Full effect of taxes won't be felt this year

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Steamboat Springs-area residents who own average-valued homes will -- in the near future -- pay an additional $180 in annual property taxes thanks to four tax measures passed by voters Nov. 1.

The average price of a home here is $610,000. Naturally, some homeowners will see more than a $180 property tax increase, and many will see less of an increase. And the full extent of the increases resulting from this month's election won't be felt until at least 2007, when plans for an expanded Bud Werner Memorial Library move forward.

"For the first time in a long time, people are going to see a significant tax increase," Routt County Assessor Amy Williams said. "I want people to be prepared."

The tax increase will be greater for owners of commercial property.

Voters living in the East Routt Library District, which corresponds with the boundaries of the Steamboat Springs School District, approved four property tax measures this month. They include a 1-mill property tax for Horizons Specialized Services and 1.5-mill property tax for an open space preservation entity known as Purchase of Development Rights. The PDR measure amounts to a half-mill increase to taxpayers because Routt County already was collecting a 1-mill PDR tax that was due to expire within a year.

Voters passed two more measures that add up to 2.221 mills. Those taxes will be used by the library district to expand, maintain and equip the existing library in downtown Steamboat.

The two library measures won't affect the tax bills of area residents until sometime in the near future. Just when those measures take effect depends on how quickly plans for a new community center are realized and the timing of library construction, Bud Werner Memorial Library director Chris Painter said.

However, the owners of $610,000 homes can expect to see an increase of $72.84 in their tax bills due to arrive in January. That's roughly $12 per $100,000 of valuation. Ballot language for Referendums 1A (PDR) and 1B (Horizons) specified that the taxes are effective for tax year 2005 and collectible in 2006. Both of those increases apply countywide.

If both library taxes, one to build the structure and another to equip and maintain it, were in effect next year, the same homeowners could expect their bills to increase by another $107.85. The twin library measures will add $17.68 per $100,000 of residential valuation.

Painter said the library board will watch rising bond interest rates and balance those with the city's timeline for a new community center before deciding when to put Referendum 5B in place.

The commercial burden

Under Colorado's constitution, commercial property owners bear a disproportionate share of the overall tax burden. The new tax levies in Steamboat and surrounding areas will add up to $107.91 per $100,000 of commercial valuation. That translates into $2,160 on a $2 million building when the library taxes are in effect.

"That could really affect commercial owners," Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.

Businesswoman Georgia Tay--lor agreed.

"As a commercial landlord, it's a substantial amount for me," Taylor said. "And I have to pass it on. It creates a ripple effect."

Stahoviak said breaking into monthly installments the $180 annual tax increase for owners of $610,000 makes it apparent the increase isn't too big a hit. She takes this month's vote on tax issues as affirmation that voters are willing to tax themselves when they believe in the causes.

"I was surprised to see all of them pass," Stahoviak said. "I thought it was refreshing. If the cause is one people believe in and you educate them about how important it is, people will vote for it."

Voters in Routt County and Steamboat haven't always been so willing to approve taxes for social programs.

In 2000, voters in Steamboat hammered a proposal to add an excise tax of $2 per square foot on new construction of more than 1,300 square feet to fund affordable-housing initiatives. That measure was rejected by 72 percent of voters.

There was a similar lack of enthusiasm in 2001 for twin referendums, one in the city and one in the county, that would have subsidized early childhood education. Voters in the city rejected a half-cent sales tax to support qualified child care agencies by a 5-to-1 margin. A property tax in Routt County that was paired with the city measure failed by a 4-to-1 margin. However, in 2003, county voters supported a modest property tax to support historical museums and societies in several county towns. That measure imposed a tax of $2.38 per $100,000 residential valuation.

Future effects

County Finance Director Dan Strnad said it's reasonable to think the property taxes approved this month could constrain local governments' ability to successfully promote new tax measures for essential services in the future. But it's difficult to gauge the effect this year's measures will have on that ability.

"We're seeing some growth in our revenues, but we're also seeing growth," Strnad said. "Are we going to be able to accommodate growth and make the whole equation work? It's really just a feel."

The county sustained a large increase in its cost to provide health insurance to workers this year, he said. The county absorbed some of the increase and passed the majority on to employees. At the same time, the county is feeling the pinch of increasing energy costs and looking ahead with anticipation to construction bids for the new justice center.

Stahoviak said it's inevitable that other entities will bring new property taxes to the voters in the future.

"I believe we're going to continue to see people propose new taxes," she said. "People will evaluate what's important to them."

-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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