Local Leaders Take First Step Towards Assisting Residents With Wallet-Breaking Increases
With the end of the year looming, the topic of historically high property taxes has hit the main stage, with residents crying foul and pleading for financial relief.
County leaders and some Colorado lawmakers say help could be on the way. They recently unveiled one probable solution, based on a law passed in June, which was heavily supported by the Teller County commissioners. But this assistance could require the cooperation of local governmental entities, when it comes to setting annual mill levy rates.
Much more discussion is expected on this issue in the next month.
A sense of sticker shock struck earlier this year when residents received their 2023 property valuations, which in some cases represented a 100 percent hike from that of two years ago. This led to a near record of value protests; but unfortunately, not much could change due to the state laws governing assessment procedures.
This has prompted action from elected leaders due to legislation approved last spring that offered some temporary relief.
The first official discussion surrounding property tax decreases recently occurred during a joint work session at the Ute Pass Cultural Center in Woodland Park.
Other meetings are expected, in an effort to finalize a probable solution, aimed at assisting local residents in grappling with skyrocketing tax hikes.
The Teller County Commissioners and the Woodland Park City Council hosted the session with representatives from the more than two dozen taxing entities in the region.
The peak of the real estate boom in the last few years caused valuations to increase at record rates, leaving local leaders tasked with coming up with ways to alleviate the financial blow. When large increases became apparent, several lawmakers in the state started devising ways to lower tax rates to give residents some relief to the increases.
In June, Governor Jared Polis signed a bill approved by lawmakers, referred to as Senate Bill 23-108, which would allow local government entities to temporarily lower property tax rates to give relief to record high valuations driving up taxes. The bill was pioneered by Republican State Senator Mark Baisley with help from the Teller County commissioners.
Before, local government entities had the authority to lower tax rates, but they could not be increased without a vote, due to the restrictions of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). The passage of the bill allows local municipalities and taxing authorities to temporarily lower the tax rate when valuations are high for a year period.
The tax rate decrease will then be decided every year. If valuations drop, the entities can choose not to reduce the tax rate to prevent a shortage in revenue.
Senator Baisley was present at the work session to give a background on how the bill came about. “I’ve learned in my four years in the House of Representatives how important it is to rely on the county commissioners for what you might present as a potential law to the legislature,” Baisley said. “Three of the five bills I presented to the legislature this year came from county commissioners. In fact, two of them came from commissioners here in the room.”
He said that the commissioners came to him after anticipating that the increase in property taxes due to skyrocketing valuations. “Of course, there are two sides to the balance sheet,” Baisley said. “We have all of this new revenue. However, the impact to the citizens of course is tremendous. That’s where we need to have that heart. We need to balance what it is that we need and have the opportunity to fund for the sake of the citizens without chasing them out of their house.”
He urged the board members and government representatives to not tax as much as they can because they might “break the bank” of residents. He asked that the taxing entities bring down the tax rates to cover what they need.
County Commissioner Dan Williams expressed similar sentiments when he addressed board members and officials from various taxing entities. He asked that the local board members keep people who are on fixed incomes in mind when choosing whether or not to use the bill to temporarily lower tax rates.
County Commissioners Chairman Erik Stone led the majority of the meeting. He started with explaining what the Gallagher Amendment (which limits how much revenue can be collected from residential property taxes) was and the consequences of it getting repealed in 2020.
“Essentially, the Gallagher Amendment ensured that there was balance between commercial and residential real estate so that the assessed valuation set by the legislation would never get that high,” Stone explained. “Basically, it kept your property taxes from spiking like what they are doing right now.”
During his presentation, Stone also discussed how much tax revenue would be increasing for each different taxing authority. For some entities like the city of Victor the tax revenue will only increase by around 10 percent, but on the high end, Cripple Creek will see a revenue increase of more than 78 percent.
Not Favoring Proposition HH
Stone also spent a good portion of the work session discussing Proposition HH, which will be on the ballot during the November election. Some have viewed this as a counter measure to the Senate bill introduced by Baisley.
He explained that Prop. HH is basically “taking money out of your right pocket from the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) refunds and putting in your left pocket in the form of property tax relief.” He stressed the fact that citizens only have to vote on measures that raise taxes and not policies that lower them.
“If you have to vote on Prop. HH, it is highly unlikely that you are voting on a property tax decrease, because you don’t have to vote to do that,” Stone said.
At the end, Stone promised that the county commissioners had plans in place to lower the tax rate via Senate Bill 23-108 to give more relief to residents . He said that is a much better option than Prop. HH, which requires a majority vote of Colorado electors this November.