Woodland Park Leaders Offer Significant Tax Relief

Council Slices Local Property Taxes By $500,000

Trevor Phipps

Editor’s Note: (In the last few weeks, TMJ has outlined how local municipalities and governments have dealt with the huge hike in property tax revenue; and more importantly, the impacts for local residents, resulting from the 2023 reassessment process. The following story dealt with the city of Woodland Park’s earlier response to this situation. We will continue to monitor this process, and outline what steps our local leaders and officials are taking in addressing this unprecedented situation. We also plan to offer helpful tips for those experiencing tax bills and fees they can’t afford. If anyone has beneficial advice or updates,  do not hesitate to contact us at editor@mountainjackpot.com.)

When property valuations were conducted last year, residents in Teller County and throughout the state suffered from sticker shock as drastic hikes in values soared to unprecedented levels, setting the stage for huge tax increases.

This was a byproduct of the most recent re-assessments, which were done during the peak of the 2002 real estate boom.

Regardless of the reason or timing, locals were left wondering how they could come up with the extra cash for Uncle Sam, with some expressing worries about losing their homes.

But fret not, local government leaders have come to the rescue, at least for now.

During the initial government meetings in 2024, both the Teller County Commissioners and the Woodland Park City Council opted to provide significant temporary tax relief to local residents.

In Woodland Park, the majority of the council opted to provide a 3-mill levy reduction that would return a little more than $490,000 to property owners in the city.

This action is part of state legislation supported by local leaders. Other entities are expected to follow in the same path.

During the 2023 legislative season, the Teller County commissioners helped draft a proposed bill for state lawmakers to consider. With the support of State Senator Mark Baisley and others, Senate Bill 23-108, entitled “Allowing Temporary Reductions In Property Tax Due,” was successfully approved and signed into law by Governor Jared Polis last year.

Once the bill was signed into law, meetings were held with all taxing districts in the Ute Pass region to determine whether or not to provide tax relief. Officials from both Teller County and Woodland Park have been promising tax reductions for months, but they still needed to decide exactly how much to give based on what each municipality could afford.

During the 2024 inaugural Woodland Park City Council meeting, the topic of providing tax relief to citizens took center stage. During his presentation, City Manager Aaron Vassalotti showed the council a chart depicting how much money would be returned to property owners, with mill levy reductions from zero to 5 mills. The chart also stated what the city’s reserve would be at each level.

Once the council discussion started, opinions varied on how much the city should cut. Some council members wanted large reductions, while others were concerned about maintaining at least a 20 percent reserve in the city budget. This sentiment was expressed by residents in the city’s most recent comprehensive plan.

Councilwoman Carrol Harvey started the discussion by recommending that council lower the city tax rate by 3 mills. She said that anything more than that could jeopardize future projects the city has planned.

Councilman Robert Zuluaga, however, wanted the highest reduction possible, and favored a 5-mills reduction. “This is a year where all of our citizens and our businesses are going to experience a strong escalation in property tax,” Zuluaga said. “This is a nexus point in the community where it’s important for government to realize the citizens are in this journey with us and it’s time that we can offset some of the burden that they experience. Right now, that’s not unreasonable, we have healthy reserves.”

Councilman Rusty Neal, meanwhile, said that he didn’t want anything higher than a 2.5-mill levy reduction because he wanted to keep the city’s reserve up over the 20 percent level.  With a 2.5-mill levy reduction the cities reserves would have been slated at around 20.47 percent.

Mayor Pro Tem Kellie Case agreed that a 2.5-mill levy reduction would be best. “It’s not just us that will be giving relief to the taxpayers, we are doing this with all taxing authorities,” Case said.

Councilwoman Catherine Nakai agreed that the difference between a 2.5-mill levy reduction and a 3-mill cut was not significant, but with all of the projects the city wants to do in the future, she thought that staying above a 20 percent reserve would be best.

Councilman Frank Connors said that the city didn’t necessarily need to hold a 20 percent reserve and that he supported a mill levy reduction of three or four. “There is $1.7 million that belongs to the citizens that we are keeping even if we give back the 5 mills,” Connors said.

Zuluaga then pointed out that the city only had a 16 percent reserve last year and he said that the 20 percent reserve number came from the citizens’ comprehensive plan, but it was not a requirement. “Council is under no obligation to take that high of a reserve of the people’s money,” Zuluaga said. “We have a fiduciary responsibility to be good stewards of the citizens’ money.”

Opinions on the final tax cut still remain mixed. Nakai, Neal and Case wanted a 2.5-mill levy reduction; Harvey wanted a 3-mill cut; Connors wanted 3 to 4 mills; and Zuluaga wanted 4 mills. Mayor Hilary LaBarre then said that she would support a 3-mill levy reduction but nothing higher.

In the end, the council voted 6-1 to lower property taxes by 3 mills with Neal casting the sole dissenting tally. This will return just over $491,000 to Woodland Park property owners and leave the city’s reserve fund at 19.84 percent.