Falls Voters To Decide Fate Of Local Tax Hike

by Rick Langenberg

02/16/2012      

      The early 1980s was a time marked by the defense industry surge in Colorado, the end of the cold war, the rise of punk rock and New Wave music and a huge housing boom for the Pikes Peak region. And for Green Mountain Falls residents, this period represented the last time they faced a property tax increase as locals dealt with growing infrastructure woes.  

Photo by CR Chambers Photography
  However, that scenario could change this April as local residents will decide the fate of plans for a slight mill levy hike that could provide the town coffers with an extra $34,500 a year. If approved, it would mark the city’s first property tax increase in 28 years.  The money would be used for the general fund, which has been plagued by declining revenue, accentuated by decreases in housing values, residential tax rates and various money sources, along with rising inflationary costs. By a unanimous vote and with absolutely no protests from the audience, the Green Mountain Falls Board of Trustees last week approved a resolution that set the stage for a ballot issue, calling for 3-mill increase, estimated at costing the average homeowner approximately $50 more a year.

If anything, virtually every trustee member admitted the extra increase isn’t enough.  But that said, they voiced concerns about presenting the voters with too high of a tax hike, especially in today’s economic climate. “It’s a tough pill to swallow,” admitted veteran council member Mac Pitrone.  “I don’t think that’s enough. Our costs have gone up and our revenues have gone down.”

Most trustees agreed, along with several local residents who urged the board to submit the question for a 3-mill tax hike to the voters this April.  The proposed hike was part of a recommendation made by the town’s Economic Sustainability Committee, which was formed last year to advise the council on short and long-term ways to generate more money for the town and to achieve more economic vitality. “Without increased revenue, there will probably need to be cuts in essential services, such as parks and recreation, road maintenance and security. The mill levy increase will help make up for lost sales revenue and serve as a hedge against future inflation,” stated the Economic Sustainability Committee, in an official statement that endorses the 3-mill increase proposition.

A key factor in sending the issue to the voters is that the results of a community survey done last year, associated with the economic sustainability project, indicated that 60 percent of the respondents favored a mill levy increase. Still, city leaders admit that the idea of a tax hike is unpopular in today’s climate. “It’s a risky gamble,” added Trustee Jane Newberry.  “We just can’t make up for it in one increase,” said Trustee Marshall Worthey. The entire board admitted that the town has faced the end of the road, when it comes to trimming costs. “All of our expenses have gone up. There are no notches left on our belt buckle,” said Mayor Pro Tem Dick Bratton, in referring to making any more cuts.

For the last year and a half, town leaders have emphasized that current revenues aren’t enough to sustain current and future services. A member of the Economic Sustainability Committee assured the board that the proposed tax hike is just one measure under consideration, aimed at generating more revenue. The committee is mulling a number of long-range plans, such as promoting local tourism with the development of a comprehensive website, having more events and starting a chamber of commerce.  “This is just a start,” said Cameron Thorne,” who represented the Economic Sustainability Committee, when endorsing the proposed tax increase. Similar sentiments were stated in a memo submitted by Public Works Director Robert McArthur, who mentioned eight key revenue areas that have experienced decreases in recent years. “Although a mill levy increase may not solve all the unmet municipal needs, it is a good start.” said McArthur.

The town’s current mill levy is slated at 14.6 mills, which is slightly lower than most other towns in the area. The forthcoming tax issue will appear on the April 3 ballot.  During the election, voters also will decide a mayoral spot and three trustee positions. Last week, Bratton, a member of the board since 1995, officially announced his candidacy for mayor. Bratton, a nearly 30-year resident of Green Mountain Falls, has served on the town board as a GMF mayor and trustee since 1995, along with 11 years as a planning commissioner. He also launched the local trails committee and has been instrumental in promoting the coast-to-coast American Discovery Trail, and in developing the Ute Pass Trail.  

The mayoral seat is currently occupied by Tyler Stevens, who can’t run for re-election due to term limits. However, Stevens is eligible to run for a trustee position. Besides the seat of mayor, voters will cast tallies for three trustee positions.  These positions are currently occupied by Bratton, Worthey and Robert King.  Potential candidates can begin circulating petitions this week