Property tax increase is on Red Cliff ballot |

Property tax increase is on Red Cliff ballot

On the ballot

Town: Red Cliff.

Ballot question: 2H

What it asks: The town is asking for a property tax increase.

What it would raise: $107,710 in 2014.

How do I vote? Either by mail or by dropping off a ballot at an Eagle County Clerk and Recorder’s office by today.

RED CLIFF — Eagle County’s first incorporated town has long been strapped for cash. Falling property values have made the cash crunch even tighter.

Red Cliff’s property tax revenues — by far the biggest share of the town’s income — have fallen from $199,677 in 2010 to an estimated $107,710 in 2014. According to Red Cliff Mayor Scott Burgess, that’s a big enough drop that the town may have to turn off the street lights and could be required to raise water rates to pay the town’s long-term debt on its municipal system.

Alternative to raising water rates

As an alternative, the town council has asked voters for a property tax increase. That increase would bring the town’s revenues back to roughly 2010 levels, and Burgess said the per-household cost would be much lower than raising money to pay the town’s water system debt through rate increases.

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Burgess said the rate increase could be done without voter approval. But according to the county’s election information mailed to voters, that rate hike would cost each household in town another $690 per year.

The same county voter information states that the property tax hike would amount to about $62 per every $100,000 of taxable value. The average home in Red Cliff is worth about $150,000, which would make the average tax increase about $94.

Burgess said while state law would seem to favor the water rate hike, he and other council members prefer the less expensive tax hike.

In a recent interview for another story, life-long resident Diana Cisneros said she’d prefer the tax increase to the big hike in water rates. Since many people in Red Cliff are older and living on fixed incomes, Cisneros said the tax hike would make sense for those people, too.

Unlike a property tax question voters last year approved for the Eagle River Fire Protection District, the Red Cliff question doesn’t have a “sunset,” or end date.

“The plan is to lower the mill levy as property values come back up,” Burgess said.

If this year’s ballot measure passes, Burgess added that the mill levy — a complex formula that sets property tax rates — will still be lower than it was in 2003. Since mill levies are tied to property values and since the state constitution limits the amount of taxes that can be collected, Burgess said the town’s current mill levy is about half what it was in 2003.

“The sentiment I’m getting (from residents) is support,” Burgess said. “I realize times are tough, but we’re already on a shoestring.”

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