Editorial: Vote yes on Colorado Mountain College’s property tax issue
Eagle County voters in the past year have agreed to tax themselves for schools and fire protection. Those tax hikes are starting to add up.
In this fall’s election season, voters across Eagle County — as well as in Pitkin, Summit, Lake, Routt and Chaffee counties — are being asked by Colorado Mountain College for what’s essentially a “keep-up” tax increase: Ballot Issue 4B on your Eagle County ballot.
The college essentially wants to maintain its current revenues — the ballot language specifies an increase in taxes “not to exceed $50,000” — but needs to increase its property tax mill levy to do so.
Thanks to the intricacies of Colorado’s property tax system, increases in residential property values trigger provisions of the state’s Gallagher Amendment. That 1980s-vintage constitutional amendment sets a fixed ratio of the percentage of property taxes paid by residential and commercial property.
To maintain that ratio, local governments often have to drop mill levies as residential property values rise.
Given the sharp rise in residential values, particularly on the Front Range, districts that depend on property tax revenue — that’s most special districts, which collect little, if any, sales tax — can see their revenues fall even as population and need increase.
That’s the situation Colorado Mountain College finds itself in.
The college is debt-free, thanks to careful budgeting and both administrators and elected trustees keeping a sharp eye on the school’s bottom line.
CMC also boasts that it provides the lowest cost per credit hour in the state for college instruction. That’s great, although it wouldn’t have hurt the college to ask students to pick up a bit of the slack to cover some of the district’s falling revenues. Maybe next time.
For the rest of us, Colorado Mountain College is a resource worth supporting and nurturing. A large portion of the college’s students live and work in the sprawling district. Those students are often working on vocational training, either for jobs they either already hold or jobs they aspire to.
So while mill levy increases fall disproportionately on owners of commercial property, it’s business owners who stand to benefit most from this tax. That benefit comes from being able to train or educate people who, mostly, already live in the area. That means those students understand well how difficult it can be to live here.
Tapping the local population is a far better deal for employers than trying to recruit from outside the area. And CMC is well-known for working with employers on programs that will help those businesses.
From bookkeeping to culinary arts, and from emergency services to resort management, a host of local businesses and agencies benefit from CMC degree programs, whether those majors are two- or four-year programs.
Recommending a tax increase — or, in this case, a mill levy increase to keep revenues stable — is rarely a simple decision. In this case, though, Colorado Mountain College deserves the opportunity to keep doing the job it’s been so good at for the past 50 years.
The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Krista Driscoll and Business Editor Scott Miller.