How much should we pay for CMC? |

How much should we pay for CMC?

Buddy Sims
Aspen, CO Colorado

Colorado Mountain College (CMC) is without a doubt a plus to Eagle and Pitkin counties and provides super educational advantages to students attending, but should the Eagle and Pitkin County taxpayers be footing a 38 percent and 40.9 percent one-year jump in property taxes to support this institution?

Take a look at the six counties and see who is contributing to CMC in 2008:

– Eagle County: 3.997 mill levy for a $3.475 million, 38 percent tax increase

– Pitkin County: 3.997 mill levy for a $3.168 million, 40.9 percent tax increase

– Summit County: 3.997 mill levy for a $1.150 million, 22.7 percent tax increase

– Garfield County: 3.997 mill levy for $1.041 million, 10.5 percent tax increase

– Routt County: 3.997 mill levy for a $987,665, 38.6 percent tax increase

– Lake County: 3.997 mill levy for a $226,588, 8 percent tax increase

The CMC Eagle County 2007 property taxes payable in 2008 increased by $3.475 million (38 percent) and Pitkin County $3.168 million (40.9 percent). Per CMC President Dr. Bob Spuhler letter: “The tax revenues go into one pot to support campuses across our district.” He reported at the Feb. 8 concerned citizens meeting that his 3.997 mill levy would remain the same because “by statute, the college can’t change its mill levy in one county without changing it in all.” He said his board of trustees, chaired by Board President Doris Dewton, “voted to increase reserves so that we are able to cushion the blow of a bust, as we learned from the economic downturn in the early 1980s.” They also knew that the windfall 2008 CMC tax revenues would increase by over $10 million across the board with the same or larger corresponding increases in years to follow.

The CMC Board of Trustees is one of the 63 taxing authorities that collects property taxes and has an impact on our yearly property tax notices. Granted, their 3.997 mill levy seems relatively small but the comparison above does show how their mill levy results in providing over $10 million per year in six counties. It was reported in The Aspen Times on Dec. 13, 2007, that CMC is building a $14 million new facility in Summit County which will draw upon the CMC reserve fund through completion. By looking at the tax revenue by county comparison, it appears that Eagle and Pitkin County proportions are significant. If you look at each county increased assessed value from 2006 to 2007, it is easy to see why at a frozen CMC mill levy of 3.997 their tax revenues have climbed. Eagle and Pitkin County taxpayers are especially being hit hard with these bills (2006 to 2007 assessed values in Eagle jumped from $2.2 billion to $3.1 billion and Pitkin from $2.8 billion to $3.06 billion and CMC Eagle tax revenues jumped from $9.1 million to $12.6 million and Pitkin from $7.7 million to $10.9 million).

My point in making all these comparisons is that the CMC president and board of trustees knowingly voted to maintain a 3.997 mill levy that would over-fund their budget with windfall monies at the expense of the property taxpayers in six counties. Plus without a CMC mill levy reduction in years to come, CMC will be adding at a minimum $10 million every year.

As our assessed home values rise every two years by the county assessor so will the CMC tax revenues.

Around 75 percent of CMC funding comes from property taxes but “full time student tuition” is also a major factor. At $43 per credit hour CMC is priced very reasonably when compared to other Colorado community colleges ” Lamar $74, Pikes Peak $77, Front Range $89, and Colorado NW $77 per credit hour. Is it fair for six counties to be paying for what amounts to “tuition assistance” at the current mill levy? Or would it be better to raise the tuition and lower our property taxes by lowering the mill levy in 2008 and beyond? I understand that CMC opted out under TABOR in 1999 and the voters, I assume, passed it in six counties on a ballot issue; however, there should be no legal TABOR problem with lowering the CMC Mill levy to provide for a reasonable 5.5 percent budget growth. Most taxpayers in the six counties live within our budgets, so it seems to me that CMC needs to follow suit!

To further support my reasoning, take a look over at the Beaver Creek Metro in Avon, who only had a 6 percent tax increase in 2008, probably because the homeowners in Beaver Creek encouraged their board to reduce the mill levy. Beaver Creek Metro cut their mill levy by 4.786 points from 25.800 to 21.014, and should be a clear example to all Eagle and Pitkin County taxing authorities in 2008 and beyond on how to fairly operate. Why? Maybe the homeowners realized that Eagle County Assessor Mark Chapin increased their Beaver Creek assessed values from $298 million to $388 million from 2006 to 2007. Today, I can’t imagine what the Eagle and Pitkin County assessors will do home values in 2009 based on current re-sales.

Why the Beaver Creek Metro Board lowered their mill levy almost 5 points can maybe be found in the fact they did not want to nail their neighbors to the wall.

There are two sides to this taxing authority’s and taxpayers’ story but CMC needs to give all of us a break at the next setting of their mill levy in December of 2008. We ask for a reasonable 5.5 percent CMC property tax increase.

How about putting your TABOR “opting out” back on the ballot in Nov. 2008 for the voters to take another look?

By the way, the Town of Aspen in Pitkin County lowered their Mill levy!