For tax questions, ballot boxes reflect Vail Valley voters’ lack of trust in the state, feds |

For tax questions, ballot boxes reflect Vail Valley voters’ lack of trust in the state, feds

Fire fighters from the Eagle River Fire District work to put out a brush fire on Sunday, April 1, in Edwards. High winds fanned the fire.
Chris Dillmann |

Gallagher explained

Approved by Colorado voters in 1982, the Gallagher Amendment governs the way homes are appraised for property tax purposes. It mandates that the amount of property taxes collected on residential properties must be lower than the amount of property taxes collected on nonresidential property. Specifically, Gallagher stipulates that residential property taxes reflect 45 percent of the state’s total property tax revenue. Nonresidential property taxes comprise the other 55 percent.

The law complicates matters for small, residential property tax-dependent entities such as the local fire districts. The 45/55 split is a statewide calculation, and right now it reflects the residential building boom that is happening along Colorado’s Front Range. But the local districts haven’t seen the residential growth that is spurring the statewide assessment rate decline, and the entities don’t have large enough nonresidential bases to offset the lower residential tax rates.

In 2017, the state’s residential properties were assessed at 7.96 percent. In 2018 and 2019, Gallagher dropped that rate to 7.2 percent. In 2020 and 2021, the residential assessment rate is expected to drop to 6.11 percent.

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories in the wake of the Tuesday, Nov. 6, election explaining the impact of decisions voters made. Look for additional stories in print in coming days and online at

EDWARDS — Coloradans took a long step toward self-determination Tuesday, Nov. 6, when they rejected statewide tax proposals but embraced local tax questions.

So the question then becomes, was it as simple as clearer ballot language, or is it that we do not trust state and federal governments to do anything right, so we’re doing it for ourselves instead?

“Yes … and,” said Chris Romer, president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership. “We cannot depend on the state or — God help us — the feds to solve our problems. We need to have more local control over these things. That’s why local taxes pass and statewide taxes do not.”

It’s a matter of trust, Romer said.

Support Local Journalism

“The trust level with people you see at the grocery store, in restaurants or the post office is incrementally higher than the people who are in Denver or in Washington,” Romer said.

The data proves it

Colorado Mesa University partnered with the Special District Association of Colorado and other organizations for a 2018 study to determine if it’s true that we trust local governments more than the state and feds.

We do, by leaps and bounds.

The further people are from a form of government, the more they doubt it will do them any good, the study found.

People trust and feel closer to their special districts — 86 percent overall — than any other form of government. Municipal government is a close second, the Colorado Mesa study found.

“Local voters see the services that are being performed and would feel the impacts of a cut. They’re more likely to approve the changes necessary to keep that from happening,” said Ann Terry with the Special District Association of Colorado.

That goes a long way in explaining why voters across Colorado approved every de-Gallagher tax question except two: Evergreen Parks and Recreation District and the Greater Brighton Fire Protection District.

Locals win all around

Colorado Mountain College won the right to maintain its funding level through lean times because local voters approved a ballot measure to preserve the services for which we already voted to tax ourselves in the first place, explained Dr. Kathryn Regjo, director of CMC’s Edwards Vail Valley campus.

Minturn voters approved a tax on building materials.

Eagle County’s open space tax will continue through 2040, instead of sunsetting in 2025.

Avon voters approved a tobacco tax. Avon sells around 200,000 packs of cigarettes a year, Scott Wright, Avon’s acting town manager said.

Voters in Eagle and Gypsum’s fire districts approved tax questions. Both fire districts asked for relief from Colorado’s Gallagher Amendment restrictions that could have forced draconian cuts.

Voters in the two towns stood with their local firefighters over state regulations after one of the most destructive wildfire seasons in memory — including the Lake Christine fire, the largest in Eagle County history — Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll said.

Voting for self-preservation and clarity

People are voting to protect themselves and the services they need, as well as their quality of life, Regjo said.

“In statewide tax increases, it’s more difficult to understand what we’re going to get,” Regjo said.

Take Amendment 73, for example. It would have taxed corporations and upper-income Coloradans to increase education funding. Eagle County Schools stood to gain $11.6 million.

The language was convoluted and had some provisions that, in the relatively near future, could increase taxes on the poor, Regjo said.

Tax questions need to be laser focused, as CMC and local fire districts’ were, Romer said, and cannot try to solve Colorado’s Gordian knot with Gallagher, TABOR and Amendment 23.

In Eagle, Fire Chief Doug Cupp said that over the last three years, they have answered an increasing number of calls and spend more time on scene when they do. They’ve also seen their budget shrink from $2.9 million in 2010 to $2.2 million in 2018, cuts forced by Colorado’s Gallagher Amendment.

Gypsum’s fire district enjoyed broad support in Tuesday’s election and can now keep the promises it made in 2016 when voters approved a property tax increase, Gypsum Fire Chief Justin Kirkland said.

Before Tuesday, it was not inconceivable that fire departments would have to cut staff and services and might also be forced to send you an invoice if they had to put out a fire at your home, Romer said.

“I don’t want to live in a community where you get an invoice, and that’s what it was moving toward without everyone taking the steps that are necessary,” he said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

Support Local Journalism