The role of government
Dear Editor:This letter is addressed to all local taxing authorities, including Colorado Mountain College, Aspen City Council, Pitkin County commissioners, Pitkin County Open Space & Trails Board, Pitkin County Library, Aspen Sanitation, Aspen School District, town of Snowmass Village, Aspen Valley Hospital, Aspen Historic District, Aspen Ambulance & Aspen Fire Protection Districts as well as the citizens of Pitkin County:As you are no doubt aware, we are in a recession. Here in the Roaring Fork Valley, measures of economic performance are off by double digits: retail sales off 18 percent, lodging revenue down 28 percent and real estate sales off 35 percent. Construction activity has slowed to a crawl. Unemployment is up. Rental housing units are empty. Local governments are feeling the pinch with budget cuts and staff layoffs. Local businesses of all kinds are slashing wages and benefits, cutting back operating and staff hours, furloughing and laying off staff in almost all sectors of local employment. Dozens of business have closed their doors. Businesses are cutting prices, and bills are going unpaid.Against this backdrop, many local taxing authorities have an opportunity to increase the average 2010 Pitkin County tax bill by a whopping 40 percent courtesy of de-Brucing and a timing anomaly that had the tax assessor valuing property at what we can now clearly see was a speculative peak from which we have come crashing down.There are three components of determining property tax revenue – (A) district property value times (B) tax rate (mill levy) equals (C) property tax revenue. Taxing districts cannot control district property value, which is determined by the market as interpreted by the assessor at a set point in time, in this case June 2008; but district boards can control property tax revenue and tax rates (mill levy).With sales tax and other forms of revenue off by double digits, taxing authorities are being forced to make difficult decisions regarding expenditures and staffing. In the face of these challenges, taxing authorities will naturally be tempted to make up for some of the revenue shortfalls by grabbing the tax revenue windfall that is available due to the 40 percent increase in tax base property values as of mid-2008. This potential 40 percent increase comes on the heels of a 45 percent tax increase for most districts effective in 2008. A decision to take advantage of this windfall would punish homeowners, local businesses and employees, and would create a temporary and false sense of security for the taxing authorities.In consideration of the difficult economic environment, I ask all local taxing districts to forego the 40 percent tax revenue hike that is available to many of you. Tax rates should be set to follow the Aspen Valley Hospital example to produce revenue, at a maximum, equal to 2009 collections. More appropriately, tax rates and resulting revenues should be set to reflect the economic challenges of your customers, the taxpayers and residents of Pitkin County, and should therefore be reduced to below 2009 levels.We’ve all enjoyed the “extras” afforded by good economic times and an enviable tax base for our community. Now is the time for government agencies to get back to the basics as we citizens are having to do in our personal lives. Mike MapleAspen
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