Get the facts before jumping on PitCo bandwagon

Recently Ken Ransford and others have formed a new nonprofit, “Our Valley Our Voice,” to promote moving the Eagle County portion of the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork watersheds into Pitkin County. Superficially, it sounds great. But the devil is in the details, and here the details could get ugly. The question whether we’d be better off in Pitkin than in Eagle is a big one. That should be the subject of robust public discussion on the merits. But there are two preliminary issues.

First, if we switched counties, we’d have to pay for the privilege. Putting aside for the moment the fact that property taxes in Pitkin are probably generally higher than in Eagle, there is the issue of what I call the “exit tax.” Both the Colorado Constitution and a state statute, impose a “special tax” on property owners who leave one county for another for their “ratable proportion of all then existing liabilities of the county” they’re leaving. This special tax would be on top of the property taxes folks would have to pay as new residents of Pitkin County. So for the first one to three years after the switch, we’d all be paying taxes twice, to both Pitkin and Eagle Counties. If Eagle County has much long term debt, the special tax could be significant. How much? Nobody’s done the math yet. Unless Eagle County has these figures readily available, the proponents of this move or Eagle County should do some homework on this and get the word out before expecting folks to jump on the bandwagon.

Second, if a majority of us in the Eagle Midvalley don’t want to switch counties, we shouldn’t have to. There’s another statute under which you’d start the process with a petition signed by a majority of Eagle Midvalley voters. It’s not clear that this petition statute is mandatory. Ransford and his group would like to avoid the petition and take the matter straight to a vote in both counties. Both counties’ attorneys are looking at this process question right now. It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with and whether they make the results of their research public. From my perspective, they should. If the Eagle/Pitkin county line is going to be changed, it shouldn’t be the result of a deal done behind closed doors, and the question shouldn’t go the general electorate in both counties unless and until a majority of Eagle midvalley voters say they want it. So either Eagle County should require a section petition before going forward or schedule a vote just for Eagle midvalley voters on the subject, before the question goes to either county at large.

There’s a lot more at stake here than whether you’re going to be able to avoid going to Eagle for jury service. Midvalley folk need to know a lot more about the consequences, intended and otherwise, before they jump on the “Let’s Join Pitkin County” bandwagon.

Barry Vaughan

El Jebel