Taxes split Eagle County commissioner candidates |

Taxes split Eagle County commissioner candidates

Melanie WongVail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado Each week, the Vail Daily will publish a Q&A with the four Eagle County commissioner candidates. Democrat and incumbent Commissioner Peter Runyon will be running against Republican and former commissioner Dick Gustafson for the upvalley seat. Democrat Jon Stavney will be running against Republican Debbie Buckley for the midvalley seat thats being vacated by term-limited Arn Menconi. All Eagle County voters will vote for all the seats, regardless of where they live.The questions will cover local election issues. This weeks question pertains to property taxes, which rose an average of about 40 percent across the county last year due to increases in property value. County commissioners chose to keep the property tax rate also known as a mill levy the same. As a result, the county got a $7.3 million increase in revenues.

Should the county have kept all of that revenue? If property values go up again in the near future, how should commissioners deal with it?

The very phrasing of the question shows the depth of the confusion surrounding this tax question. Let me be very clear the county never keeps ALL of your property tax revenue. It never has. The county does keep 15 percent of the total, but its mill levy is the second lowest in Colorado and has remained steady during my term as commissioner. (So the claim I have raised taxes is completely untrue).The truth is that the county has absolutely no control over the other 85 percent. None. That 85 percent is spread out over 73 different, voter-approved taxing districts such as schools, fire, ambulance, library and towns.If our goal is to give relief to financially stressed locals it should be we need to be careful using the blunt tool of a tax rebate. More than half of the money would go out of the county into the pockets of second-home owners. Less than half would get into the hands of locals.I would prefer the more global solution of a homestead rebate as is used in Florida, which provides meaningful tax relief to working families. Indeed, this is one of the bills Im lobbying for at the state legislature.

The mil levy should have been lowered, reducing taxes. Whenever elected officials put their own pet projects above those of the taxpayers, taxes increase unfairly.I believe the commissioners didnt lower the mil levy because they dont trust the voters, and the reverse is also true. When the economy tightens, they keep spending and taking on millions of long-term taxpayer debt. They deny the voters any opportunity for input by scheduling daytime hearings, if at all.A three-year policy of secrecy and hidden agenda, with no accountability, prevails. Major expenditures are relegated to the consent agenda, and money is spent, or given away, indiscriminately. If questioned, a culture of fear threatens salary, staff, and service reductions.In the future, the county should maximize the use of taxes on state-statute mandated needs and then allow voters to decide about paying for wants. When county taxes increase, without voter consent, citizens must cancel vacations, entertainment, dinners out, and economize with a lesser cut of meat for their family. When taxpayers are compromised, so is the entire county. The commissioners should be sensitive to the economy and learn to tighten the countys belt when the constituents have, too. For more information, see

Property taxes on our home went up $1,000 in 2008. Like others working full-time, we have expectations about quality of life that we cannot buy for ourselves public safety, open space, roads, trails and compassionate human services. As a project manager, I manage budgets for discerning clients. As commissioner, I commit to understanding our $103-million budget and help the 18 departments operate efficiently to improve our lives. This next assessment, I wont presume that increased valuation equates to a larger budget.Its easy to single out programs not specifically useful to me without seeing our community as a whole. Government has a significant role to play in our lives beyond reducing taxes and saying thats not our problem.Working families in the valley are one event away from falling off a cliff, and reduced spending has sometimes steepened that cliff. Colorado ranks at the bottom nationally in funding of education. Our department of transportation cannot keep up with maintenance, or meet the future transportation needs.The feds say to the state, which says to the counties, what we simply cannot say to our neighbors youre on your own. I commit to expanding our sales-tax base, being a frugal steward of your tax dollars, and communicating often with citizens.

Almost all of the more than 6,000 taxpayer homes that I have personally visited recently agree with me this huge tax increase was neither necessary nor right. Most people understand the need for a modest increase in tax revenues, but 43 percent is unreasonable. At a time when fuel costs are up, and the economy is flat, locals need a break. I will return spending at the county back to needs first and wants second. Increases on our tax burden, now and in the future, should only be made when necessary. My commitment is to a responsible and accountable government. Visit my Web site at and learn more about how I will restore trust and build community.Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

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