Our View: Tax exemption questions deserve support | VailDaily.com

Our View: Tax exemption questions deserve support

Eagle County voters are looking at a relatively short ballot this fall, with only a pair of state questions and a small handful of local ballot issues.

Two of those questions, 6A and 6B — for the Eagle Valley Library District and Eagle County Health Service District, also known as Eagle County Paramedic Services — are similar in that they’re asking voters for protection from future cuts in residential property rates.

Both districts are asking voters for relief from future property tax cuts due to the provisions of the state’s Gallagher Amendment.

That constitutional amendment, proposed and passed in 1982, sets a permanent ratio between the share of property tax paid by residential and non-residential property owners.

Here’s how it works: 

Residential property tax collections must make up no more than 45% of a town, county or special district’s property tax collections. The remainder is to be paid by non-residential property. That’s mostly commercial and agricultural property. 

As Colorado’s population has grown, so has the number of residential property taxpayers. To comply with Gallagher, residential taxpayers have seen a steady decline in the taxable percentage of their homes’ assessed values. At this point, the owner of a home pays roughly one-fourth of the tax rate of a similarly valued non-residential parcel.

Since the formula is applied uniformly across Colorado, rural areas that haven’t seen Front Range levels of residential growth have seen their property tax collections decline. That decline has public-safety implications.

For instance, the voters in the Gypsum Fire Protection District in 2016 passed a tax increase request to increase the district’s paid staff and upgrade its aging equipment.

By 2018 — before the 2016 measure’s collections had kicked in — Gallagher-mandated rate declines had taken away the voter-approved increase.

So the district in 2018 asked voters to exempt the district from further tax-rate declines imposed by Gallagher. It wasn’t a request for more money, but to keep funding levels voters had already approved. Voters passed that question in Gypsum, as did voters in the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District and numerous other special districts across the state.

This year, library district and ambulance district voters are being asked the same questions.

We think those requests have merit.

For the library district, maintaining property tax collections at current levels means maintaining services, from book purchases to programs for kids and seniors.

At the ambulance district, lives could be at stake. In addition to maintaining its current staff of about 70 people and keeping those people up to date with training, the district also has to regularly replace ambulances — at roughly $250,000 each — and pay for fuel, insurance, maintenance and all the other things necessary to keep any fleet of vehicles ready to roll at any moment.

The ambulance district estimates that by 2022 it could lose about $990,000 per year out of its current annual budget of roughly $13 million per year.

That’s unacceptable for a valleywide service in the business of saving lives.

Again, neither district is asking voters for more money — each is just asking to protect money they are collecting now from looming cuts.

Voting “yes” seems like a pretty painless way to maintain services at both these districts.

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Nate Peterson, Sales Manager Holli Snyder, Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart, Eagle Valley Enterprise Editor Pam Boyd, Business Editor Scott Miller and Director of Special Projects Edward Stoner.