Eagle Co. tax increase pays for housing | VailDaily.com

Eagle Co. tax increase pays for housing

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” The county needs money from increased property taxes to pay sheriff’s officers, plow the streets and build affordable housing, officials said, but some residents do not feel the same way.

Especially after seeing the bill. Singletree resident Buddy Sims said his property taxes to the county, school district, towns and special districts all went up 43 percent, or more than $ 1,000 for the year.

“It’s obscene for residents to pay that much more in a year. That’s just not a reasonable increase. They need to find a way to make it more fair,” he said.

The county commissioners raised property taxes by keeping the county mill levy at its current rate of 8.499 mills. Due to an increase in assessed property values and new construction, the county will receive a total of $ 7.2 million in additional funds, even though the tax rate remains the same.

However, $ 3 million of that goes to funds designated for spe-cific uses. Some goes toward open space purchases, like the recent $ 2.1 million Gates Ranch deal. Some goes to the Road and Bridge Department for road expansion and maintenance.

The rest of the money will be spent paying county employees, running county services and affordable- housing projects like Stratton Flats, County Finance Director John Lewis said.

Stratton Flats is an affordable -housing neighborhood in Gyp-sum that is expected to bring 226 affordable homes to the county. The county recently invested $ 4.5 million in the project.

Those may seem like big increases, but the county has had a 5 percent property tax increase over the past several years, Lewis pointed out. At the same time, county expenses have gone up 8 percent, he said. ” We needed the ‘catch- up’ funds to keep from reducing services and still have the ability to expand affordable housing,” he said.

The money also will help buy state- required voting equip-ment and make improvements and expansions to some county buildings. In the next few years, property tax money may be used to fund expansions to the county’s justice center, Lewis said.

However, some residents have criticized the county’s spending decisions.

“They need to quit giving money away for ridiculous things, like open space,” Edwards resident Dick Froberg said.

The county overpaid for open space purchases the past few years, like Bair Ranch and most recently Gates Ranch, he said.

But those types of open space deals, where the owners make a deal to keep the land undevel-oped, are actually more cost-effective for preserving land than outright buying it, said Cindy Cohagen of the Eagle Val-ley Land Trust.

Also, the prices the county paid were approved by certified assessors, she said.

But the tax increases are really the result of higher assessed property values, not the county’s tax rate, county Commissioner Arn Menconi said.

Also, the county should not be held responsible for the entire increase when it only gets a frac-tion of the tax money, he said.

The county only gets about 15 percent of property tax revenues.

The majority of property taxes actually go the school district, which is on a fixed budget, said Phil Onofrio, school district finance director.

The school district’s money comes from property taxes, car sales taxes and the state, he said. If property tax revenue increas-es, the money the schools receive from the state will decrease to compensate.

“With this year’s assessed val-ue, we get almost nothing from the state,” he said.

The remainder of property taxes go to the towns and special districts such as recreation, metro, water, fire and library dis-tricts.

Compared with other taxing entities, the county’s tax rate is average, said Ken Marchetti, metro district accountant.

“On average, the metro dis-tricts have higher rates than the county. The school district is the biggest one,” he said.

Also, he points out, the county is not the only government that has kept its mill levy. Many dis-tricts have done the same, he said.

Even though the county por-tion of his taxes went up less than $ 200, Sims said he still thinks the county plays a large part in the tax increases.

“Our county commissioners take a lead in setting the tone for property tax increases across the board. They need to organize the tax entities and bring taxes down together,” he said.

A small increase is fair, but such a huge jump will hurt local residents, Sims said.

“It’s everybody’s increase. Renters will pay that extra mon-ey. It will sabotage the real estate market because first- time home buyers won’t be able to qualify for a mortgage,” Sims said.

Froberg said the taxes on his single- family home went up 54 percent, meaning he will be pay-ing an additional $ 1,350 in prop-erty taxes. Taxes on an empty lot he owns in Eagle Ranch also went up more than $ 2,000, he said.

“They really needed to decrease the mill levies when the assessed values increased,” he said. “A lot of people will have a hard time paying.”

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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