Aspen holds the line on property taxes

Rates won't increase until at least 2010

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— Aspen homeowners will not see an increase in property taxes by the city government next year.

The Aspen City Council on Monday voted to keep the property tax mill levy at 4.799, instead of taking the full 5.41 mills. By not taking the full amount, the city government will credit property owners 0.611 mills, which is between a 40 and 45 percent decrease from what could have been levied on property owners.

With the temporary tax credit, property owners will pay 4.799 mills, which is about $4.80 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. However, that rate is combined with a 0.65 mill levy to clean up the Roaring Fork River, which was approved by voters in November 2007.

The rate could have been much more had the City Council capitalized on a windfall in excess property tax revenue as a result of dramatic increases in assessed valuations throughout Pitkin County in 2007.

The city of Aspen is one of 18 taxing districts in Pitkin County that voters have allowed to be exempt from TABOR, a state law that requires government to lower its tax rate when property values rise. When property tax revenues exceed the constitutional limit, those taxing districts, including the city, can choose to keep the windfall, lower the mill levy or provide a temporary tax credit to property owners.

When voters set the mill levy rate in 2005, they agreed that it would last until 2010. They also approved using any excess property tax proceeds to pay for new sidewalks throughout town, storm water improvements, new hybrid buses and for building an outdoor pool at the Aspen Recreation Center.

Costs for the pool - the last of the projects to be tackled - have increased substantially since it was first contemplated in 2005.

Current estimates indicate an outdoor pool at the ARC will cost $2.6 million - $563,710 more than the original estimate.

Designated 2009 TABOR funds will contribute $900,000 toward the project, and $327,264 will come from 2008's TABOR funds. The city's parks and open space fund will contribute $833,000. And city officials are hoping a grant from the state's lottery program will bring in $200,000.

But there's still a shortfall of nearly $364,000, which might come out of the city's general fund. As a result, the City Council decided to put the project on hold until early next year to see how the economic downturn affects the city budget.

2010 will be the last year that the 5.41 mill levy rate is in effect. By law, the City Council has to set the mill levy rate every year. The council will revisit the rate next year and decide whether to credit property owners again, taking into account if valuations dramatically rise as they did last year. Those assessments will be based on July 2008 valuations.

For The Aspen Times' version of this story, click here.

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