of the overall bill, so the town hasn’t really fielded gripes.

People with higher-priced homes particularly felt the sting of the higher overall tax bills.

“Property tax basically follows the value,” Chapin said.

For example, the property tax bill for a residence on Riverside Drive in Basalt shot up $2,081 from last year, an increase of 52 percent.

In the Sopris Village subdivision in the El Jebel area, where homes are priced significantly lower than Riverside Drive, the tax bill at one residence increased $682, or 42 percent. (See factbox at bottom left for a sample of tax increases in midvalley neighborhoods.)

The Assessor’s Office had just over 3,000 protests to new values last spring. That was a lower amount than usual, Chapin said. Many people were relieved that property values were finally climbing after the tough years of the recession, but now that property taxes are due, many property owners aren’t quite as thrilled with the higher values. Chapin said phones are ringing at his office, which has received a significant number of calls even though it has nothing to do with tax-mill levies or tax bills.

“People see them and say, ‘Hey, I want to talk to somebody,’” Chapin said. Their best bet, he said, is to talk to the financial officers of the various taxing districts.

In the midvalley, the Roaring Fork School District is responsible for the biggest share of the property tax bill. For the residence in Sopris Village, for example, the school accounted for 61 percent of the 2015 tax bill. The school property tax increased 47.5 percent for that property owner.

Eagle County government kept its mill levy — the rate at which the tax is assessed — the same, but that produced a higher tax bill because values went up. County voters have approved a “de-Brucing,” which allows the county to keep some increases in tax revenue.

The Basalt Regional Library’s mill levy for operating expenses stayed the same. That will bring in more revenue because of higher property values.

Grauer said the increased revenue probably won’t offset an operating-expense deficit.

​​“It takes about $1.2 million to run the library at its current level of service,” he said, referring to staffing, weekly hours open, programs and collections.

The board of directors dipped into reserves for about $223,000 in 2015 because the operating-fund loss was below total income. A similar operating deficit is anticipated in 2016. The district doesn’t want to dip further into reserves after this year, so it will contemplate asking voters for a tax increase for operations, he said.