Should Eagle County second-home owners cast ballots?
August 14, 2010
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Proponents of Amendment 60 say the provision allowing all property owners to vote on property tax issues where they own real property is a matter of simple justice.
“We see no negative consequences in allowing Colorado citizens the right to vote on property taxes increases they would have to pay,” wrote one of the organizers of cotaxreforms.com. “Freedom, fairness and autonomy are good social values.”
Cotaxreforms.com is a campaign committee promoting three Colorado ballot initiatives – Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101. The committee declined to reveal a spokesperson or provide a name to go along with their comments sent from an anonymous e-mail address.
“The name, gender, residence, income, and pet ownership of the writer is irrelevant,” the campaign committee person wrote. “We ask only that the issues be decided on their merits, without fear of retaliation by the Establishment.”
One positive that some see in the amendment is that the voting rights would fight taxation without representation, said Don Cohen, executive director of the Economic Council of Eagle County.
While Cohen gets that part of it, he sees how some negative impacts in Eagle County, where more than half of the homes are second or third homes, could arise.
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“If (second-home owners) do vote on a tax issue, they might say they don’t want to pay any more taxes here,” Cohen said. “I could potentially see a defeat of important bond issues on stuff that really makes our community work.”
Another problem is that language in the amendment is vague, according to Matt Dalton, a Denver-based attorney specializing in municipal, special district and public finance law.
Dalton wrote a white paper analyzing the amendments, citing some problems with the language in all three amendments:
“The amendment (60) language allowing all ‘electors’ to vote on property taxes where they own real property does not define ‘elector.’ This term could be interpreted several ways. For example, it could be interpreted to include: (1) only registered electors who own real property, (2) corporations or other legal entities who own real property, (3) persons who own property in Colorado but reside out of state, or (4) property owners who are not registered to vote.”
Cohen said the vague language should have been more specific before it ever got certified as ballot language.
“It will immediately trigger litigation (if passed),” Cohen said. “That kind of vagueness, so broad and so over-reaching, points to fact that proponents of 60 show complete disregard of economics in many of our mountain communities.”
Cotaxreforms.com said the provision allows Colorado citizens to vote on ballot issues that affect their property taxes. The campaign committee described the language to read that Colorado citizens would still vote on both candidates and issues where they reside full-time, but on property taxes only where they own real property.
“(Second-home owners) have a substantial investment in Vail and a right to protect it,” the campaign committee said. “It is wrong for some people to vote on taxes other people must pay, and not allow those directly affected the right to vote as well.”
Cohen said ideally there should be some fairness allowing property taxpayers to have a say, but this isn’t necessarily the way to go about it.
“It’s pretty easy to vote against something you think you will never see or never use,” Cohen said.
Scott Wright, the town of Avon’s finance director, said elected officials are more focused on the other impacts in the three ballot initiatives that would directly impact town revenues and spending. The impacts from the property tax voting issue are farther down the road, he said.
“It would give them a lot more power in determining the local affairs here where they otherwise wouldn’t have much,” Wright said. “I don’t really know what the impacts would be yet.”
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.