Windfall: Taxing districts can take it or leave it |

Windfall: Taxing districts can take it or leave it

Charles AgarAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN Who can say no to pennies from heaven?Not some local deBruced taxing authorities whose fixed rate mill levies coupled with rising property assessments will mean massive tax windfalls in 2008.The taxpayers bill of rights (TABOR) protects citizens from tax increases much above inflation, but some 18 special tax districts in Pitkin County are deBruced, a term for fixed mill levies .A more than 40 percent in-crease in Pitkin County property assessments for 2008 would mean local fixed-mill levy taxing authorities, including some fire, nonprofit and metropolitan districts, could see revenues soar along with local property values.Taxing district officials have until Dec. 14 to report their 2008 mill levies to Pitkin County officials.This is kind of a major windfall year that works to the benefit of the taxing districts and to the detriment of the taxpayer, said Pitkin County treasurer Tom Oken. And he encourages citizens to get involved with local boards to debate budgets and be a watchdog of their own tax rates.If people want to influence their taxes, they really need to participate with boards, Oken said.Some district boards agreed to keep the windfall and other decisions are pending upcoming board meetings, but a handful of tax districts agreed to lower the mill levy, or tax rate, to keep revenues steady despite rising property values.Show me the money!We have a strategic plan in place, said Georgia Hanson, director of the Aspen Historical Society.The extra $150,000 in 2008 taxes will bump the societys annual budget to nearly $750,000, money needed to bring the nonprofit to full performance level, Hanson said.We need this money to get to a point where we are sustainable, Hanson said.And whos going to turn down a voter-approved windfall.Certainly not officials at Colorado Mountain College, where officials could not generate exact figures but expect a large increase in Pitkin County and smaller increases from the five other counties that fund the multiple CMC campuses.We promised to do certain things, and we still havent fulfilled that promise, said Debbie Crawford, director of public information for CMC.Pitkin County commissioners recently approved a stable mill levy for Open Space & Trails, earning them a windfall that will go to purchase open space that is increasingly going under the developers dozers.The Aspen Fire District meets next week to finalize a plan, but board members said theyll likely keep half of the estimated $537,000 excess 2008 taxes for capital improvements and their general fund. The rest will be credited to taxpayers.And other Pitkin County fire districts are keeping their 2008 windfall.The Pitkin County portion of the Carbondale Fired District is too small to make a huge tax impact, officials said, so theyll keep the mill levy steady.But the Basalt Rural Fire Protection District will earn an extra $437,000 in 2008, money that will go toward building affordable housing, something that is sorely lacking, according to Basalt Fire District financial controller Jennifer Lemke.You take what you need based on what your assessed value is, said Steven Sowles, chief of the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District. And a $500,000 increase in 2008 will cover increased costs and improvements and any excess will go back to taxpayers, he added.We have no plans to lower ours because we have a lot of work to do, said Bob Walker, who manages the Gateway Metropolitan District, a subdivision along Snowmass Creek.Assessed values on the 80 homes at Gateway went from $4 million to $6 million for 2008, earning an estimated tax increase of between $40,000 and $50,000, Walker said.I would say that its appropriate for our needs, Walker said needs that include road and water system maintenance and improvements.Property values on deed-restricted homes in Aspen Village and W/J Ranch did not increase much in the recent assessment, and those boards also agreed to keep the excess.Paying it backwardThe Town of Snowmass Village has fixed mill levy for roads that will stay the same, earning an extra $670,000. But more than half of Snowmass Village taxes are protected by TABOR and rates will go down.Despite the adjustment, which will go to the town council for ratification, Snowmass Village taxpayers will see an increase of $731,574 in a budget approaching $5 million.On a smaller scale, the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District board will lower rates, but still experience a $44,000 jump in annual taxes totaling some $812,000, officials said.And a handful of districts are still pending.The Snowmass Water and Sanitation District board will meet on Dec. 12 to ratify a likely shift in the mill levy to keep revenues stable.The Aspen Valley Hospital Board meets Monday at 5:30 p.m. to discuss their mill levy, and the Buttermilk Metro-Water district meets Dec. 11 at 8:30 p.m.We are going to be recommending lowering mill levies for all but one district, said Gary Beach, whose company manages six tax districts in Pitkin County, including two in Aspen Highlands, Five Trees, Holland Hills and Buttermilk. If you can make it today on a dollar, why would you accept $1.45?

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