Vail Valley Voices: Property evaluations raise taxing issues
Vail, CO, Colorado
Today, many taxpayers are in a stew about how their property evaluations are too high and the eventual property taxes are therefore going to be too high. Keep in mind there are two factors that determine your property taxes. In simplistic terms it is A X B = C (your property taxes).
A: Property evaluation. Sent out the first week in May in the odd numbered years. Here the process is rigorous and remarkably accurate most of the time. This is the item you can protest. For comprehensive detail of all this, see the writer’s article in the Vail Daily on March 14.
B: Mill levy. Set in the fall before the tax bills are sent out each January. Here the process is anything but rigorous. It is frequently steeped in politics, lack of transparency and even outright misinformation.
There are about 82 taxing entities in Eagle County. Your tax bill will be subject to a number of these. A state constitutional amendment called TABOR (Taxpayers Bill Of Rights) was passed in 1992 providing protection against runaway property tax collections.
Currently, over half of the taxing entities had their TABOR tax increase protection caps removed through elections. Typically, ballot information did not fully reveal future implications and few, if any, had a sunset provision requiring voter revalidation after a certain number of years.
The result is a mill levy that is fixed, resulting in no dampening of tax increases as the property valuations go up (remember A X B = C).
TABOR would have reduced the mill levy to offset increased property evaluations but allowing for small increases due to inflation and other factors.
Even without TABOR protection, individual taxing entities (county and municipal governments, etc.), have the power to reduce the mill levy.
Government’s responses to this capability frequently are: (a) silence; (b) legal fears they shouldn’t reduce the mill levy to avoid the risk of not being able to re-establish it (these feared scenarios have not materialized in practice); and (c) statements they really need the money, usually without identifying specific uses for the year-to-year tax collection increases.
So protest your property evaluations if you feel the system has failed you. But reserve some time and energy.
At any time, ask whether a ballot should come before the voters to verify whether TABOR should be re-instituted. This is a perfectly fair request.
During the summer, scrutinize taxing entities’ budgets, including inquiring about what effectiveness and efficiency measurements are in place. Then in the fall inquire about the setting of mill levies.
Commissioners and councils should demonstrate the same sincere outreach for citizen involvement and questioning as does the Eagle County Assessor’s Office, per their proven practice and the special information section in the May 7 Vail Daily.
Finally, councils and commissioners are elected to represent the people.
All too often, once in office, they put the blinders on and only consider the desires of government for more taxes while failing to consider the stresses on family budgets.
For real life perspective, consider that last year the Eagle County Treasurer’s office sent out 4,000 tax delinquent notices. Based on the current number of phone calls coming in requesting stretched-out payment plans, the number of tax delinquent notices could increase substantially in the future.
Paul Rondeau lives in Vail.
Town weighs its long-term viability vs. small-town character