County considers de-Brucing


— County commissioners said they may try to "de-Bruce" property taxes in the next election to collect more money for county projects and operations.
"We put that as one of our goals for the year 2001 to investigate a total de-Brucing for Routt County," Routt County Commissioner Ben Beall said. "We're just investigating it and no decisions have been made."
De-Brucing means to release a public entity from a revenue-restricting state amendment that was passed in 1992. The amendment was written by Douglas Bruce and was dubbed the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR). It caps the amount of money the county can collect in taxes each year and limits its ability to raise the property mill levy.
The county already de-Bruced itself from non-property tax revenue sources in a 1998 vote.
If de-Bruced, commissioners say the county would adhere to a 5.5 percent property tax increase cap. That 5.5 percent increase each year would be more than Routt County property taxes have increased each year since TABOR was passed, Routt County Finance Director Dan Strnad said.
Though he said he wasn't sure on the exact figure, a 5.5 percent increase in property taxes in 2001 could be as high as $1.9 million more in revenues for the county.
"That is a high estimate," Strnad said.
Gaining more money for the county means the commission can respond to some of the needs that have recently been presented, Beall said. In the past few months, Routt County commissioners received requests for funding to increase salaries, pay for future construction projects and supplement a wildland fire crew just to mention a few.
"There is a lack of revenue coming in to address the growth issues in Routt County," Beall said.
Those growth issues are staffing personnel, salaries and improving roads, he added.
Strnad cited the growing needs of the Routt County Wildland Fire Council, which asked the commission for $1.7 million over five years to address fire prevention needs in the county, as a perfect example of how growth is costing the county.
Routt County Assessor Amy Williams said TABOR is restricting the county and adding to the money problems. Since the amendment was passed, the increase in property values and growth in the county hasn't been reflected in property taxes collected, she said.
For example, Williams said she bought a house in Hayden for $50,000 in 1989. Since then, the house has increased in value to $130,000.
"But our taxes have stayed about the same," Williams said.
Property owners would feel the effect of de-Brucing the property tax in their pocket books.
If property taxes increased by $1.9 million this year, it would mean about $35 more per year on $100,000 of assessed residential property value. For a commercial property, it would be a $104 jump per $100,000 of assessed value, Williams said.
But revenue increases aren't the only concerns officials have with the de-Brucing issue, Strnad said.
Under TABOR, collecting enough money to run the basic elements of the county, such as maintaining roads and the airport, would be in jeopardy if property values plummet. If property values went down, the mill levy, which is a multiplier of the assessed value of the county, couldn't be changed to make sure enough tax money would be collected.
Beall emphasized de-Brucing is only being considered, and no decisions have been made. The earliest voters might see the issue on the ballot would be November.
Certain amounts of the revenues from de-Brucing could pay off some of the capital projects, he said.
"That's something that we could be looking at," Beall said.


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