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Ferry: Ask about property tax hike

Kaye Ferry
Vail CO, Colorado

The election is finally over so, to all the winners, congrats. To those who didn’t make it, check with those who did in about six months. Maybe then you’ll be glad that you’re on the outside looking in.

And since it’s my column, I get to take a moment to reflect. I loved a line from the Robin Williams movie, “Man of the Year” ” “Politicians are like diapers. They need to be changed often and for the same reason.”

Well we just went through a big change, so I’d like to give the new guys a bit of a pep talk and remind the old guys of a few things at the same time.

Some of the things are basic. Like use the microphones. Please. Pretty please. The council chambers has always had difficult acoustics but since the remodel it’s an echo chamber. But you new guys know that already because as you came to witness the procedures over the last few months, you sat with the rest of us asking, “What did they say?”

Then when I first started writing this column almost five years ago (doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun!), I came up with a few basic rules, some mine, some suggested to me. The number reached five before I moved on to something else, but as I reviewed them, they seemed worth repeating. So here they are.

Rule 1. Elected officials are not smarter than those who elect them.

Rule 2. The public has a right to know.

Rule 3. Elected officials need to communicate with their constituents and keep them informed.

Rule 4. Elected officials must make the best economic decisions for the Town of Vail.

Rule 5. The public has a right to the truth ” not someone’s interpretation of it.

And while I was out of town celebrating my mother’s birthday for the first meeting of the new council, I did watch it on TV. It seemed curiously more quiet than usual, particularly considering the items on the agenda.

Let’s start with the newly passed use tax. It’s unfortunate that there wasn’t a discussion before the election on the various issues that would ultimately surround the implementation of this tax. As you may or may not know, the vote gave the town permission to institute such a tax. It didn’t, however, describe the method and criteria to be used.

During the few minutes of discussion this issue received prior to deciding to put it on the ballot, the public was clearly led to believe that there would be no problem in locals receiving an exemption for their little projects. Well, not so easy. Any exemption must be applied across the board, meaning that developers draw the same bye as the small-condo owners. As it works out, or as the second reading should reflect, everyone gets a $10,000 exemption. The results are OK if it gets passed on December 4, but I still maintain that this all should have been discussed before we went to the polls.

Then there was the setting of the mill levy. Of course you remember that the governor froze the mill levy as it relates to education. And if you don’t remember, you will when you get your property tax bill from Eagle County in January. Because that coupled with the outrageous increases in property valuations will be reflected in huge tax bills for everyone in Eagle County.

When I did my original column on this topic, I shared the information I had gathered while talking with the county assessor. Their hands were tied. The assessments were what they were and subject to state audit. If they varied from the audit, fines would follow.

So my question to Mark Chapin was what can we do? His answer was three-fold. First, there was a move to have the governor’s decision declared illegal per Tabor, or the Taxpayers Bill of Rights Amendment. Many felt ” and I assume still feel ” that his action was tantamount to a tax increase. Rumor has it, that’s in the works.

Secondly, appeal. But with the freeze in the mill levy on education, not much would be accomplished because more than 50 percent of your taxes go to education, therefore, more than 50 percent of your taxes would be unaffected.

His third was clear but not simple. Every special district taxing authority in the county has the ability to regulate their mill levy according to their financial need. Mark suggested that we attend those meetings and demand justification for the expenditures that these increases will be used to finance.

And that’s exactly what should be done at the December 4 town council meeting. Because this increase in valuations will bring the town of Vail an increase of $1.5 million in additional tax revenues over what they got last year. Operative word being over. That’s an increase of 53 percent. And that’s in addition to the millions that will roll in via the new use tax.

And it’s annual.

This represents a substantial windfall for the town. Exactly what do they plan on doing with that money? More windmills? You have a right to know.

And to their credit, councilors Dick Cleveland, Andy Daly and Farrow Hitt wanted to reduce it. Mark Gordon, Kevin Foley, Kim Newbury and Margaret Rogers thought they should collect it all.

Maybe you can convince them otherwise on December 4.

It’s your money, but they have the ability to reduce the mill levy so you don’t get hit quite so hard. Because, believe me, you’ll be reeling when your tax bill arrives in January.

And don’t forget. The Chamber and the Colorado Department of Transportation are co-sponsoring a meeting this Thursday, November 29 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the Vail Town Council chambers. The goal is to devise a plan for next summer’s I-70 construction from Dowd Junction to Vail Pass. CDOT swears they’ll listen but they need to hear from you.

Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Commentary” or search for keyword “ferry.”

Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a biweekly column for the Daily.


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