Editorial: Who gets Eagle Co. property taxes?
Vail CO, Colorado
Most Eagle County property owners were in for a shock when they received their property tax bills this month. On average, property values across the county went up about 40 percent and property taxes went up almost as much.
It’s fair for irate property owners to direct some of their anger at the Board of County Commissioners. The board did decide late last year to keep the county’s property tax rate, or mill levy, at the same 8.999 mill levy rate ” meaning property taxes rose commensurately with increased valuations.
But it isn’t fair to blame the county for the entire property tax increase. The county’s portion, on average, makes up about 15 percent of your tax bill. You also get taxed by your local water district, fire district, ambulance district, recreation district, town (if you live in one) and most notably, the school district. Those of you who live in places like Cordillera or Singletree also have a metropolitan district that takes care of things like your roads and neighborhood golf courses. Metro districts tax you, too.
And in nearly all those cases, those taxing entities chose to keep their mill levies the same, or to lower them only a little. That’s why your property taxes went up so much.
According to the Eagle County Assessor’s Office, about 43 percent of your property taxes go to the Eagle County School District. But don’t call your school board members to complain just yet. Gov. Bill Ritter and the Colorado Legislature made the decision for Eagle County schools by freezing school district property tax rates across the state last year. A lawsuit has been filed against the governor for that decision.
The school district isn’t going to collect a windfall of money, either. Local schools get a set amount of funding every year that is made up of local property taxes and state taxes. When the local property tax collections go up, the state’s obligation to the Eagle County School District just goes down to compensate.
Many taxpayers wrongly assumed when they discovered how much their property values went up in the last two years that mill levies would go down to compensate. After all, Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or the TABOR Amendment, basically requires that property tax rates ratchet down when property values go up.
But most of the local taxing entities opted to relieve themselves of TABOR’s requirements, an action known as “de-Brucing”. And they did it with voters’ permission, in case you don’t remember. Unless a court ruling indicates otherwise, de-Bruced taxing entities don’t have to automatically lower their taxes when property values go up.
Short of refusing to pay your tax bill or pursuing a lawsuit, there’s little you can do now. The deadline to appeal your property value was June 1. The opportunity to challenge your elected officials to lower the tax rate was when they were discussing their 2008 budgets in November and December.
The best you can do is to let elected officials know how you feel when the next election comes around.
Tamara Miller for the Editorial Board