Menconi: Why full tax is needed
The Vail Daily has asked the Board of County Commissioners legitimate questions regarding increases in assessed property values in Eagle County. In turn, we’ve tried to explain why lowering the county mill levy makes little sense for the people of Eagle County.The county collects a small fraction of property taxes. The towns, school district, fire districts, metro districts, recreation districts and the library together collect many times more property tax revenue. The Gallagher Amendment keeps residential taxes much lower – as a percentage – than any increase in residential property values. The Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR amendment, makes it difficult if not impossible to ever raise them again. Even with the recent run-up in home values, Colorado residential property taxes remain among the lowest in the nation.Eagle County’s property tax revenue (including commercial and new construction) has averaged 5.4 percent since 2002. This barely matches the rate of inflation. It does nothing to address the need for the expanded services that new residents require. Similarly, residential property tax rates don’t cover the costs of keeping the roads clear of snow and traffic (driven through the Eagle roundabout at 7:45 a.m. lately?). Meanwhile the funds needed for services to our growing population have gone unaddressed. To get the county’s full budget picture, the Daily should examine the county’s revenues and expenses over the last five years. It should ask what operational increases are needed to keep the streets plowed and traffic flowing (hopefully faster). It should ask for projected costs of state-mandated capital projects, such as the Eagle County Justice Center. It should ask how much building housing for locals will cost.In recent years the county has faced a significant increase in operating costs. Most of these costs are county salaries – the folks who process our building permits, patch our roads, drive our buses, and keep the peace. In the past six years Eagle County has increased the Sheriff’s Office budget 80 percent – far beyond the annual 5 percent increase in property taxes. Thanks to the Gallagher Amendment, residential property taxes don’t even cover the increased costs of existing services, much less the expanded services needed for Eagle County’s booming population.The expansion to the Justice Center, a $20 million one-time capital improvement, also looms large. Whether you like it or not, public safety is a priority, and the planned Justice Center expansion is mandated by state law. Its costs – like many in the county – grow significantly with an increasing population. Without a new Justice Center, we cannot house dangerous inmates or provide adequate courtrooms. These are some of the most fundamental and important of public needs.Despite the Daily’s editor’s rhetoric, the county has no “windfall.” All county departments have been asked to cut their budgets, not increase them. For 2008, Eagle County has cut its general fund expenditures to approximately 94 percent of 2007 levels. The Board of County Commissioners cut programs and services and froze merit-pay increases. The 2008 budget is the most responsible in the seven years I have served as commissioner. Fiscal res-possibility is the county’s principal mandate. The next is providing services that the private sector will not or cannot provide – road improvements, seniors and workforce housing, law enforcement, good roads, and adequate facilities. These are not pet projects. They represent critical public infrastructure. Returning all county residential property tax increases would cost taxpayers an average of $30 each – that’s 8 cents a day. Is that going to make a difference to your budget? It will to Eagle County’s quality of life.Arn Menconi is an Eagle County commissioner.
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