Pitkin County Vows Not to Soak Property Taxpayers

Pitkin County Vows Not to Soak Property Taxpayers

The Pitkin County Commissioners are eager to show voters that they won’t be soaking them when it comes to collecting property taxes for 2023.

Even though property values overall increased more than 50% countywide — with some neighborhoods going up even further — the county tax bill will only go up a fraction of that amount. There is a 5.5% maximum legal revenue growth on all of Pitkin County’s major funds except open space and trails, County Manager Jon Peacock told the commissioners Tuesday.

“I really want the public to hear this: For the supermajority of our funds, we will be giving a temporary mill levy credit and those revenues will not grow in excess of 5.5%,” Peacock said. “We’re obligated to do that. I don’t think the public has understood that in this conversation.”

To achieve staying within the 5.5% revenue limit, the county will be required to issue a temporary mill levy credit. That preserves the county’s ability to restore the mill levy in case property values tank in the future.

Commissioner Francie Jacober said she knows firsthand that people don’t believe Pitkin County property tax collections won’t soar.

“When I tell people that, they don’t really believe me,” Jacober said. “I’ve been telling people that since our values came out but they just don’t believe me.”

The confusion is understandable. Pitkin County only accounts for about 20% of the overall property tax bill for most county residents. The Aspen School District accounts for another 20% (although a small portion of county residents are in the Roaring Fork School District rather than the Aspen School District) and Colorado Mountain College accounts for another 10%. The balance of the tax bill comes from various other entities such as the hospital and fire districts. The county commissioners don’t have any say on what the other districts do with their mill levies.

The tax bills for 2023, which will come out in January, are still clouded by uncertainty. Typically taxing districts must certify their mill levies by mid-December. The deadline was extended to Jan. 10 because the Colorado Legislature held a special session this month to address tax issues. They slightly decreased the residential assessment rate, which is a key part of the tax formula, and they declared that $55,000 in market value is exempt from residential property taxes. Those decisions require the counties to go back and figure out their total assessed values. The values are needed before taxing districts can set their mill levies.

Pitkin County has decided it will provide additional tax relief to certain qualifying households. No decisions were solidified by the commissioners on Tuesday but the relief proposed by staff included: continuing an existing senior tax relief program, providing relief for households below certain thresholds of the federal poverty level and extending a refund for some taxpayers on the difference in taxes paid in 2023 versus 2024, up to $2,000.

“This is all ours and we’ll probably be one of the few counties doing something like this,” Peacock said.

One of the few areas where Pitkin County can exceed 5.5% revenue growth is the open space and trails fund. The county doesn’t want to take the entire windfall available from the increased property values, but preliminary estimates are the open space fund will collect $20.7 million for 2023 taxes or an increase of about $7 million — 50%  from the $13.84 million collected for 2022.

The increase is being justified as helping the open space program keep pace with the soaring value of real estate. In order to purchase additional properties, the open space and trails program needs additional revenues, Peacock said. He described it to the commissioners as “maintaining acquisition capacity.”

“We do have some potential large purchases that could be coming forward,” Peacock said.

Even if the open space and trails program keeps more revenues than other county funds, there would still be a temporary decrease in the mill levy compared to last year. The commissioners indicated they would approve retaining more tax revenues for open space and trails. Commissioner Patti Clapper said it is important that the public understands the open space program isn’t retaining the entire windfall that it could keep.

The commissioners said they hope other taxing districts in the upper valley don’t keep the entire windfall possible from higher property values. If they do, voters may get revenge down the road.

“When reminded that they took the windfall when they could, it probably isn’t going to help them if they’re trying to raise taxes again down the road,” Commissioner Greg Poschman said. “So I think it’s good the county is offering credits across the board.”

Clapper and Jacober were quick to justify the Aspen School District’s decision to take its entire windfall. School funding has been shortchanged for years, they said, and the district said its reserves have been decimated by 75% over the last six years as a result.

 

By: Scott Condon I Aspen Daily News I December 6, 2023


Work With Katherine