Mill levies up for voter approval in November


The average Steamboat Springs homeowner could see his or her property taxes increase by $180 if voters approve the three mill levies slated to appear on November's ballot.

Three organizations have come forward with proposals for property tax increases to help fund their programs. Combined, the tax increases would add 4.56 mills, or $32 for every $100,000 of assessed residential value.

For the average home in Steamboat Springs -- valued at $560,000, the three tax increases total an extra $180 a year.

Officials from each of the three organizations campaigning for the tax increases -- the East Routt Library Board, Horizons Specialized Services and the Purchase of Development Rights Citizens Advisory Board -- say it would be nice to be the only tax question on November's ballot. But group members said the time was right to go forward with a tax question, and they did not think they would have a better chance of their proposals being approved by voters if they appeared on the ballot without the other proposals.

"Of course we wish we were the only tax issue on the ballot," Horizons Director Sue Mizen said. "It is just the way we look at it, there are likely to be other issues on the ballot no matter when we do it."

The East Routt Library Board is asking for an estimated 2.56-mill levy to be used for the construction and operating expenses of an expanded library facility. The mill levy would be applied to properties within the Steamboat Springs School District.

Horizons Specialized Ser-vices is requesting a countywide 1-mill levy to help fund programs for Routt County residents with developmental disabilities.

On Tuesday, the PDR Cit-izens Advisory Board asked county commissioners to app-rove a ballot question to renew a mill levy dedicated to preserving agriculture land and open space in Routt County. The board also requested to increase the levy from 1 mill to 1.5 mills.

County Com-missioner Nancy Stahoviak said that with three questions on the ballot, voters will have to take the time to be educated about the issues. Each of the organizations also is going to have to go against the one-third of the voters who traditionally are against any tax increase, Stahoviak said.

"It is just going to be up to them to determine whether or not they want to pay more taxes," Stahoviak said. "There always will be a component in Routt County that doesn't want any more taxes and will vote no for all tax increases."

She said having three tax issues on the ballot could hurt the chances of people voting for any of them.

"That will affect, most definitely, the part of the population that feels they really don't want to pay any more taxes," Stahoviak said. "All we can do is encourage people to read and study the issues and then determine if it is an important enough issue."

The East Routt Library Board is seeking a tax increase of 2.56 mills, which is on top of the 2.34 mills residents in the district already pay to fund the library. Library district officials estimated that 1.52 mills would be used for a 20-year bond to help construct a new library building, and the rest, 1.04 mills, would be used in perpetuity for operating expenses.

The cost to residents would be an additional $20.38 a year per $100,000 of assessed property value.

The additional mill would raise $1.5 million a year. Currently, the library board receives $1.4 million a year in property taxes.

Library Director Chris Paint-er stressed that the 2.56 mill levy is an estimate and could change before it is proposed to voters in November. The library board is fine-tuning the cost of adding a 20,000-square-foot, two-story expansion on the site of the existing library. Painter said the 1.52 mill-levy request was predicated on the cost of construction at $12 million.

Before putting the question on the ballot, the East Routt Library Board will have to approve the mill levy, Painter said.

Similar to the other organizations, Painter said the board has spent years working on the library expansion and that this year was the right one to move forward with a tax proposal. This summer, the library board took preliminary plans for the expansion through the city planning process. Before going further with designing the site, the library wants voter approval.

Painter said the library board realizes there probably always will be multiple tax questions on the ballot.

"There is really no way to avoid multiple issues on the ballot, and I think that is what the public process is about," Painter said. "I know you wish you were the only issue. I certainly respect why the other issues are being brought forward."

Painter said library board members knew that Horizons was considering a mill levy last spring and that library district officials talked to the organization.

Horizons members also said the time to ask voters for a tax was now. Horizons still needs the county commissioners' approval to put the 1-mill tax question on the ballot.

The tax would raise $792,000 a year and cost homeowners $7.96 a year per $100,000 of assessed value.

A combination of a growing population with more needs, an aging population of care givers, decreasing funding from the state and increasing costs of providing care has left Horizons strapped for funding, organization officials said.

Currently, Horizons, which serves people with disabilities in five counties in Northwest Colorado, has a waiting list of 55 clients. Routt County has a list of 22 names, with a waiting period of seven to 15 years before services can be provided.

The nonprofit organization hopes the additional funding would allow it to reach people on the waiting list sooner.

Mizen said she didn't think waiting another year would improve the chances of being the only local tax question on the ballot. And, the need for funding is immediate, she said.

"The longer we wait, the longer our waiting list will be," she said.

With the PDR tax ending in two years, Citizens Advisory Board members said they wanted to ask voters now to renew the tax. They hoped an additional half-mill would help them fund projects.

"We are ready to do it," said Ron Roundtree, co-chairman of the board. "We want to do it. The public and surveys told us they would support it."

In 1996, Routt County voters became the first in the intermountain West to establish a tax dedicated to a county-funded Purchase of Development Rights program.

The Citizens Advisory Board distributes funds generated by the tax. The board reviews applications submitted by ranchers and other landowners interested in the program and preserving their land.

The development value of the land is assessed. Land-owners whose property is chosen for inclusion in the program are then paid a percentage of the development value and donate the remainder in exchange for the conservation easement.

At present, the tax generates about $700,000 a year. The additional half mill would raise a little more than $1 million and would help fund more of the projects that come before the board.

Currently, the cost to a Routt County homeowner is $7.96 a year per $100,000 of assessed value. The tax would increase to $11.94 a year per $100,000 of assessed value if voters approve a 1.5-mill levy.

On Tuesday, the commissioners, the final overseers of the funds, approved pursuing the tax increase after hearing about the favorable survey results about a tax increase.

Roundtree said that when the first mill levy passed in 1996, there were more than 30 items on the ballot.

Stahoviak said a few years ago -- and after the passage of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights -- local government agencies discussed whether they should try to put together a list of what areas in the community needed funding.

"There are such a variety of needs in our community, we will never get to the place where we say, 'You go this year, we'll go next year,'" Stahoviak said.

Stahoviak also noted that property taxes from a variety of organizations allow voters to decide what they think is important in the community and needs funding. She said proposals for property tax increases to fund typical government functions such as roads, fire and ambulance service and the building of a courthouse have failed in recent years.

"I think our discussion and kind of our philosophy has come down to, if there are issues important to the community, it should be up to the community to decide whether or not they want to be taxed for it," Stahoviak said.


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