River District asking to keep tax money | VailDaily.com

River District asking to keep tax money

Cliff Thompson
Refendum 4A, a question on the November ballot, could give a regional water board funds to maintain water storage facilities, such as the Reudi Reservoir, pictured above in this file photo taken during last summer's drought. The reservoir is on the border of Eagle and Pitkin counties.

One proposal on the ballot this fall aims to keep the Western Slope greener by providing more water storage and better water delivery systems, if voters approve Referendum 4A.

After voters last year rejected a proposal to increase taxes to fund new reservoirs and to improve existing water facilities, the Colorado River Water Conservation District came up with the ballot proposal for this Election Day. Nov. 4.

Not to be confused with Referendum A, a statewide water financing plan, Referendum 4A concerns the 500,000 residents in the 15 counties in the northwestern part of Colorado that form the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

The district is charged with protecting water supplies within the Colorado River watershed.

Referendum 4A proposes freezing the rate of property tax at current levels. That tax now costs the owner of a $500,000 home $6 per year. If the state’s biennial reassessment of property results in higher property values, the district would generate additional money with the same tax rate. In the past, property values have had a history of increasing.

The district would then use the money generated to purchase water, rehabilitate existing reservoirs and to increase the efficiency of leaky water delivery systems.

“We’ll receive additional money only if the property values have increased at a rate greater than growth plus inflation,” said district spokesman Chris Treece. “The first time we would receive funds would be 2006.”

Unlike last year’s proposal, which sought a tax increase that would’ve generated $2 million, this proposal is far more modest, Treece said. He expects it to generate $200,000 between 2006 and 2008.

That money would be earmarked for purchasing water stored in the federally-controlled Blue Mesa and Reudi reservoirs for drought emergencies, and also to rehabilitate existing reservoirs and to work with water delivery systems to increase their efficiency and cut their water losses.

The district is taking the measure to the voters because state law and the Colorado’s taxpayer’s bill of rights requires tax increases be approved by voters if it’s over and above the rate of economic growth plus inflation.

“The priorities are essentially the same,” Treece said. “It will take us longer because this will not raise as much money.”

Opponents of the measure say revenue over and above the allowable tax rate should be returned to taxpayers and that the proposal has a potential to double property taxes without any control over how they will be spent.

Last year’s tax increase proposal failed with 55 percent of the district’s voters voting against it.

Colorado’s lack of reservoirs and inability to store snowmelt was highlighted during the summer of 2002’s drought – the worst in 300 years. That drought has focused attentionon on building more of the increasingly expensive storage lakes. Water in reservoirs can also be released to help bolster river flows during dry periods.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com

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