Cordillera wants to slash ambulance taxes
Vail, CO Colorado
CORDILLERA, Colorado ” Some Cordillera residents are paying higher taxes than their neighbors for the same ambulance services, and now they’re calling for county commissioners to intervene.
All of the nearly 900 homes in Cordillera are served by the upvalley Eagle County Ambulance District, but due to district taxing lines, 260 of those homes pay taxes to the downvalley Western Eagle County Ambulance District.
Because of proximity, the upvalley Eagle County district has been covering the entirety of Cordillera, including the 260 homes in the downvalley district. However, those residents still pay property taxes to the downvalley district, whose mill levy is 5.136 compared to 2.019 for the upvalley district.
The Cordillera Metro District wants to redraw the taxing lines, or officially become part of the Eagle County district, but it has been unable to come to an agreement with the downvalley district.
Essentially all the residents are getting the same ambulance service, but one group of residents is paying three times as much for it, said Cordillera resident Elise Micati, one of the affected property owners.
The downvalley district will collect more than $145,000 in taxes from the Cordillera properties in 2008.
Micati said she feels the ambulance district just doesn’t want to lose the tax money from the homes.
“I am disappointed that a government agency within Eagle County feels it is within its right to put its own best interests first and in the process levy taxes on property owners for services it doesn’t provide,” she said.
However, ambulance officials say that’s not the case ” they want to carefully study the issue before any lines are redrawn, a process that could be quite costly.
“We want to do what’s right for the taxpayers up there,” said Western Eagle County Ambulance District Chief Chris Montera. “But we also have to maintain a viable tax base for the entire district.”
The ambulance districts and Cordillera have tried unsuccessfully to resolve the issue for about four years, said Cordillera Metro District Manager Joe Wilson.
In 2006, Cordillera had collected 205 petitions from residents to get the area excluded from the downvalley district and included in the upvalley district.
However, the downvalley district wanted to charge $1,500 per property in order to hire outside consultants to study the situation and look at the impact of redrawing district lines. After some discussion, the ambulance district offered a deal of $200 per property. Cordillera Metro District officials thought the fee was still excessive and inappropriate and did not agree to go ahead with the study.
“The challenge is that (a study) still didn’t provide a sense of certainty for our property owners to be excluded from the district,” Wilson said. “And since they have been paying taxes to the district all this time, it seems to us it was an inappropriate measure to deal with this.”
After the issue came up again this summer, the downvalley district said it would once again charge the original cost of $1,500 because costs had gone up over the years and it wanted to make sure all the charges would be covered. Any extra money would be returned to the property owners.
Montera said that hiring a consultant could cost the district as much as $25,000, and the legal fees to change the taxing lines would cost more than $20,000.
The district is still willing to negotiate a fee with Cordillera, he added.
The two ambulance districts have also discussed keeping the service and taxing boundaries the same, but the downvalley district would give the upvalley district some of its tax revenues for providing services.
Cordillera Metro District President Ellen Mitchell said that while that helps the upvalley district, the agreement doesn’t help the property owners.
“These property owners are in no better position as a result of this arrangement,” she wrote in a letter to the county. “They will continue to pay a higher tax rate to an entity which provides them absolutely no service.”
Now Cordillera residents are appealing to county commissioners to side with them.
“Our taxpayers are largely concerned with the appropriate amount of money for services and that the district providing the services is getting the money they deserve,” Wilson said. “We want to bring this to the attention of the commissioners and the public regarding the appropriate amount for services rendered.”
But Montera pointed out that releasing the Cordillera properties from the district could affect future development in the area or hurt service in other areas of the district.
“It would definitely affect service to a certain degree. And maybe eventually there will be more development up there that we’ll have faster access to,” he said. “That’s why we’d like a third party (consultant) to look at this.”
However, Micati, who is also the president of the Cordillera Property Owners Association, said she feels the district is stalling and trying to make the issue a financial burden for the residents. Cordillera had a similar issue with fire district lines, and the residents were able to successfully realign the district lines, she said.
Commissioners have not given any input on the matter, but Wilson said the metro district hopes the county can solve the problem.
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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