Silverthorne backs off introducing a property tax after negative survey response
August 23, 2018
More than 190 responses to a town-issued survey indicate Silverthorne voters have little taste to start paying a property tax, even if it means new parks, trails or quality-of-life improvements in town will crawl to a standstill.
Going into the survey, town officials had contended the rate at which new public amenities come online would slow dramatically without a new source of funding. Also, a property tax could help diversify the town's coffers with a less volatile revenue stream than sale taxes, which Silverthorne depends on for its primary source of funding.
Over half of respondents said they think Silverthorne is headed in the right direction, but the survey also found that 60 percent were unlikely to support a property tax measure on November's ballot.
In the survey, gender didn't seem to matter nearly as much as age. The greatest support for a property tax was found among people ages 18-24 while the least amount of support came in the 55-64 age group. Also, renters were more amenable to a property tax than homeowners.
On the bright side, town manager Ryan Hyland told Silverthorne Town Council on Wednesday he saw a couple upbeat takeaways from the survey, including the high number of responses and that residents are not expecting the town to continue taking on new projects nearly as quickly as it has in recent years.
"If you're looking at sort of glass half full, the results from the survey is (residents) are not expecting us to continue at that pace or they're not willing to fund us to continue at that pace," Hyland summarized. "I'm not sure if they fully have an understanding of how slow the pace (of new town projects) will be moving for a certain period of time."
Mayor Ann Marie Sandquist found the results "interesting" because, she said, when the town did focus groups and small-group conversations, there was hardly any resistance and the responses were "really positive."
Based on the survey, council won't be pursing a ballot measure this November. There's just not enough support to believe it has any chance of passing and too little time to mount any kind of campaign to sway public opinion.
At this point, Sandquist said, any hope of a property tax ballot measure succeeding this year rests on a citizens group coming forward and pushing the initiative. Right now, there doesn't seem to be one.
By retreating from the property tax proposal, town council and staff will have plenty of time to digest the survey results, wade through public comments and plan where to go next. Based on Wednesday's discussions, there's no urgency anymore.
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"I think we probably tried to cram this in a little bit too quickly. Of course, then the county's got their tax as well," Sandquist said, referencing the Summit County Board of County Commissioners putting a measure on November's ballot asking voters to approve a mill levy. If passed, it would raise $8.8 million annually for mental health services, wildfire mitigation, early childhood education, recycling, and maintenance and improvements to the county's infrastructure.
If Silverthorne revisits a property tax proposal for an upcoming ballot initiative, the mayor suggested the town should hold more small conversations before putting the question out to the larger community.
"That's just kind of my feeling," she said. "We probably need to spend more time laying groundwork if we decide to go down this path again."
Out of 271 municipalities statewide, Silverthorne stands as one of only 11, and the only one in Summit County, that does not collect some kind of property tax. Silverthorne's suggested rate was just under half the state average.
One of the issues that repeatedly came up in public comments through the survey, Hyland said, was traffic in Silverthorne. Downtown congestion has little to do with local property taxes, but a number of responses seemed to focus on the traffic jams forming at the Exit 205 on-ramp to Interstate 70.
Looking to create a vibrant downtown area, Silverthorne had proposed making significant changes to Highway 9 downtown but backed off after residents voiced concerns, many fearing the changes would exacerbate an already sticky situation.
"I think just the timing of our downtown discussion, coupled with Exit 205 backing up bigger than it ever has, may have had people feeling a little bit of that," Hyland theorized. "I think if we had asked about a property tax to help jump-start (work at Exit 205 with the Colorado Department of Transportation) maybe that would have been a good question to ask."
On a different note, Silverthorne recently issued another survey asking residents about the town imposing new regulations on short-term rentals. So far, early results are showing most people support "reasonable limits" and holding property owners accountable for complaints, said Laura Kennedy, Silverthorne's director of finance and administrative services.
The town will keep the short-term rentals survey live for another week or so, Hyland added, before reporting the results back to council and the community.
Take the short-term rentals survey by going to the town's website, Silverthorne.org, and clicking on the banner link at the top of the page.
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