County to ask voters for property tax hike | SummitDaily.com

County to ask voters for property tax hike

Bob Berwyn
Summit County, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” The Summit County commissioners will ask voters in November to approve a tax hike that would raise about $5.9 million annually to establish a wildfire fund and to pay for open-space protection, affordable housing and other government services.

Property-tax bills would rise about $11 for every $100,000 of assessed valuation, or $54 for a $500,000 home, if the measure is approved.

Urgent local needs, including potential costs for fighting a catastrophic wildfire and demand for affordable housing ” as well as spiraling costs for fuel, road materials and health insurance for county employees ” justify the tax hike, according to commissioners Thomas Davidson and Tom Long.

A big portion of the tax would replace an existing 1.9 mill levy that raises about $3 million annually for open space. That levy expires in 2010, when the new tax would take effect.

“This keeps open space funding at about the same level, with some room for increases,” Long said.

Davidson acknowledged that the commissioners are nervous about asking for a tax hike against the backdrop of a shaky national economy. They minimized the requested increase because of those concerns.

The county hasn’t increased taxes flowing into the general fund since 1992, although there have been several mill-levy hikes since then aimed at specific programs, including early childhood education and open space.

County revenues have increased by 22 percent in the past six years, mainly due to increases in appraised property values. But expenses have climbed 23 percent during that same span, said county manager Gary Martinez.

County departments were asked to cut expenses by 5 percent in the current budget, and they are looking at another 4 percent cut for fiscal year 2009. Even with those cuts, expenses in 2009 are expected to exceed revenues slightly, Martinez said.

Looking ahead to 2012, the budget shortfall could reach about $5 million without a tax increase, he said.

National politics also factor into the equation.

“We’ve got two guys running around the country promising all sorts of new programs,” said Long, referring to the presidential candidates. Those promises, he suggested, could result in new unfunded federal mandates, with the burden falling on local governments.

The mill levy would expire in 2022. Commissioners at that point would have the discretion to renew a portion of the tax ” without subsequent voter approval ” to maintain any land or improvements.

The county hasn’t increased taxes flowing into the general fund since 1992, although there have been several mill-levy hikes since then aimed at specific programs, including early childhood education and open space.

County revenues have increased by 22 percent in the past six years, mainly due to increases in appraised property values. But expenses have climbed 23 percent during that same span, said county manager Gary Martinez.

County departments were asked to cut expenses by 5 percent in the current budget, and they are looking at another 4 percent cut for fiscal year 2009. Even with those cuts, expenses in 2009 are expected to exceed revenues slightly, Martinez said.

Looking ahead to 2012, the budget shortfall could reach about $5 million without a tax increase, he said.

National politics also factor into the equation.

“We’ve got two guys running around the country promising all sorts of new programs,” said Long, referring to the presidential candidates. Those promises, he suggested, could result in new unfunded federal mandates, with the burden falling on local governments.

The mill levy would expire in 2022. Commissioners at that point would have the discretion to renew a portion of the tax ” without subsequent voter approval ” to maintain any land or improvements.


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