River district to ask voters to pass freeze on mill levy
SUMMIT COUNTY – This fall, the Colorado River Water Conservation District (CRWCD) board of directors will ask voters to freeze the district’s current mill levy at .25 mills.
According to Peter Roessmann, education specialist with the district, the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) voters approved in 1992 has prevented the district from increasing the tax dollars it collects without voter approval.
As a result, as assessed property values increase, the district must lower its mill levy to keep the taxes it collects at or below the current level
Last fall, the River District went to the polls for the first time in its history to ask voters for an increase in its tax rate to fund additional capital water supply projects. Voters defeated the referendum.
CRWCD currently collects .25 mills, compared to .52 in 1992.
“We can’t take advantage of increased property valuations or growth in the state,” Roessmann said. “As the district grows, we’re not able to keep up.”
During this drought cycle, the district has increased the amount of water available in storage, managed demand to help prevent water rights from being shut off, defended Western Slope water users from detrimental actions by other agencies and sought new sources of water to cushion the impact in future drought years.
The more people understand what the CRWCD did to soften the blow of the drought, the more they should understand the importance of funding the district in the future, Roessmann said.
“Those measures took money out of our pockets so people wouldn’t feel the impacts of the drought,” Roessmann said. “We may be backing out of this drought phase, but in the future, we need to provide more water for more people.”
Roessmann said he doesn’t support state Senate Bill 236, which now awaits the governor’s signature after passing the Senate Monday. That bill will establish a state agency and give it the power to issue bonds for major water projects. This fall, voters will be asked to to approve the creation of an agency and authorize it to issue up to $2 billion in bonds for water projects.
“It replicates something the state already has,” Roessmann said, adding that finding an appropriate project is more difficult than obtaining funds. “Why buy the cow when you already own it?”
Roessmann didn’t say how he thought voters might lean in November but that he believes they are more aware of water-related challenges throughout the state.
“It used to be roads, growth, open space; now people are getting to the more elemental issues, like water,” Roessmann said. “Quality of life stems from an availability of water. We need it for fire (suppression), recreation, aesthetics. When people are looking at the mud flats of Lake Dillon, they’re thinking, “My quality of life isn’t as good as it was when the lake was inundated with water.'”
Roessmann said people shouldn’t be nonchalant merely because April and May had above-average precipitation.
“We dodged the bullet this time, but we may have a year’s reprieve and go back to being in a drought,” he said. “We’ve only arrested the free-fall. Now we have to climb out of the hole.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CRWCD was charted by the Colorado General Assembly in 1937 to protect the water of western Colorado. It is governed by a board of directors from each of the 15 counties within the
district: Summit, Moffat, Routt, Grand, Eagle, Garfield, Rio Blanco, Mesa, Pitkin, Delta, Gunnison, Ouray and portions of Montrose, Hinsdale and Saguache. The purpose of the organization is to
provide balance between water-producing areas of the Western Slope and other areas of the state that seek to divert these waters.
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