Tax hike is unfair, Eagle Co. group says
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” A group of Eagle County residents wants to know why property tax bills went up 42 percent this year.
“Nobody thought taxes would go up this much. It’s just blatantly unfair,” said Edwards resident Buddy Sims, one of the leaders of Eagle County Property Taxpayers for Common Sense.
The group is holding a meeting on Friday for all residents to discuss the reasons for the tax raise and how to prevent it from happening in coming years. All officials from taxing entities are invited to attend, organizers said.
The Eagle County tax assessor, the county finance director, and other officials from the taxing entities will attend the meeting, Sims said.
“The point is to say, this is a problem and we need to do something about it. Maybe we can understand why it is the way it is,” said Sims.
Assessed values of homes went up about 40 percent last year in Eagle County. Most taxing entities, including the county and the towns, did not lower their property tax rates ” also known as mill levies ” resulting in significant increases in property taxes.
Group organizer Chuck Taylor said he estimates that across all taxing entities, property tax revenue increased more than $38 million.
The raise hurts people on fixed incomes and middle-class families, said Edwards resident Dick Froberg.
The property tax bill for his single-family home increased almost 55 percent, and it increased even more for a vacant lot he owns in Eagle Ranch, he said.
“For people like me who are senior citizens, it’s one heck of a big jump. I looked at my bill and thought, ‘Holy smokes!'” he said.
Sims said that while governments need money to operate and schools need to be improved, it is unreasonable to raise the bill so dramatically.
“I think it’s fine to improve infrastructure and such, but you gotta do it with a gradual methods. I’d like to see a gradual increase. Don’t just slam us with it all at one time,” Sims said.
Ed O’Brien, a director of the Eagle River Fire Protection District, said he will be at the meeting to defend the district’s decision to keep the 5.5 mill levy the same, bringing in almost $1.5 million in additional revenue.
The money is needed to raise firefighter’s wages, replace old equipment, and build a new firehouse, he said.
“The single largest increase is that we granted a 22 percent wage increase to firefighters who were vastly underpaid for the past few years,” said O’Brien.
“We’ve been underpaying our people for six years. Could we have waited a few more years (and raised taxes gradually)? Yes, but it wouldn’t have been right,” he said.
The district’s firefighters have been making about 25 percent below the area average for other fire districts, he said.
The district will also need to expand in the next few years to accommodate growth, he said. A new firehouse will be needed in Wolcott, and the Avon station needs to be rebuilt.
The county is using its portion of the tax increase to give employees a 5 percent wage increase, expand the county’s justice center, and build more affordable housing. The county will get an additional $7.3 million from the tax increase.
The increased taxes from all the taxing entities does add up, County Commissioner Peter Runyon said, but the money is needed to keep up services for a growing community.
“This is the price of growth. We have for too long allowed unrestricted growth, and now we’re having to pay for it,” he said.
If assessed values go up again in the future, the county will consider adjusting the tax rate, he said.
“But in reality we’re going to have more costs. We’ll easily incur more bills for the state-mandated justice center expansion, and affordable housing is going to be an ongoing issue,” he said.
But Froberg said the increases are still not justified.
“They should have looked at everything and asked if it was really needed. I think (the increase) was an excess, and I don’t want to see it happen again,” he said.
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or email@example.com.