Guest commentary: Basalt officials are working through tax issues

Ryan Mahoney
Guest commentary

After more than six months of hard work, community engagement, research and public meetings, I am pleased that the town of Basalt is nearing a resolution on its mill levy error. I would like to thank Town Council, staff and community members who helped us understand this issue more clearly and to then formulate a practical, two-part resolution — a tax refund for existing property owners combined with a request from council for town voters to set our mill levy at its current 5.957.

As you probably know, over the past decade, the town had adjusted its property tax mill levy rate up and down for both commercial and residential property within Basalt’s boundaries. In the end, this action violated the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), although past councils and staff believed they could do this after a 1994 “deBrucing” vote by Basalt residents. Town staff discovered this error while preparing the 2019 budget and quickly brought it to the attention of council and the public.

The town has worked over the past few months to legally resolve this TABOR issue with minimal impact to the town and its residents. In doing so, council has decided on two steps:

First, Basalt will issue a refund to current property owners totaling about $2.1 million, representing the amount of “over-collected” property taxes over the past four years.

Second, council has placed a question on the November ballot for voter approval to set the town’s mill levy at its current rate of 5.957 to maintain town services such as public safety and police services; fire and flood mitigation; road maintenance, sidewalk repairs, street plowing and sweeping; park maintenance and recreational programs.

In accordance with TABOR, refunds will be issued to current property owners for the amount of over-collected property taxes during the past four years. TABOR contains a four-year statute of limitations, meaning the town should refund the past four years of over-collected property taxes consistent with this legal liability. In addition, TABOR recognizes that a refund may be provided through any reasonable method, and the town of Basalt has determined that refunding current property owners is the most reasonable and legally sound basis for distributing the refund. This approach has been used in other communities and is supported by Colorado case law.

Moving forward, the town will identify current property owners within its boundaries, utilizing the most current databases held by Eagle and Pitkin counties. The town will utilize Sept. 5, 2019, as the effective date for the determination of current ownership. These property owners will be issued checks. The town of Basalt is planning to send checks in mid- to late October.

On behalf of council and town staff, we look forward to resolving this issue and continuing to ensure that our town’s budget and finances are responsibly managed and made transparent to all community members. We will continue to operate the town’s fiscal management and services with the same level of accountability and transparency that we have used through this process.

If you have any questions, please contact either me or Christy Hamrick, town finance director, at 970-927-4701.

Ryan Mahoney is the town manager for Basalt.