Tax revolt group gets some answers, more questions
VAIL CO, COLORADO
EAGLE-VAIL ” A group of Eagle County residents are now much more informed about why their property tax bills were much higher this year ” but they still are not quite sure what to do about it.
About 120 residents met for the second meeting of Eagle County Taxpayers for Common Sense at the Eagle-Vail Pavilion on Monday night to vent about the tax increase, question taxing authorities and learn about taxing laws from experts.
Penn Pfiffner, director of the Independence Institute’s fiscal policy center, explained why residents’ property taxes went up, and why taxing authorities would be able to legally increase their tax revenues.
In Eagle County, assessed values of homes, on which property taxes are based, increased an average of 40 percent. Many taxing districts, including the county, the ambulance districts and most of the towns, chose not to lower their mill levies, or property tax rates, resulting in much higher tax bills.
Colorado’s Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights keeps taxing districts from collecting that extra money, but in Eagle County’s case, many districts claim to be exempt from those restrictions, Pfiffner said.
Districts can be exempt, or “de-Bruced” by a vote from residents.
Residents discussed several solutions, including asking for tax rebates, getting on their local district boards and talking to taxing authorities.
“We’re leaning toward re-enacting the TABOR amendment in many of these districts,” said Jim Pavelich, one of the group’s organizers.
But how and if that could be done is unclear, and residents would need to examine the situation of each taxing authority, Pfiffner said.
“There’s not one, nice magic bullet that we can fire tonight that will take care of all your districts. You’ll have to deal with it on a district-by-district basis,” he said.
Pavelich encouraged residents to attend their district board meetings, talk to their neighbors and write letters to the editor. The group plans to seek legal council and organize petitions, he said.
Pfiffner said he thought the meeting was a good first step.
“But don’t be proud that you got a lot of people together and got mad. Do something about it.” he said.
One of the districts that most bothered the group was one that local residents have little control over.
The school district collects the largest portion of property taxes ” it collected an additional $8 million in taxes this year ” but its mill levies are set and frozen by the state.
The state gives schools a certain amount of money per student. Part of the money comes from property taxes, part comes from car sales taxes and the remainder is provided by the state, said Phil Onofrio, the school district’s chief financial officer.
In communities like Eagle County, property taxes more than cover the costs, and the extra taxes collected are kept by the state.
“The school district didn’t gain a penny from your situation, but the state of Colorado gained $8 million,” Onofrio said, drawing murmurs from the crowd.
Some residents said while there were not immediate solutions, the meeting helped them better understand their tax situations.
Vail resident Jennifer Shay said she owns three properties in the county, and the taxes on two of them increased considerably.
“I found it quite informative,” she said of the meeting, “but I’m not quite sure of what to do about it yet.”
She especially would like to see changes in the school district levy freeze, she said.
Avon resident and new homeowner John Southwick said he wanted to get involved because it might affect whether he can stay in the valley in the future.
“Especially as a younger person, it’s good to learn about what goes into taxes and how the local government is involved, and what people can actually do about it,” he said.
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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