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Basalt Looks To Resolve TABOR Conflict Once And For All With Ballot Issue 3A

Oct 21, 2019

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Earlier this year, Basalt discovered that it might have violated Colorado law by raising its property tax rate. It refunded money to property owners. Now, it’s asking voters to approve ballot issue 3A, which would allow the town to keep its current tax rate. If 3A fails, the town faces a budget shortfall of about $700,000 and says it would have to make significant cuts to public services.

How did Basalt get here?

Earlier this year, town council realized that they were potentially violating Colorado’s TABOR, or Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights Amendment. 

In 2009, during the Great Recession, the town lowered its property tax rate.  As the economy recovered, council raised the rate again, but never exceeded the pre-recession level.

 

However, according to TABOR, rates cannot be raised without voter approval, regardless of previous rates.

 

The town refunded money to current property owners and established new financial oversight procedures. However, the town's property tax rate still needs to be settled.

 

Issue 3A sets it at 5.9, the same level it’s at right now. 3A also says the town can adjust the property rate without going to the voters, as long as it doesn’t exceed 5.9. 

 

What does it mean for Basalt if 3A passes?  

The town says since the property tax level will stay the same, so will public services, such as 24-hour law enforcement, snow removal and park maintenance.

 

 

"I'd just have to take a critical view of all of our services and provide recommendations to council, for them to decide which services would go and which would stay."

What if 3A fails? 

 

The property tax rate would go back down to 2.5, the low point that was set in 2009.  That means the town's budget would face a 10% reduction of about $700,000 a year.

 

Town manager Ryan Mahoney says the general budget pays city employee salaries.

"We would aim to keep our positions, but I’d just have to take a critical view of all of our services and provide recommendations to council, ultimately for them to decide which services would go and which would stay," he said.  

How would 3A affect property tax bills?  

Residential property owners are currently paying about $42 dollars per $100,000 of home value. That would stay the same if 3A passes. 

 

If 3A fails, and the mill levy drops down to the 2.5 mill levy rate, they’d pay about $18 per $100,000 of home value -- a little less than half.

 

For commercial property, it’s about $172 dollars per $100,000 of value right now. Commercial property owners would pay about $74 for the same property if the mill levy drops to what it was in 2009.  

 

What are community members saying?  

Mahoney says he’s seeing a lot of support. He said the community wanted those refunds after the TABOR snafu, and that some people told him, if you refund our money, we’ll vote to maintain the mill levy.

 

A “Yes on 3A” group has formed and has been knocking on doors to talk to residents.  

However, some remain angry about the handling of the potential TABOR violation. Others worry that property taxes will climb as home values go up, regardless of the mill levy. 

Ballots for Pitkin County residents were mailed Friday. The election is set for November 5.