Angry Eagle Co. residents grill tax collectors
Vail, CO Colorado
EDWARDS, Colorado ” “Who isn’t happy with the tax increase?” asked Edwards resident Buddy Sims.
About 60 hands shot up in the air.
It was a needless question.
A group of local residents, organized by the Eagle County Taxpayers for Common Sense, met Friday afternoon to grill local taxing authorities on why their latest property tax bill went up an average of 42 percent.
Many taxing authorities chose not to lower tax rates this year. Due to a significant increase in assessed values of homes, that meant property taxes also went up.
Residents demanded to know what the money was being spent on, and some wanted lower rates next year and a tax rebate for this year.
“The bottom line is that we don’t think its fair for the taxing authorities to not lower their mill levies, and we want to know why,” said Sims, who organized the meeting.
Officials from the county, the sanitation district, ambulance district, school district and the metro district tried to answer that question.
The most heated questions from the crowd were directed at Eagle County officials.
The $7.5 million in increased property tax revenue the county will get is going toward expansion of the justice center, affordable housing and overall increase in cost of operations, said County Commissioner Peter Runyon.
“We’ve been growing so rapidly in this county for so many years, and this is one of the prices of growth,” Runyon said. “We have all these expenses and we have to take care of them, like the bark beetle, housing and transportation.”
The county only gets about 14 percent of the property tax revenue, which comes out to about an $80 increase in taxes per home.
“If we didn’t keep the levy the same, we would have had to cut services. We would have to plow less roads and have less police officers patrolling the streets,” said County Finance Director John Lewis. “For the commissioners to eliminate the increase is not going to solve your problems, and it would put the county in big trouble.”
But Eagle-Vail resident Karl Berger said he did not think those were legitimate needs, especially the county’s recent $4.5 million investment in a project to bring 226 affordable homes to Gypsum.
“What is the county doing in housing anyway? I own a business, and I provide housing for my employees. The county shouldn’t be doing that,” he said.
The school district actually gets the biggest portion of property taxes ” 43 percent, according to the assessor’s office.
The district gets “the lion’s share,” but cannot raise or lower their tax rate because it is set by the state, said Phil Onofrio, chief financial officer for the school district.
“We’re the problem, not the county,” Onofrio admitted. “This is something you need to talk to your state representative about.”
All the property tax revenue goes to the state, and the school district gets the same amount of money per student regardless, he explained. The state reallocates the rest of the money how it wants, he said.
Other taxing authorities told about their district’s needs.
Representatives from the ambulance district said they kept their tax rate the same, bringing in an extra $1.5 million. The extra money is needed for new ambulance stations over the next few years, they said.
The Edwards metro district used its increased revenues to fund a study that got the Colorado Department of Transportation to approve and help fund the new roundabouts at the Edwards interchange.
County Assessor Mark Chapin explained to the crowd how taxes were calculated (based on a home’s assessed value), and why some tax entities are “de-Bruced,” which means residents voted at one time to allow the tax authority to keep their tax rates the same regardless of change in assessed value.
But Rob De Luca said he thinks that properties are unfairly assessed.
The assessed value on a vacant lot he owns jumped from $340,000 to $600,000 last year, he said. He appealed the assessment twice, but was denied until he hired a private appraisal company to represent him. Then the assessment was lowered to $365,000, he said.
“In my experience, the system intimidates people, unless you get a professional to represent you,” he said. “I think it’s a travesty.”
Edwards resident Richard Dangler said he thinks all the taxing authorities are just trying to find ways to spend the extra money.
“To me it looks like you found out how much money you would get and then justified how you would spend it,” he said to the row of officials.
Others encouraged the group to talk to their friends and neighbors about the problem so they can prevent a similar increase in the future.
“We need to go to the legislature and the (state) government and get them involved in this county immediately,” said Avon real estate agent Bob West. “We have a flawed, ill-conceived tax law in this state.”
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.