Stavney, Buckley say they kept taxes in line
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Property taxes and spending are among the top issues permeating debates and discussion in this year’s commissioners races.
Republican candidates Dick Gustafson and Debbie Buckley have criticized the current board for taking a more than $7-million increase in property taxes, a result of assessed values that spiked almost 38 percent last year.
Current commissioners, including Democrat Peter Runyon, who is running against Gustafson for re-election, decided not to lower the county’s mill levy and kept the increase.
Runyon and Democrat Jon Stavney, who is running against Buckley, justify the increase, saying that the county only takes a small portion of the total taxes ” about 15 percent. Also, they point out, the extra funds are needed at a time when the county is quickly growing.
A state law known as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), limits how much increased tax revenue a government can collect each year and requires a public vote in order to increase the tax rate.
The county became exempt from the revenue limitations by a public vote in 1995, but still cannot increase the tax rate without a public vote. That requirement also makes county officials leery of lowering the mill levy because they have no guarantee they can raise the levy later if necessary, Runyon said.
However, the Republicans say that the county should lead the way in decreasing their portion of taxes and criticize what they have called “unnecessary spending” by the current board.
Both Republican candidates signed a pledge committing to work for lower taxes and reinstating TABOR.
The tax records of all the candidates from their time serving at the county or the towns still stands ” what did they do as commissioners, town council members and mayors?
This article takes a look at Stavney’s time as Eagle mayor and town trustee (1998 to 2008) and Buckley’s two terms on the Avon town council (1998 to 2006).
Both Avon and Eagle are also exempt from the revenue limitations.
Stavney has said that while it shouldn’t be taken for granted that government revenue will increase every year, he does not promise tax cuts like the Republican candidates.
He argues that the county’s tax “windfall” last year was probably needed for county services and operation ” but commissioners could have done a better job of explaining to the public where the money went, he said.
During Stavney’s time with the town of Eagle, the mill levy was lowered four times. Most years, the town saw moderate increases in property tax revenues and a few more significant jumps.
Over Stavney’s 10 years in office, the town’s property tax revenues went up an average of 8.6 percent each year.
In 2000, 2005 and 2007, property tax revenues rose between about 16 percent and 19 percent, jumps that Stavney attributes to new construction, especially as Eagle Ranch developed.
“Keep in mind that the property of Eagle has gone up in value as Eagle Ranch has developed,” Stavney said. “They’ve been building for nine years, and as it’s ramped up, there’s more property tax income.”
In the years that the town saw jumps in new construction, the mill levy was recalibrated to maintain a similar amount of property tax revenue, he said.
Property taxes make up a much smaller part of Eagle’s budget than the county’s budget. Property taxes are about 25 percent of the county’s total revenue.
Only about 7 percent of Eagle’s revenue is from property taxes. It depends more on sales taxes from the businesses surrounding the interstate and on Chambers Avenue, which make up more than half of the budget, said Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell.
Permit fees for building projects are another major source of income, he said.
Stavney said that he tried to expand the town’s sales tax base, bringing in more income to the town and taking pressure off of property taxes.
“I have really sought to expand the retail base on Broadway Avenue,” he said, referring to a renovation of an Eagle downtown street.
“I’ve also considered regional retail such as Red Mountain Ranch and Eagle River Station,” he added, referring two to large retail projects. Red Mountain Ranch was rejected and the town is currently reviewing the Eagle River station proposal.
That income is a much larger part of the county’s funds, and he understands why last year’s $7 million increase might have been needed, Stavney said.
“It’s a much more important game at the county what you do with property tax revenue,” he said. “The challenge is that there are a lot of important but unsexy things you need to do in government.”
One such example with Eagle was the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant. The project was federally mandated and cost $13.5 million.
It is an example of something that was expensive, but needed to be done, much like the county’s $24 million Justice Center expansion project, Stavney said.
The Justice Center was one reason commissioners said they needed to keep the tax increase.
“It’d be hard to take (a wastewater treatment plant) into a public vote,” he said. “Many people would probably have voted against funding it, but they still need the plant. That’s the challenge of taking everything to the voters. Do you want a public vote for every item in the budget?”
During Buckley’s eight years on the seven-member Avon council, the town saw very slight increases in their property tax revenues.
Buckley’s council lowered the general mill levy once in 2001 ” the result of the fire department forming its own separate district.
Avon also has a debt service tax, which funded the town’s roundabouts and Bob the Bridge on Avon Road. While the tax rate for those projects have gone down yearly, the actual amount of tax money used to pay off those bonds have stayed pretty much the same each year, said Avon Assistant Town Manager Scott Wright.
Avon had a less than 2 percent yearly increase in property-tax revenues during Buckley’s terms.
“I know my own personal (Avon) taxes have been pretty steady,” Buckley said. “The town of Avon has done a pretty good job of controlling taxes and spending.”
However, she noted that while she was on the council, the town never had a huge increase in assessed values like the county saw this year.
Avon depends slightly more on property taxes than Eagle ” almost 14 percent of the town’s revenue comes from property taxes. Another 25 percent comes from sales taxes, and 24 percent comes from fees for recreation, planning and other town services.
Buckley said that while Avon could have a higher sales-tax base to generate more revenue, she preferred to keep spending down instead.
“I’m more on cutting expenses and tightening spending instead of increasing revenues,” she said.
However, she thought the town did a good job of driving hard bargains with developers to bring sales tax and other income into Avon.
When Wal-Mart moved from Chapel Square to its current location at Traer Creek, the town council made sure the town would still receive the same amount of sales tax revenue, Buckley said.
With other residential and hotel projects, the council negotiated “fees” from developers that helped pay for the rec center, recreation programs and the town’s free bus service, which is one of the town’s biggest expenses, she said.
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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