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Garfield County cashing in on oil and gas

Donna Gray
Mark Fox/The Aspen TimesHomeowners and public schools in the western portion of neighboring Garfield County have been among the biggest beneficiaries of taxes paid by gas and oil companies.
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The 21st century has brought a bountiful harvest to Garfield County ” a harvest of natural gas that has steadily cut resident’s property taxes in the west end.

“We have seen huge increases,” County Assessor Shannon Hurst said.

The county’s tax revenues from natural gas production have grown from $201 million in 2001 to a whopping $1.7 billion in 2006.

Among the greatest beneficiaries of this windfall are the school districts. The district that comprises New Castle, Silt and Rifle, saw its share of the tax pie grow from $116 million in 2001 to $987 million this year, Hurst said. Schools in Battlement Mesa and Parachute received $672 million this year, up from $71 million in 2001.

Also benefiting from the taxes paid by gas companies on their yearly output are people who own homes in western Garfield County.

Ever since the passage of the Gallagher Amendment in 1982, assessment values for residential property in Colorado, which are used to calculate tax amounts, have decreased. The amendment came about from tax payers’ concerns in the 1970s over growing property taxes and pressure on the legislature to do something about it.

According to the amendment, the property tax burden is divided up between residential and other types of property, such as commercial or vacant land. Now, 45 percent of state property tax collected must come from residential property and 55 percent from other types, including commercial.

The amendment also requires that the assessment rate for commercial property be capped at 29 percent. The residential rate is adjusted annually to meet the 45/55 percent split.

Since 2000, Garfield County assessment values have risen 35 percent in Rifle, Hurst said. But the assessment rate set annually by the state legislature has effectively lowered residential property taxes over the years.

In New Castle, while assessed values have risen 16 percent, taxes have dropped 6 to 7 percent annually since 2001, Hurst said.

Battlement Mesa has seen the largest jump. In 2000, “assessed value was at its highest” with American Soda producing soda bicarbonate commercially, and there was a 25 percent decrease in taxes, Hurst said.

Then American Soda sold out tipping the scale upward and increasing residential property taxes. But with the burgeoning natural gas industry in western Garfield County, Battlement Mesa’s taxes have decreased between 34 and 35 percent, she said.

While the greatest benefit to the county has probably been to residential property owners in the western portion of the county, all people benefit from the revenues county government receives from oil and gas production that goes into county funds, said County Commissioner Larry McCown.

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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