Resurrecting Silverthorne’s property tax would prop up parks and trails, officials say
Silverthorne’s long-term planning documents list more than two-dozen quality-of-life projects, including new and upgraded parks, trail improvements and more. How quickly the town might start on these projects could be decided by an upcoming mail-in survey gauging residents’ willingness to pay a property tax. Below is a list of some of the projects in the plan.
Park and riverfront improvements
• $2.4 million Trent Park expansion
• Expansion of the Rainbow Park skate park
• Cottonwood Neighborhood Park construction
• Improvements at North Pond Park
• Kayak park on the Blue River
• Downtown riverfront amenities
Trails, bridges and new connections
• Completion of the Blue River Trail
• Construction of Highway 9 pedestrian crossing and connections, including an overpass at Trent Park
• Smith Ranch Pedestrian Bridge over Willow Creek
• New “Festival Bridge” at the Silverthorne Pavilion with space for events
• New Bridge over the Blue River downtown
• Sidewalks and other pedestrian connections to trails and community amenities
• Bicycle Lanes on select roadways
An open-space fund
• The town currently maintains 167 acres with plans to continue to add acreage when opportunities arise and would like to create an open space fund
Source: Town of Silverthorne
If new trails, public parks and quality-of-life improvements are what Silverthorne truly wants, town officials say residents will consider reinstalling the town’s property tax.
A letter priming the public for a possible November ballot initiative went out to residents last week and was posted on the town’s website. It alerts locals to lookout for an upcoming mail-in survey designed to gauge their willingness to support a property tax. The town hasn’t levied one since it was abolished in 1994 on the belief sales tax revenue would suffice.
“I just feel like it’s not solely our decision to make,” Mayor Ann-Marie Sanquist said of revisiting a property tax during a recent interview. “We have to have that conversation with the community and find out what the community wants.”
Detailed in the letter, officials are asking residents to consider a 7 mill tax that would cost homeowners $50.40 a year for every $100,000 of assessed value.
Anyone who owns property in Silverthorne, including a home, vacant lot or commercial property would have to foot the tax. At current valuations, approximately half of tax revenues generated would come from residential property owners and other half from the owners of commercial properties and vacant lots.
The proposed tax would be just under half the state average of 14.61 mills collected by Colorado municipalities in 2017. The letter further states that 96 percent of Colorado’s 271 municipalities collected some kind of property tax last year.
Hoping the letters won’t lead to worry, town manager Ryan Hyland emphasized the town remains in strong financial health with sales taxes — Silverthorne’s primary source of funding — which have been good to the budget, so far.
Silverthorne has enough in reserves to operate for at least six months, Hyland said, explaining the bigger issue here is whether voters want to maintain the town’s “turbocharged” pace for pursuing quality-of-life projects because he sees an “extremely limited” purchasing power on the horizon and fears that, without a property tax, that rate will slow down greatly.
Relying solely on sales tax growth to sustain Silverthorne would be foolhardy, Hyland warned, offering that there might be only two large, undeveloped commercial sites for big-box retail remaining in Silverthorne — about 10 acres below the dam and the commercial property at Smith Ranch.
Hyland sees a host of factors suggesting that “hitching the wagon continually to sales tax might not be the best approach to a long-term, sustainable revenue source.” Issues include limited opportunities for growth in retail sales with few opportunities for annexations and land swaps, another source of funding for Silverthorne in the past. Which combines with the town’s surging population of residents age 65-and-over, which is typically not known for the strongest spending patterns.
While much has been done across Silverthorne recently, much more is in the works.
Silverthorne opened a new $9 million performing arts center in June 2017, replaced a $500,000 pedestrian bridge over the Blue River in September and celebrated an almost $1 million makeover of Rainbow Park last month, just to name a few of the town’s recently completed projects. Meanwhile, work is afoot on a new park at Summit Sky Ranch, on a large workforce housing project at Smith Ranch and at Fourth Street Crossing downtown.
Yet, the town’s parks, open space and trails plan, last updated in 2014, still calls for a robust lineup of more than two-dozen additions across the town’s growing arsenal of public amenities, including a $2.4 million expansion of Trent Park at Highway 9 and Willwbrook Road.
Wrapped into the price tag are new basketball and pickleball courts, a large open lawn, dog park, rock-climbing wall, picnic shelter and more than a dozen other features.
Not in the estimate is an elevated crossing over the highway. It’s been drawn into the plan for Trent Park, at the public’s request, but would probably be pursued as a separate project, as it crosses the state-controlled highway.
Additional listed items address projects at other parks, Highway 9’s crossings and connections, new and improved trails and trailheads, and improvements across the downtown area, along with better connections along Brian and Adams avenues.
It’s highly unlikely Silverthorne would ever complete all of the desired downtown, trails, parks and open space projects, Hyland said, but these are some of the undertakings town officials would like to tackle in the near future. Without a clear source of revenue, he fears the rate at which the town could afford to do them would decline.
If a property tax generated an additional $1.3 million annually for the town, as the tax described in the letter is expected to do, Silverthorne might pick off a project or two once every couple years, Hyland said, depending, of course, on the scope and cost of the work.
Without the money, Hyland wondered if people would be OK with a much slower pace, perhaps one project every five to 10 years.
Ultimately, Sandquist said that Silverthorne Town Council will decide whether enough support exists to warrant putting a property tax question on the November 2018 ballot based on community feedback, including results from the upcoming survey.
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