Lawmakers Debate Ways to Provide Taxpayer Relief

New Legislation Offers Differing Ways to Grapple With Skyrocketing Property Values

Trevor Phipps

In the beginning of May, residents across the state, including Teller County, were sent their valuation notices that showed significant increases across the board.

In fact, these  notices almost amounted to a state of outright “sticker shock,” with hikes that exceeded 50 percent in many cases.  Reappraisal forums, sponsored by the local chamber of commerce and county assessor’s office, attracted huge crowds.

While outraged residents plan to fight the increased valuations in unprecedented numbers, government officials scramble to find legislative ways to provide relief. And in reality, there is not much county officials can do in lowering their values, within the framework of the current assessment procedures.

 But alas, relief may be in sight, even if leaders from the two  main political parties disagree on the best solution.

During this year’s legislative session, two proposals to give property tax relief to residents have hit the floor. The first one (Senate Bill 23-108) was brought up by Republican State Senator Mark Baisley and is aimed at giving counties the authority to temporarily lower mill levy rates for a year to give tax relief to residents experiencing large property value increases. This measure has been heavily endorsed by the Teller County commissioners.

And then just days before the legislative session ended, Democratic  lawmakers proposed Senate Bill 23-303 that would put a property tax reduction initiative in the hands of the voters. If passed, Proposition HH would be decided by the voters in November.

The proposition aims at putting a cap on property taxes to reduce the property tax increases by 50 percent over the next several years. The state would then use the residents’ TABOR relief fund to cover the reduction of taxes in order to insure services like public school and emergency departments would have enough money to cover expenses.

The first bill was passed unanimously in the House and the Senate and is currently waiting for the governor’s signature to become law. The Teller County commissioners have strongly supported SB 23-108 from the beginning. Moreover, they have said that if passed, the commissioners would lower tax rates before property taxes are due at the beginning of next year.

However, according to Teller County Commission Chairman Erik Stone, the commissioners do not agree with what SB 23-303 and Proposition HH are trying to accomplish. “SB 23-303 does multiple things and I am pretty sure it violates the title provision within the Constitution because it both caps the growth of the increase in the property tax assessment,” Stone explained. “But then it also incorporates a change in the pending refund to Colorado tax payers under the taxpayers’ bill of rights so that they can forgo part of their TABOR refund in exchange for this tax relief.”

He said the money then would go to local governments to backfill what they would miss out on when property taxes increase. “I think you are going to see a lawsuit brought by taxpayers saying it’s not a legal law,” Stone said. “The reality is that there are few local governments that need or want this property tax increase. In many ways SB 23-303 is taking money out of your left pocket and putting in your right pocket. With SB 23-208, you won’t have to give up anything.”

He said that the proposition also includes a provision saying that the state can keep taking TABOR refunds after 10 years with just renewing it and not sending the issue to a vote. Some have said that the proposition will be taking TABOR refunds away from people who don’t own homes in order to benefit property owners.

Stone agreed that those who don’t own property would be giving up their TABOR refunds and not getting anything in return. He also said that income properties will not receive as big of a reduction as primary resident properties will.

Stone said that he didn’t think the county commissioners had any interest in taking money from people’s TABOR refunds. “If SB 23-303 passes, and Proposition HH passes by a vote of the people and the state backfills our budget, we are going to return that money to the taxpayer because it was their refund. And under SB 23-108 we can do that,” Stone stated.

Stone also said that he has heard that the governor will sign the earlier measure, sponsored by Baisley.  Rumors had been abounding that the governor  may oppose this earlier sponsored bill in order to gain more support for his latest package.

In any event, local taxpayers should see some relief in the increase of property taxes due to skyrocketing values in the next few months.