Pitkin County and the special taxing districts that collect local property taxes are largely trying to keep their collections flat, despite more than a one-fourth decline in home values this year.
Taxable property values county-wide dropped from $36 billion to less than $27 billion in 2011.
The drop in values won’t significantly affect how much tax money Pitkin County collects for its general services like snowplowing and government staffing, because the amount it can take in is already restricted by the Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). As a result, actual collections for the county general fund will stay just under $6 million.
A handful of local taxing districts — including the fire districts for Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale and the Snowmass area, and Colorado Mountain College — have been exempted from TABOR limits. The drop in property value has posed more of a challenge for them as they’ve begun setting their mill levies.
CMC has collected its full 3.997 mill levy for the last 20 years, including, to some taxpayers’ frustration, in 2009.
CMC’s board of directors controversially opted to take the full, exempted amount of tax in 2009, when property values continued to climb despite the Great Recession taking hold of the Aspen area.
The city of Aspen, Aspen Valley Hospital, Pitkin County Library, and the Aspen, Basalt and Snowmass fire districts had voluntarily lowered their mill levies in 2009 despite being exempt from TABOR.
The reasoning from CMC’s board for taking the windfall in 2009 was that it would need to save up for the lean years to come. Those lean years are now beginning for CMC. The community college expects a 33 percent drop in tax revenue next year from its multi-county base, CMC President Stan Jensen said.
“Along with everyone else, we’re trying to become more efficient and do more with less,” he said.
Constituents of the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District voted in November to raise its mill levy to make up for the decrease in property values.
The district’s general operating mill levy will go up to 8.17 mills in the multi-county jurisdiction, according to Chief Ron Leach. Last year, Pitkin County residents paid $269,000 to the district. The burden is expected to remain steady on next year’s tax bills at the higher rate.
Special districts’ mill rates are due to the county by Dec. 15.
The Pitkin County commissioners last week OK’d a 3.077 mill levy to support their own general fund — up from 2.15 mills last year. That will bring in $5.9 million to the county, an anticipated increase of more than $400,000 over last year.
The Pitkin County Library board set its mill levy at 1.297, which is expected to generate $3.35 million next year. The mill rate is up from .932 last year, but is expected to bring in only a slight increase from taxpayers. Last year’s approved levy brought in $3.18 million.
The county’s open space and trails department is taking its full 3.75 mill levy this year, after several years in which the commissioners opted to lower the rate. It is expected to bring in $10.5 million in property taxes next year. That’s $1.83 million less than open space collected last year, even at the reduced mill rate.
Aspen Valley Hospital can collect a voter-approved 1.5 mills for general operations. But its board has in recent years has won the good will of taxpayers by opting to decrease the levy to whatever level will yield $3.5 million.
Hospital spokesperson Ginny Dyche said they expect to continue that practice this year, though the board hadn’t yet set its mill rate on Friday.
The city of Aspen approved a 5.236 levy rate in November. That’s up from 3.854 mills last year, but is expected to produce a flat revenue stream of about $6.68 million. The most the city can take is 6.06 mills.